As I’d observed before, the Carbonell was very mild and somewhat fruity. It’s definitely the oil I’d use for any cooking that required an oil with a neutral flavor. The Carapelli had that nice spicy, peppery flavor that I really like in an oil that I’d use for dipping bread or in a salad dressing or for pasta. Its flavor was as nice as some of the $20 bottles I’ve tried.
But then I read this story about olive oil and it really made me think. In short, much of the olive oil on shelves — even at specialty grocers and retailers — is “substandard.” As in, the quality of the oil has deteriorated beyond the point that you get the real taste of extra virgin olive oil and — to some people, more importantly — the health benefits. By and large because there’s a long amount of time between when the olives are pressed and when the bottle of oil is put in your shopping cart. And in that time, it’s likely the olive oil hasn’t even been stored properly to delay the deterioration. As soon as olive oil is exposed to air and light, it starts to degrade. Even if it hasn’t become noticeably rancid, there’s a steep decline in quality from the moment it’s pressed.
So, what to do?
First, buy the freshest oil you can find. Olive oils produced in the U.S. may be fresher since they haven’t had to be imported. I’ve had good California oils, but I really like the European ones. So if there’s not a harvest date, the next thing to do is check for the one with an expiration date that is furthest out and from the back of the shelf (where it has been exposed to less light) and, preferably, from a market with a high inventory turn. Don’t buy a dusty bottle with an expiration date six months from now; it’s likely up to 18 months old.
Next, don’t buy more oil than you can use in a month or so, though it will be good for up to six months. Just not as good. And be sure that you buy extra virgin olive oil, which has been tested and evaluated to meet certain standards and also has a lower acidity level, which helps it to degrade at a slower rate than standard olive oil.
Always put the cap back tightly on or get a vacuum-sealed cap for your bottle (I have one that works with my vacuum sealer), if you can, and store it in a dark place. I’ve always stored my olive oil on the counter right next to the stove because I use it so frequently (even though the bottles clearly indicate you should store in a cool, dark place). It needs to be away from not only air and light, but heat as well (extra virgin olive oil can only be labeled as such if it’s processed at temperatures under 86F). I’ll now move my oil to the cabinet on the outside wall, away from the stove, refrigerator and dishwasher.
If you’ve purchased oil in a clear bottle, switch it to an opaque or tinted bottle (such as a clean wine bottle) or wrap it in paper. Keep a smaller bottle out for easy access if needed. Repeated opening and closing of the bottle exposes it to more air.
In short, buy smaller bottles of extra-virgin olive oil with a far-out expiration date. Keep it in a cool, dark place and make sure it’s exposed to air as little as possible. And if your oil goes bad? Apartment Therapy has a great list of ideas for what to with old, but not rancid olive oil.
As for my next purchase, I will probably stick with the Carapelli for my main olive oil and keep a bottle of Carbonell on hand when I need something milder. I really liked the flavor of the Carapelli, and frankly, the health benefits are not the primary reason I use olive oil. I just prefer the taste. Though the store locator indicates that California Olive Ranch oils are available locally, so I might get a bottle and see how it compares.