How to buy and store olive oil

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Who could imagine that a bitter olive could produce fruity fragrant oil? Read our guide to choosing, buying, storing and using it.

Types of Olive Oil

– Extra virgin olive oil is the best quality and comes from the first pressing of the olives. It will be a strong green colour, have less than 1% acidity and it will smell like olives. Use it for salad dressings, to dip bread in and to drizzle over cured meats and cheese, cooked fish and meat.

– Virgin olive oil has less than 2% acidity – you can use this for cooking and it costs less than extra virgin olive oil. It comes from the 2nd pressing of the olives and costs less than extra virgin olive oil.


– Store olive oil in a dark bottle or in a stainless steel container in a dark cool cupboard. Don’t store it in the fridge as it diminishes the flavour.

– If parts of the olive oil solidify, allow it to come to room temperature before you use it.

– Buy oil in small quantities so it maintains flavour.

– Buy a single source oil eg Spanish, Italian, Greek etc if possible. It’s hard to judge the quality of a blended oil.

– It can be better value to buy oil in tins and decant it into bottles with tight seals. If you find an olive oil in a dark bottle, or one covered with tin foil, it’s often a good sign that the producer wants to protect the olive oil from the light and it will most likely be better quality.

– The better olive oils come from a single source or producer and cost more. They make wonderful presents and are often decoratively packaged. You normally wouldn’t use these for cooking as they are too expensive – use them raw to make a salad dressing or drizzle over pasta once it is cooked where the flavour will shine and enhance the dish.

– For advice ask at your local delicatessen or supermarket who increasingly offer a good choice of oil –  just make sure it comes from a single source by reading the label.

Flavoured oils

– Flavoured oils are more expensive to buy so why not make your own? They are so easy to make. Heat a good virgin olive oil in a saucepan with a sprig of rosemary, tarragon, dried chillies, lemon and orange peel, cinnamon or star anise – when the oil comes to the boil, turn the heat off and leave the oil to cool. Strain into a sterilised bottle and store in the fridge. Use within two weeks.

Tasting olive oil

– When you have people over to eat, or have a glass of wine, why not put a special bottle of oil on the table, put out some good fresh white bread and let them dip the bread into the oil to keep them going while you finish cooking.

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