“…It’s not only wine that sings
Olive oil sings too
It lives in us with its ripe light
And among the good things of the earth
I set apart
How to Pick the Healthiest Olive Oil
For decades we’ve known about the benefits of the “Mediterranean diet” (fresh fruits and veggies, fish, whole grains, red wine, and olive oil). Modern science tells us that of those foods, olive oil appears to have perhaps the biggest impact on our health–but not just any olive oil!
Yes, we should always buy organically grown, extra virgin oils (EVOO), but that is far from the whole story when it comes to selecting the healthiest olive oil.
Read on for tips on buying the healthiest olive oil, our very favorite brands, and how to eat it to ensure you’re enjoying all of the health benefits this super food offers!
High Phenols Mean the Healthiest Olive Oil
What we should really be seeking in our olive oils is those that have high levels of health-producing high-phenolic compounds. Two of the very best are oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory agent, and oleacein, a potent antioxidant.
Some of the benefits of polyphenols include:
- Reduction of “bad” cholesterol.
- Treatment of inflammatory conditions, such as asthma.
- Lowering blood pressure.
- Protection against cancer.
As you can tell, high-phenolic olive oils are not only food, they are also medicine. But polyphenols degrade over time, so the higher the parts per million (ppm) of polyphenols is at bottling, the more polyphenols will remain in the bottle over time.
Optimally, you want olive oil that is less than one year old, but when properly stored (cool, dark place–but not the fridge), you could stretch that a bit if the ppm is very high to start with. The oil should also be bottled in dark glass to discourage UV degradation.
How to Identify High-Phenol Olive Oil
High-ppm olive oil has a pleasant peppery after-taste. If your olive oil has absolutely zero peppery burn to it, it’s likely that it has very low polyphenol levels, and is thus not the healthiest olive oil (although still not harmful).
There is an age-old custom of tasting the olive oil and seeing if it’s a one-cough, two-cough, or three-cough olive oil. Sensors found mainly in the human throat—but not the mouth—latch on to a chemical found in high-ppm olive oils. Coughs can indicate high phenolic content. This “cough test” is probably the easiest way to tell if the oil you’re eating has a high phenol level.
It is important to note that phenolic content will vary from year to year from the same manufacturer. However, if you buy a good quality brand of olive oil, it should have high polyphenols. Some olive oil manufacturers publish their ppm scores and/or harvest dates either on the bottle or online. These are typically the healthiest olive oils.
Is the Healthiest Olive Oil Filtered or Unfiltered?
There is one last consideration to keep in mind when selecting the healthiest olive oil–and this is filtered versus unfiltered oil. Unfiltered oil retains minute particles of the fruit in the oil. These particles can contain certain beneficial nutrients. But those particles of fruit also rot, causing the oil to lose polyphenols much more rapidly than filtered oil might.
Bottom line: if you can get very, very fresh unfiltered olive oil, you may gain some health benefits. But if you, like most of us, don’t have access to super fresh oils, it’s probably better to stick with filtered oils.
The Very Healthiest Olive Oil
Our pick for the absolute best, healthiest olive oil is organic Olea Blue. With 800 to 1,500 ppm of polyphenols, Olea Blue blows away the competition, and have test results from just last month that show the incredibly high levels found in this oil.
The Best Stuff
Polyphenol level: 800-1,500 ppm
The Good Stuff
In addition to Olea Blue, there are a few other small brands that are doing it right. We’ve listed the polyphenol levels next to each one so that you can compare them more easily. Each of these is organic and extra virgin.
Polyphenol Level: 500 to 800 ppm
Polyphenol Level: 600-800 ppm
Polyphenol Level: 500-600 ppm
Polyphenol Level: 400-800 ppm
Polyphenol Level: 350 ppm
The Okay Stuff
It’s difficult to evaluate this category because it involves several “supermarket” brands of olive oil. These companies produce very high volumes of oil, and it’s nearly impossible to tell from batch to batch exactly what is in any bottle.
So while the following olive oils or often healthful , the ppm counts and content are not necessarily consistent over time. None of these is likely to be one of the healthiest olive oils on the market, so we really can only call them Okay Stuff.
Also, be cautious of brands that do not print each bottle with a harvest date and/or test results for polyphenols.
Because heat causes immediate degradation of polyphenols, we recommend using the following brands for cooking, and eating the Good Stuff brands raw.
The Sneaky Stuff
Many olive oils that claim to be EVOO are not in fact extra virgin, and some even mix their olive oil with less expensive oils like sunflower oil (these will still be labeled as extra virgin olive oil!). Tests can determine if oils are mixed or not. They can also tell if an oil is extra virgin or not. One such test, conducted by U.C. Davis, found that the following “100% EVOO” brands failed to meet the standards.
- Filippo Berio
- Newman’s Own
- Whole Foods
The above categorizations are the results of our own in-house research. It is by no means an exhaustive list. There are thousands of olive oil manufacturers in the world.
One good way to sample a wide variety of quality olive oils is to join the Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club.
Does the Healthiest Olive Oil Taste Good?
Because flavor is subjective, we are not reviewing for it in this guide. We have tried almost all the oils in the Good Stuff categories, and although each has a unique flavor, they are all pretty yummy! I admit that when I taste an oil with no peppery aftertaste these days, I just don’t want to eat it! I’m ruined from working on this guide for the last several months and becoming exposed to so many delicious oils.
We look forward to hearing your feedback as you try the healthiest olive oils and enjoy the benefits!
To your health,