Best Olive Oil For Cooking

By Jon Strungis / October 12, 2015
best olive oil for cooking

Look in any kitchen and you’re likely to find one essential ingredient: olive oil. It’s a versatile, healthy, and delicious component found in most recipes. While it’s not difficult to find, if you’re looking to upgrade your kitchen creations to the next level you’ve got to ask an essential question: what is the best olive oil for cooking?

That may seem a straightforward question, however there is some depth to be found in that silky golden oil that requires a bit of thought and consideration. Part of this includes how you’re planning on using the oil, whether it’s going to be mixed with other elements or featured on its own as a garnish, what cooking methods and temperature you’re using, and of course price.

Different Options Of Olive Oil

best olive oil for cooking

Walk down the aisles of any grocery store and you will see a plethora of different oils advertising that they are extra-light, extra virgin, and pure. Each of these types of oils is going to behave and taste different. The key difference between these variations of olive oil is mainly a difference in processing and level of refinement.

Like An Extra Virgin?

best olive oil for cooking

“Virgin” or “Extra virgin” oil means that it is unrefined and thus hasn’t been treated with heat or chemicals or diluted with “lesser” oils. On a first pass, olive oil is pressed using a cold pressing process. This process of simply crushing the olives without adding heat keeps the acidity low and helps the oil maintain the rich aromatic flavor of the olives as well as its full monounsaturated fat and antioxidant, heart-healthy nutritional benefits.

What makes “extra virgin” oil so “extra” is that it has a more intense flavor profile and lower acidity than virgin olive oil. Virgin olive oil is made using slightly riper olives and thus has a higher percentage of oleic acid (usually upwards of about 2% as opposed to extra virgin olive oil which has an acidity of no more than 1%).

The higher acidity of virgin olive oil is what makes it better than extra virgin for very low heat sautéing and cooking. In these cases you don’t necessarily need or want the rich flavor of extra virgin olive oil.​

Pure Oil Is Pure Doublespeak

best olive oil for cooking

Looking down the aisles of the oil section you’re likely to see big claims of “pure olive oil” and wonder just what that means. Pure olive oil is typically a blend of refined olive oil and virgin oil.

Olive oil is refined to remove impurities and odors through a heating and chemical treating process and then cut with virgin olive oil to salvage some of the flavor profile and nutritional value. The refining process does give “pure” olive oil a higher heat tolerance, so your pan won’t begin smoking as quickly as it would with extra virgin olive oil.

Olive Oil Light

best olive oil for cooking

Extra Light Olive Oil is not your diet olive oil. “Light” refers to the very light or neutral flavor and color achieve through refinement.

If you’re frying up a meal in oil, I'd recommend skipping the olive oil altogether and using a different oil, like avocado or pure beef tallow. However, if you need to use an olive oil the best olive oil for cooking fried foods will be a decent cheap extra light, like Kirkland or Great Value (generic store brand) will do perfectly fine. 

Packaging First Impressions 

best olive oil for cooking

The packaging of your oil will not be your only first impression of the quality of the olive oil within. First off, what type of container is it? It’s a fair bet that if an oil producer cares about delivering the highest quality product they won’t be delivering it in a cheap plastic bottle that may leak chemicals and not keep their product from becoming rancid as quickly. Most good quality oils will come in glass bottles or large cans (cans tend to be much larger, industrial quantities).

The country of origin matters when selecting the best olive oil for cooking. Your best olive oils will be made from olives from Greece, Italy, or Spain. While that might seem a simple thing to find, it’s not always that easy. Often oil manufacturers will use clever words to disguise lesser oils as the real deal. Many oils that proudly boast they were “bottled in” Spain, Italy, or Greece are actually made from oils grown elsewhere, shipped to wherever and then bottled or processed there.

Best Olive Oil For Cooking 

Lucini Extra Virgin Olive Oil $12-17 500ml

Olive oil loyalists (Olive oilists, if you will) who don’t want to switch to avocado or coconut oil may still be wondering what the best olive oil for cooking healthy foods is. While no substance consisting primarily of fat in liquid form will be your miracle diet silver bullet, I recommend splurging on a good extra virgin olive oil like Lucini Extra Virgin Oil.

If you’re using Lucini to garnish a salad or other greenery, you’ll greatly appreciate both that rich olive oil flavor as well as the antioxidants, vitamin E, and vitamin A that have been salvaged by not subjecting the oil to heat or chemical treatment used to make pure or light olive oils.

Here are my "best of" recommendations...

Best All Around Bang Per Buck

best olive oil for cooking

Carbonell Extra Virgin Olive Oil $6 - 7 for 500ml

Carbonell is an excellent, mid-price oil. Available in most grocery stores, its claim to fame is that it is the #1 best selling olive oil in Spain. It’s smooth, aromatic, but not too overwhelming, and typically less then seven bucks.

Best On A Budget

best olive oil for cooking

Kirkland (Costco) or Kroger Brand $5 - 6 500ml

The Kirkland or Kroger store brands of oil aren’t too shabby and will do in a pinch. While cheap, they do have a nice, rich flavor that is perfectly suitable for dressing on a salad, dipping, or marinade.

Best Splurge

best olive oil for cooking

If you're looking to splurge on something delicious I again recommend Lucini. It's full, fragrant aroma is absolutely delicious. Lucini has a nice balanced body and an almost nutty quality to it. Definitely something for a festive occasion.

Jon's Best Recommendation

best olive oil for cooking

If you really want to kick it up a notch and splurge on something classy for your next soiree, I recommend stopping by your local retailer of fine oils and dressings and trying a few samples until you find that perfect flavor profile for the occasion (and then maybe try a couple more just to be sure).​

The Final Run Down 

best olive oil for cooking

oil

The best olive oil for cooking is going to depend on a lot on your budget and how you’re cooking. Let's be honest, if you’re not a food critic with a honed and practiced tongue, at a certain point it doesn’t matter if an oil is that much richer or aromatic. However, for health purposes, you may want to spend a little more to insure a good quality olive oil with all the nutrients intact. 


Now that you've heard my thoughts, I'd love to hear yours. Share in the comments below. What olive oil do you like best? Which brands haven't delivered? 

About the author

Jon Strungis

Jon Strungis graduated from Metro State University, wrote briefly for YellowScene magazine, and is passionate about food and writing (in no particular order). He loves exploring new flavors, discovering recipes to transform, and sharing his adventures in colorful detail.

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