Olive Lore

Look Out for These 8 Things to Avoid Low-Quality Olive Oil

Olive oil is becoming more and more popular among consumers, as the many health benefits and great taste is constantly being discovered and re-invented.

Unfortunately, there is (still) a lot of low-quality olive oil in the supermarket aisles, oils that can ruin any dinner.

aisle in a supermarket full of bottles with olive oil

What does good olive oil need to have?

It has been said time and again; good olive oil is defined by taste, smell and sight. All of them are perceptions of the buyer.

Who gets to decide what quality is?

You might wonder if all these fancy words like Extra Virgin and Virgin really serve a genuine purpose for the consumer, or if they are just invented by the industry to make you buy more expensive products.

Well, the good news is that they are not just invented by scrupulous CEOs who wants your last penny. The wordings that appear on the labels of the olive oil bottles are classes of how the oil is produced. These classes refer to the process of how the olive oil is made by. 

Overall, there are five major authorities in the world that set the standards for how an oil can be labeled. These are:


What is the worst quality of olive oil?

There is something called Lampante Virgin Olive Oil, which is considered the worst quality of all olive oils. It is considered unsuited for human consumption and is prohibited for sale most places.

What characterize lampante oil?

  • High amount of oleic acids. In the US and Australia the allowed limit of free oleic acid in olive oils is set to 2.0 per 100 g, while in the EU the limit is 3.3 g.
  • Organoleptic characteristics has a median of defects of more than 2.5 (EU 6 or greater).
  • Fruitiness has a median of 0.

Low-Quality Olive Oil Factors

Let’s dig in to the list of things you should look out for when in the market for olive oil.

1. Contained in a Clear Plastic Bottle

This is your first clue to stay away from the product. Olive oil, and extra virgin olive oil in particular, needs to stored safely isolated from light. When exposed to light, the oil will quickly lose its vital antioxidants and become rancid.

Secondly, olive oil may over time absorb plastic particles which are harmful to your health.

2. The bottle is labeled with words like “Pure” or “Premium” or “Fresh”

Although it doesn’t necessarily has to be a bad thing, it’s good to pay attention to wording on the label. Some brands will try and fool you into buying their low-quality oils by adding flashy words to the labels.

The only wordings you need to pay attention to are: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Virgin Olive Oil and Refined Olive Oil.

3. The Oil is Too Clear

Olive oil is a natural product, only slightly processed. Just like with other natural products, e.g. honey, it shouldn’t have a “perfect” clear and transparent look, but rather a natural and more cloudy appearance.

4. No harvest date on the label

Reputable decent manufacturers put the harvest date on the label to display transparency to the consumer.

When there is no harvest date on the label it usually means that the manufacturer doesn’t know the date of the harvest. This is again a sign that your olive oil might not be of a good quality and perhaps even mixed of remains from other processes.

Another key aspect to this matter is economics. Some producers wait to the very end, when the black overripe olives dump from the trees themselves, which reduces the price of harvesting manually by up to 40%. These olives may have a better flesh to oil ratio, but not necessarily a better balance, taste and fruitiness. Also, the flavonoids (antioxidant compounds) are reduced in overripe fruits.

Olives are harvested during fall, and so the harvest date should preferably be within 12-13 months.

5. No seal no deal

Look for a certificate on the label from a third-party certifier such as the IOC. The oil doesn’t necessarily have to be of low-quality if this is not present, but it certainly isn’t a sign of high-quality.

6. No origin of the produce

just like with the harvest date, you want to look for the origin of the oil, including of which variety of olives has been used. If the manufacturer fails to put this information on the label it’s a sign that the oil is a mixture of oils from different productions and hence of lower quality.

In general, as many data as possible on the label is a good sign.

A reputable olive oil producer will state where the oil is produced for a number of reasons.

  1. For transparency and consumer safety.
  2. To show pride of the country or region of origin.
  3. Because they are aware that it is something well-oriented consumers look for.
  4. Promote his/her own farm and the olive variety cultivated here.

7. Refined olive oil

Extra Virgin and Virgin Olive Oils are the ones to go for when looking for quality olive oil.

Refined olive oil and refined olive oil pomace are technically olive oils, but produced via chemical processes in contrast to virgin oils that are produced via mechanical processes.

Refined olive oil is usually retrieved from lampante oil (not for human consumption) that has undergone neutralization processes. The product will be completely tasteless, unaromatic and colorless, in other words, neutralized. The substance is then mixed with a little leftover virgin oil from another production and sold to industrial kitchens or in some cases to consumers.

Pomace oil has undergone a similar process, but made on pomace as the name says. There are no nutrients or antioxidants left in this oil and the oleic acids are artificially set to some about 0.3%.

8. Price matters

Price and quality often times goes hand in hand. Olive oil is no exception. If you know what you are worth, you won’t sell for less. True?