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What you need to know to pick right olive oil

March 29, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Americans take a mere 24th place in the world when it comes to olive-oil consumption, which is too bad because it's a heart-healthy fat with many benefits. But from cold pressed to flavored, there's a lot you need to know before choosing the right type."The procedure for sampling and tasting olive oil is exactly like tasting wine. You'd take a sip, aerate the oil in your mouth, consume or swallow the oil and then exhale thorough your nose," said Chip Reibel of Beyond the Olive in Pasadena.

He and Crystal Reibel own Beyond the Olive, where tastings help consumers learn more about olive oil, starting with color.

"Color doesn't mean anything with the flavor of olive oil. Mentally, people think, 'Oh, it's a bright green color, it's going to be grassy, it's going to be robust,'" Reibel said.

A cobalt blue glass is used to disguise color and encourage use of taste and smell instead.

"What you really want to look for is a date of harvest or a best-when-used-by. There's a very short shelf life on olive oil," Crystal Reibel said.

Crystal Reibel says olive oil goes rancid between six and twelve months, so don't buy too much.

"You want to make sure that when you do get your olive oil, that you keep it with an airtight pour," she said.

When it comes to storage, heat, light, air and time are the enemy, so store yours in a cool, dark pantry, not sitting on top of your stove. It's also helpful to buy dark bottles to protect against light.

Then, there's the term "extra virgin."

"It's an olive oil made solely with olives, there's nothing else added to it. It's mechanically pressed within 24 hours of harvest, no chemicals added or heat," Crystal Reibel said.

With over 600 growers and manufacturers of olive oil, California has government regulations on the term extra virgin, yet the United States does not have strict guidelines on imported olive oils, so Crystal says an imported extra virgin olive oil might possibly be a blend.

The same holds true for "light" olive oil, which means light in taste, not light in calorie, and is also a blend.

What does the term "cold pressed" mean on olive-oil bottles?

"The first time that you extract the oil out of the olive paste is your first cold press, that's your best quality oil," Chip Reibel said.

Finally, if buying a flavored olive oil, choose one where the fruit is crushed with the olives rather than infused versions for the best flavor.