Tom's Supermarket Picks: quality oils at good prices

Since launching Truth in Olive Oil, many people have asked me which oil they should buy at their local supermarket, warehouse club or mass merchandiser. This is a vital question, and deserves a good answer. One of the critical factors in improving olive oil quality in North America is to raise the bar in supermarkets, where the vast majority of Americans get their oil. As the level of supermarket offerings improves, it will be a rising tide of quality that floats all boats, ensuring a supply of real extra virgins to consumers, acting as “gateway oils” to point people towards premium, “grand cru” oils, and at the same time, selling more good oil that supports honest oil-makers out in the groves.

While most of the very best oils are available in olive oil boutiques, delicatessens, and other specialty shops, it’s important to know that good, even very good oils can sometimes be found supermarkets. (And as I’ll be writing soon, some very pretty boutique stores actually sell low-grade, even adulterated oils – so caveat emptor!) Helping people find quality oils at good prices – in addition to celebrating the very best olive oils on the planet – is a vital part of Truth in Olive Oil’s mission. Think of Beaujolais nouveau and first-growth Bordeaux. The former compliments and spreads appreciation of the latter, and vice versa, in a virtuous circle that expands consumer knowledge and discernment. That’s exactly what should be happening in olive oil.

What’s more, fine olive oil needn’t cost an arm and a leg, as the supermarket oils listed below, and others I hope to identify soon, all prove. Some producers reduce costs using highly mechanized “super high density” and “medium high density” production models. Others can maintain low prices because their groves are located in areas where labor, land and other costs are relatively modest, such as Chile and parts of North Africa. And even in the heart of the Mediterranean, certain producers and oil-merchants know how to grow and source quality oil at modest prices. So while ultra-low prices (below, say, $8 per liter – but ultimately a store sets its own retail prices, and can even choose to take a loss in order to draw customers to the store, so retail price isn't always a good indicator) can call what’s in the bottle into question, some modestly-priced olive oils – like those below – are better than many premium-priced products, whose price is actually the only “premium” thing about them.

The key to good oil is freshness, so check the label for best by date, or ideally for harvest date, to make sure you're getting the freshest oil possible. 

The oils listed below are my own choices; I’ve tasted them all myself. Some I’ve run across on my own, others have been pointed out to me by visitors to this website, by friends & family, by producers, and by other oleophiles. THIS IS BY NO MEANS A COMPLETE LIST! In fact, it will only contain a fraction of the honest extra virgin olive oils available in supermarkets throughout North America. The good news is that more and more good olive oils are available in mass-market stores, and this list should grow rapidly. Please write a comment with your reactions to these oils, and share your thoughts on which oils should be added to the list.

Tom’s Supermarket Picks (in alphabetical order):

  • California Olive Ranch – good fresh extra virgin olive oil, mainly from the arbequina and arbosana cultivars, grown in super high density groves in northern California. Available at a wide range of stores throughout the US (see the store locator).  Note that their Limited Reserve is the highest-quality oil, unfiltered and from olives picked during the first 2 weeks of harvest (reviewed here).  "Everyday" is the company's best-seller, with a flexible flavor profile.  Arbequina, Arbosana, and Miller’s Blend oils, part of the company's "gold medal series," have actually won more medals in olive oil competitions than COR's other oils, thanks to their distinct flavor profiles.
  • Cobram Estate – extra virgin olive oil from a range of cultivars, grown in Australia with the medium high density agronomic model, which has won olive oil competitions including best of show at the 2011 Los Angeles County Fair. Available here:
  • Corto Olive – good, fresh super-high-density arbequina oil available at Costco (occasionally), HEB, Zabar's under the Zabar's label, Kroger as a specialty label called “Private Selection.” I profile Dino Cortopassi, founder of the company, in Extra Virginity.
  • Costco Kirkland Toscano – Kirkland is the Costco store brand. I’ve been disappointed by Kirkland Organic EVO (not to mention the “extra virgins” in multi-liter plastic jugs), but the Toscano signature oil is the real deal.
  • Lucini – since their purchase by COR last year, things may have changed at Lucini - more on this soon.  In the meantime, I'll leave the review I wrote before Lucini changed hands:  a wide range of fine oils, led by the top-of-the-line Limited Reserve Premium Select oil. I quibble with the clear glass bottles, which impair the shelf life, but as long as the oil is fresh it’s first-rate, and is widely available across North America. See the store locator.  Lucini Premium Select is their finest oil, made on a a single estate near Bolgheri, in the Maremma region of Tuscany.  Their Estate Select oil is made from olives grown in various estates in central Italy; since it's sourced from a wider group of farmers, it costs less.  
  • Oleoestepa – just entering the US retail market, this Spanish cooperative produces excellent oils at competitive prices. Keep an eye out for their oils arriving in shelves near you soon!
  • O-Live – available at stores across Canada, and in selected US stores (including HEB in Texas). See the store locator (which sources tell me isn’t always 100% reliable).
  • Ottavio and Omaggio – in terms of value for money, I don’t know better oils than Ottavio and Omaggio: a fine balance of fruit, pungency, bitterness that will appeal to a wide audience, at rock-bottom prices. Ottavio is available at HEB and Central Market, and Omaggio is available at Sam’s Club. (Note: In the past, Valco Enterprises, producer of Ottavio, and Axiom Enterprises, producer of Omaggio, have both supported Truth in Olive Oil. Read here for what this means.)
  • Trader Joe’s – 3 out of the 6 extra virgin oils I tasted in August, 2013 were the real deal.  One of these, the Premium 100% Greek Kalamata, was very fresh, spicy, complex at an extremely competitive price (1 liter for $8.99).  The California Estate Olive Oil was also a good choice, while the Premium Extra Virgin was decent and defect-free, if a bit uninspiring.  The 3 other Trader Joe’s “extra virgins” I tasted were defective.  (See here for details.)
  • Whole Foods California 365 – The Whole Foods store brand from California is good-quality extra virgin olive oil at a great price. In my experience, the other members of the 365 lineup are poor – an odd situation from a company like Whole Foods that preaches quality über alles.

As mentioned above, there are likely to be many more good supermarket oils not included in this list. Please suggest some, and I’ll try them out as soon as I can.

Comments

do you know of a good olive

do you know of a good olive oil brand sold at Kroger or Aldi? I'm in Lexington, KY and would like to know of a good brand I can get locally!

Fairway (in NYC) recently

Fairway (in NYC) recently started carrying California Olive Ranch's "Gold Medal" series oils -- Arbequina, Arbosana and Miller's Reserve (though not the Limited Reserve).

I've noticed that these oils (as well as the 'Everyday') all show 'best by' dates that are two-and-a-half years out from the 'harvest' date.

Can olive oil really retain near-harvest quality for that long, even in optimal storage conditions (which I'm guessing are rare in the U.S., except perhaps at specialty retailers)?

> There is no good reason I

> There is no good reason I can think of to buy olive oil made from olives crushed before
> the present calendar year.

> No olive oil, no matter how high-quality and well-stored, will retain anything like
> near-harvest quality for 1 year after harvest, not to mention 2, 3 or 4 years.

Thanks. So really, how is it possible to actually get "near-harvest quality" olive oil, given that apparently even oils from recommended producers like California Olive Ranch, are, at the point of sale (Fairway, Whole Foods, and presumably other similar retail sources), consistently (maybe always) well out of 'near-harvest date' ranges by the time they're on the shelves?

[i]> Next time you're in a

> Next time you're in a store, ask for the manager and express your interest in getting
> only fresh oil – if they hear this from a few of their customers, and they'll start acting
> accordingly.

OK, I'm going to do that at Fairway (NYC), and encourage any others here to do the same.
The olive oil 'point man' at Fairway is Ian Pilarski.

Tom, if you happen to be in New York for the New York International Olive Oil Competition (www.nyoliveoil.com), maybe you can check out Fairway's 'private label' oils in-store if you didn't at the event. They're usually set up for tasting throughout the day (at least at the Upper West Side Manhattan store).

I've also noticed that COR

I've also noticed that COR oils at my local supermarkets are almost two years from harvest date (the bottles are actually dusty!). The same goes for Lucini offerings, but they have no harvest date. I really don't want to take a chance and pay for an oil that may be way past it's optimal flavor.

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,
Thanks for such great information. We're sure to read your book.
We came across an unexpensive organic extra virgin olive oil from Tunisia:
Proditti Dal Sol distributed by Preferisco Foods ltd.
Has anybody heard of that product?
Thank you, Bernard

Really enjoyed reading your

Really enjoyed reading your book and learned a lot I didn't know about Olive Oil. I've been able to purchase several of the OO you have on your Supermarket Oil list and notice a difference from the OO I had been buying. The Costco Tuscan OO is terrific, California Olive Ranch Everyday is good (just ordered the Limited Reserve from their site) and O-Live has a wonderful fresh and peppery flavor.

I'm surprised and disappointed by the number of specialty stores I've been to that have outdated OO on the shelf. Now that I know better I look for the "Harvest Date" and "Best By" date before I buy any OO.

Any new updates on your recommendations for or against Supermarket Olive Oils would be appreciated.

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,
Friends of mine who are aware of my efforts to bring my own evoo to the market have pointed my attention to this wonderful site of yours. Its a wonderful all encompassing site, full of information about the olive and its juice from its health benefits, to its marketability including fyi's and faq's that are a plethora of useful info and an education which you offer in itself. I also enjoy your site because of its interaction with its readers. I find it very wonderfully interesting that more and more people are understanding the olive oil(always meaning good evoo) for its value as a life force, a life supplement if you will, as well as a source of deliciousness for the palate. Im sure you are aware of the NYIOOC coming up. Should you be attending, perhaps we will have the opportunity to meet professionally. I will attend representing my own organic EVOO from our PDO region in Greece. Its very young,debuted a month ago in Germany, received an award and wonderful recommendations from the panel of olive oil profs who judged the blind-test competition that took place. It's a wonderful, grassy two-cougher that hints Aegean when you close your eyes and swallow it down. Im excited mostly for the upcoming opportunity to interact with other gnostics, professionals and of course olive oil passionatos in general. My olive oil is called DANIOLO. You wont find it in the market anywhere however if you have time I would sincerely respect your objective and subjective evaluation.
Nevertheless, Should you attend the NY affair, I would love to hear more about your history in the olive oil world. Sincerely,
ALEX

I hope this isn't considered

I hope this isn't considered hi-jacking of the thread, but when I read about the NYIOOC it brought to mind a question about finding ways to make quality EVOO available in small towns.
I live in a small town in Canada that is a few hours (and a ferry ride) from the nearest EVOO tasting bar. Veronica Foods is the supplier, and the oils are fantastic, but access is a challenge.
I had approached VF regarding trying to set up an olive oil store here, but their business model, which works wonderfully for larger markets, is just not feasible in a small town (even a small town such as this that supports 3 local organic farms, 2 farmers markets and a host of healthy/foodie products). If anyone reading this thread happens to go to the NYIOOC and comes across alternate business models for bringing EVOO into small towns, I would love to here about it.
Tom, I assume you will delete this post if you think it is "fuori tema"!

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,

Thank you so much for putting together such a great resource. I enjoyed your book, and your website is invaluable. I am among those eagerly anticipating your review of Trader Joe's olive oil, in particular the California Estate. Consumer reports rated it a best buy last year, along with Costco's Kirkland Signature Select Toscano and Whole Foods' 365, which I know you also liked, but I don't know to what extent price factored in to the CR ratings. Thanks!

please, i bought 4 bottles

please, i bought 4 bottles supermarket EVOO: Colavita Goya. Should I just put them in the garbage, or give them to somebody else? thank you

I'd say if you have the

I'd say if you have the receipt, or the store manager is flexible, ask for a refund. If no, donate to the nearest food bank/food pantry.

I usually buy Lucini Olive

I usually buy Lucini Olive Oil from Whole Foods. I recently bought a bottle of Whole Foods Brand EVOO it was labeled "100% Italian." My daughter has a soy allergy so I read labels very carefully. After eating haricots verts sauteed in the "100% Italian" olive oil, my daughter has a reaction similar to when she eats soy. I am convinced the Whole Foods brand oil was cut with soybean oil. What a disappointment. Fortunately, her allergies aren't the kind that will send her into anaphylactic shock. However, it is still hard for her and for me to stay up all night while she moans and cries (she is 13 months old). It's also hard to see the mislabeling/fraud cause so much damage to her GI system that she actually has blood in her stool for several days after ingesting something we thought was safe for her.

Ciao Tom

Ciao Tom

Dell'Orto DOP and ORGANIC EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OILS WIN GOLD MEDALS at the 2013 LA International Olive Oil Competition

GOLD MEDAL Medium, Biologico, Campania

GOLD MEDAL Medium, Colline Salernitane DOP

Dennis and Peg

I really enjoyed the book and

I really enjoyed the book and think it should be compulsory reading for all food agency employees and Supermarket directors. I was, however, disappointed with the UScentric (just made it up) nature of the text and the buying advice in the Appendix which is repeated on this blog. The only product I recognise is the Costco brand and I gave up my card over a year ago. As I sift through the products on offer in Tescos, the advice given here is not much help apart from suggesting I shouldn't believe any of it. They do stock a couple of Chilean brands but nothing from South Africa, Australia or the US. A Uk buyers supplement would help a great deal. Which? magazine have done a couple of tastings and suggest that Aldis Solesta comes out tops with better known and more expensive brands getting a bit of a pasting. I tend to use olive oil for cooking but am now intrigued to try sloshing it on toast but where do you start?

Did we ever get an answer to

Did we ever get an answer to the Trader Joe's olive oils. I was particularly interested in the California Estate Olive Oil. Maybe I missed Tom's reply?

<<< "As mentioned above,

<<< As mentioned above, there are likely to be many more good supermarket oils not included in this list.
Please suggest some, and I’ll try them out as soon as I can. >>>

• Olave 'Premium Selection' (reg. & organic) (Chilean)
. . . http://www.olave.cl/index.php?op=productos&lang=ing

• Yellingbo Gold Limited Release Single Estate Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Australian)
. . . http://www.yellingbo.com/popup/Olive_Oil/6&table=products

hey guys,

hey guys,

just wondering about pesticides in non-organic olive oils. I'm not a fan of pesticide residues in my food but it seems like many of the organically labeled olive oils aren't the real deal. So I was wondering if i should be concerned about any residues in the non-organic oils mentioned in this article. In other words does anyone know if olives are heavily sprayed by farmers?

Thanks a bunch!

I use the California olive

I use the California olive ranch brand at home and I love it. We are renting a house in California on a vacation and I bought some Santa Barbara unrefined olive at whole foods. I had an adverse reaction (I am very sensitive soy products and my pulse usually spikes to 130 range after investing soy products),which happened this morning after using the Santa Barbara brand. I wondered if you knew anythomg about their oils.

I'm surprised that nobody

I'm surprised that nobody seems to have a thing for Trader Joe's Greek Kalamata EVOO. That's been my favorite olive oil for about 20 years...it used to come under a Greek brand but Joe's rebranded it as their own some years ago (and the price crept up too, but it's still a very good deal. I miss when it was $5 per 34 oz...but then, I miss $2.50 bottles of 1982 Guigal red Cotes du Rhone).

Anyone have quality info on that one?

Thank you for all this great

Thank you for all this great research and advice. Any thoughts of Trader Joe's Olive Oil, particularly the Spanish EVOO? I see a few others interested in your opinion on this brand as well and I'd love to hear what you think.
Marisa
wareitsmadefromscratch.com

I live in new zealand. I have

I live in new zealand. I have a bottle of Spanish olive oil in pantry. It is labeled as woolworths light in taste. It has very little taste if any. To me it like sewing machine oil. It not say when it was made other than a use by date in july 20/07/14. It doesnt give me the zim like other olive oils i have bought. I think it is no good, but i may be wrong as i never taste this before. It say its a blend of extra virgin and olive oil. When temperature drops here in nz winter, it separates and becomes milky until heated in sink of hot water. How do we tell what is real or unreal?

I'm interested to know if the

I'm interested to know if the Saporito brand of olive oil and the Maestro brand pass the test for genuine extra virgin olive oil. Some supermarkets in Canada offer them at great discount prices from time to time.

Choosing real olive oil at

Choosing real olive oil at the supermarket is like the Germans trying to get their physical gold repatriated. More is being sold than exists. My palate is not that discriminating and a better sense of smell would probably be needed to make a difference. When I can't make the 400 mile trip to Costco, or they are out of Toscano, I select from appropriate bottles but still am at the mercy of the store/middle men who are not above cheating in other foods. Thanks for the list but a chromatography without the peaks from soy, corn etc. would also be reassuring.

I usually try to buy organic

I usually try to buy organic EVOO and lately my choice has been Sam's Club Organic (forget the brand). Does anyone have any info. on this? And does anyone know if olives are a heavily-laden pestaside crop? Thanks!

In the Boston area, you can

In the Boston area, you can find an olive oil called Aria that is from Crete. I buy it at Stop & Shop, and in my opinion it is excellent and much less expensive than competitors.

The "Best" Extra Virgin Olive

The "Best" Extra Virgin Olive Oils are estate grown and bottled by the producer. The producer must be "certified" for the cultivation of Organic and DOP olives and labeled "USDA" and "DOP" on the bottles. Certification Documents for Extra Virgin Olive Oils should always be available from the producer. Request documentation when in doubt about what is on the label. You can be assured that the olive oils that win the awards i.e. Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil and NY International Extra Virgin Olive Competitions and others are your best choices for choosing quality Olive Oils.
The following is a side note of information:

Considered to be one of the most elite olive oil competitions in the world, the NYIOOC boasted over 650 extra virgin olive oils from 23 countries worldwide. The oils were rated by an expert panel of 15 highly esteemed international judges in a double blind tasting who evaluated the oils by rating each oil’s fruitiness, pungency and bitterness while noting any defects that are not allowed in extra virgin olive oil by law.

Over fifty percent of the oils submitted were disqualified due to olfactory defects such as muddy sediment and rancidity! The remaining qualified oils were then grouped into categories such as Robust, Delicate, and Medium. WOW!

In a previous post someone

In a previous post someone mentioned the Napa Valley Naturals Brand

http://www.napavalleynaturals.com/Organic-Extra-Virgin-Olive-Oil/p/NVN-O...

This product just showed up in our supermarket in small-town Canada. In the fine print, our bottles say that it is a 'product of Tunisia'. It's a lovely package but the oil isn't from the Napa Valley.
As I understand it, there is no real standard for the definition of the misleading term "cold-pressed", but the generally acceptable temperature for this definition is under 80 degrees. Check out the link for this product and it clearly states a much higher "cold-pressed" temperature of almost 100 degrees!

Cobram Estate Extra Virgin

Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive oil is great, but perhaps the best thing about the oil is the pop-up pouring spout which virtually eliminates messy drips sliding down the side of the bottle and secretly on to ones cabinet base. I love the spout as much as the oil! But, I find this oil a bit pricy. Come thursday when America defaults on it's debts, I won't be able to afford the stuff because the dollar will be worthless.

Hello,

Hello,
I am kind of partial to Tuscan oil, having been born and raised there. I grew up with oil straight from my uncle's olive trees and when that ran out we would go to the farm and get some. Nothing like sticking your finger under the spigot as it pours out as the olives are being pressed. Talk about peppery. But that was my childhood and adolescence. I now live in the U.S. and I find it hard to find something comparable at a decent price. I used to buy several liters and bring it back with me, but after the liquid limitations went into effect on planes, I haven't felt comfortable putting it in the belly of the plane. I can only guess what goes on in there judging from the conditions of the luggage. I have found Il Grezzo by Costa d'Oro, which I have seen at the Coop supermarket in Florence. Has anyone tried it? I really like the flavor. What about Chaffin Farms? It's the only California oil I've tried that has any kick to it. Bionaturae tastes good as well, but I don't know enough about the company.

Hi Tom

Hi Tom
I'm writing to you from Vines and Branches an Olive Oil and Balsamic Retail Tasting Room in Southampton, Long Island , New York. We have have three locations in The Hamptons in Westhampton Beach Village, Greenport Village (on the NorthFork) & Southampton all on Main Street. We would enjoy a review of our product from you to possibly list us a Market to purchase quality Olive Oils from around the world & Certified Balsamics from Modena, Italy. We proudly sell you book which is very popular & when you are in New York please contact us to possibly visit our beautiful Tasting Room & visit our Historic Village and experience the beauty of our exceptional Atlantic Ocean Beaches. Regards Jackie Fusco

Hello everyone,

Hello everyone,
Thanks for all this useful information. I am surprised that nobody ever mentions Palestinian olive oil (probably because no one has ever seen it). I was born in Andalusia but am of Palestinian origin. In Palestine ALL olive oil is produced in the old traditional manner. It is all hand picked by large extend families and pressed fresh. The only thing sold in the market is the locally produced olive oil, other oils simply do not exist. I have never met a people who use it in cooking as much as Palestinians either (far more than here in Andalusia). I just wanted to pass this information on and am really curious to know what your opinion is on our olive oil? In the UK, some UK activists have managed to allow Palestinian farmers to export their olive oil in the UK and it is now being sold in organic/world food stores. It is appropriately name Zaytoun (it means Olive in Arabic which is the origin of the Spanish word Aceituna). If you every purchase it would love to know peoples' opinions. Many thanks

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