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

Wow what an amazing wealth of

Wow what an amazing wealth of information! I'm hoping you can help me... I'm trying to get my mom to switch from refined olive oil to extra virgin for the health benefits. While she is usually one who enjoys high quality, healthy foods, she does not care for the flavor of extra virgin. I know this probably goes completely against everything you believe in (sorry!) but could you please recommend some reasonably-priced (very, if possible) EVOOs that are mildest in flavor? I can easily shop at Trader Joe's, Costco or Whole Foods. Thanks so much!!

hey Tom,

hey Tom,

Do you have a list of any organic brands that are good. Seems like a lot of the organic stuff you've tried doesn't measure up.

thanks,
rich

Hi, there is a wonderful

Hi, there is a wonderful organic olive oil that is just entering the US market from the Greek Basin. Its a PDO EVOO that at present can only be found exclusively at ABC Carpet and Home in NYC, and at Zingermans through bhedeman@zingermans.com.
Its an estate organic EVOO and its LOVELY!!!

Hi! You write, "The Whole

Hi! You write, "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.' Do you mean that it is not only olive oil (ie: soy or some other oil?) We use the 365 Organic and would be very concerned to find out it is not 100% Olive Oil. Thanks for your time.

I live in the Houston, Texas

I live in the Houston, Texas area (The Woodlands), and shop at HEB. I took this list with me to the grocery store and was able to find O-Live, California Olive Ranch, Corto, and Ottavio. All except for Corto were harvested in 2012, while the bottle of Corto I found was harvested in November 2013. At $10 for a liter, it was also the best deal (besides a giant 3-liter box of Ottavio for $26). I haven't tried it yet, but I'm excited to finally know that I've got the real deal. Thanks for the supermarket picks! When Costco finally opens a store here later this year, I should be able to get an even better deal (provided their Toscano is relatively fresh).

Tom, please give us your take

Tom, please give us your take on mild EVOOs, I am also interested in trying some inexpensive brands. The only ones I’ve seen are about $40/liter.
Regards,
Patrick

I never really knew what good

I never really knew what good oil was when I tasted it, because no one ever told me what I should be tasting *for*, until I read your book. I'm sure I must have tasted good oil at some point, since I've dined in some really fantastic restaurants in Italia, like Alle Murate and Cibreo in Firenze, and La Vecchia Roma in Roma, among others, but it wasn't until I read your book that I understood why all the extra virgin olive oil I was buying at the supermarket just didn't seem to inspire the sort of rhapsodies all the cooking magazines suggest I should experience.

I had bought a bottle of the California Olive Ranch oil at one point, but it didn't seem all that special to me. So, one day, I came across your website and saw you had a list of recommended supermarket oils. I tried the Cobram oil that I got at Safeway, and again, it didn't seem remarkable, but I was surprised to see the Toscano oil from Costco on your list, so on my next trip to Costco, I picked up a bottle.

Wow! Now, I get it. More than a teaspoon of this in my mouth, and my throat is on fire. The flavor is seriously powerful, and I've now taken to drizzling it over full-fat Greek yogurt (or even sour cream) with local raw honey, a squeeze of lemon, and a smattering of good sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper as my favourite dessert/anytime snack.

I'll never go back top supermarket oils again. It's like night and day. Note that the California Olive Ranch and Cobram might very well be just as good, but I just can't say they stuck out in my mind. It's probably just that my brain wasn't really ready for them at the time. But $12 for a litre at Costco is definitely worth the money.

Oddly, the one TJs OO I found

Oddly, the one TJs OO I found consistently admirable, you left out. Its aclear bottled , 3cultivar Italian, Sicilian Seleczion. Its very good and passed an informal blind taste test easily with our club

Tom, have you tried any

Tom, have you tried any Croatian olive oils? This is a travel tip, not something that can be bought in the US, but Chaivalon, in the Istria region of Croatia, north of Pula, makes sensational olive oil and has a lovely tasting room and charming, interesting young owner. Highly recommended for a visit.

Interesting ongoing dialogue.

Interesting ongoing dialogue. O-live confirmed quickly their Chilean EVO is available at two out of three major Canadian supermarket chains, Loblaw (including Fortinos in Ontario), and Sobeys. My Portuguese immigrant landlord has suggested Mastro EVO as being cheap, fresh, and encouragingly green. It seems available everywhere here. Can you recommend this oil?
Geoff

I just purchased some Lucini

I just purchased some Lucini EVOO and there is no date anywhere on the bottle? No exp or harvest date is that normal? Thanks for a wonderful lesson on EVOO

Hi Tom, I really need your

Hi Tom, I really need your opinion on the Spectrum brand of organic extra virgin olive oil. My 10 month old baby is allergic to soya & dairy products and the doctor recommended adding olive oil to his meals so that he gets some good fats in his diet. I bought Spectrum but have been wondering if it's good enough to give to my baby or not. Have you tried it and what do you think about it? Really looking forward to your reply!

Your best bet at Trader Joes

Your best bet at Trader Joes is the clear (?!) bottle of italian sicilian, from three cultivars, according to the label. As well as the innocuous California Arbequina in the tall bottle. They're both very passable and lately at least, free of major defects, some nice character. the Italian is pretty nice and a bargain.

I have purchased the Trader

I have purchased the Trader Joe's California Estate Olive oil and in fact it did not solidify at all when refrigerated. You have recommended it here so now I am confused. I was preparing to return it but.....can you clear this up.

Hi, I was just given a bottle

Hi, I was just given a bottle of organic extra virgin olive oil from Palestinian small farmers. Cold pressed Nabali olives from co-ops of small scale farmers in Palestine's West Bank. Equal Exchange, Fairly Traded. Do you or anyone else know anything about this olive oil? I like it any would like to support them.

Thank you for the due

Thank you for the due diligence. I just purchased from Stop and Shop in Connecticut their EVOO. I'll return it for something real. Thank you again.

I can't thank you enough, Tom

I can't thank you enough, Tom, for covering this topic. I first discovered you when I read your in-depth article in The New Yorker about fraud in the olive oil industry. Since then, I've been telling everyone about it. I was lost, not knowing where to find good, affordable olive oil. My strategy was to buy ones from California, as it's the U.S. state that best protects its residents, in the way of products (Prop 65) and other standards. (I would move there if I could!) So I'm glad to hear that the olive oil I buy in The Boys Farmer's Market (in Delray Beach, Florida) is on your list of supermarket oils that are good quality.

There ought to be more people like you looking out for us and our food supply. I was alarmed to hear Mike Adams (of Natural News) on the Dr. Oz show saying that tests from two different labs found toxic heavy metals in many foods, including raw cacao powders, sunflower seeds, and various sea vegetables. :-(

I just got some Apollo Oils

I just got some Apollo Oils from Oregon House, CA for the first time and love them! (I just got your site today from the folks at UC Davis) Have you tried Fustinis in Michigan (that's the name of the store) they carry a lot of infused oils from Veronica foods. They taste too mild to me, but the lady at UC Davis said they were at least honest quality.

Do you have any thoughts

Do you have any thoughts about Les Moulins Mahjoub olive oil? I know they sell it at Whole Foods and through Le Pain Quotidien locations.

California Olive Ranch is

California Olive Ranch is recommended here. However, I recently bought two bottles of the "Everyday" from Whole Foods and the contents of both evidenced clear signs of rancidity.

Since the 'harvest' date was 2012 and the 'best by' dates were February 17, 2016, isn't that overly-generous allowance of 3+ years post-harvest itself enough to make this company suspect?

California Olive Ranch's

California Olive Ranch's "harvest" dates are deceptive (buyer beware). I always check olive oil "harvest" dates and "use by" dates when I'm shopping. Will not buy if both dates are not shown. A couple of days ago I was in a local market and to my surprise California Olive Ranch was showing a 2014 "harvest" date on their label. I called the Company and was told that "the new 2014 harvest starts Oct. 3 and will be on store shelves in March 2015". I asked how could that be when they already have 2014 harvest dates on their labels. She explained that the 2014 Harvest date on the label was actually for the 2013 Harvest. So, the actual 2014 Harvest will show a 2015 Harvest date because the product becomes available in 2015. Whoaaa! The norm for Olive Oil is to show the actual Harvest year which for this year is 2014.
While Olive Oil producers all over the world are using the correct year "2014" for this year's Harvest, California Olive Ranch will be using 2015. Is this a marketing ploy that they have the "freshest" olive oil???? Will their olive oils be on the store shelves longer with extended "use by dates"? Yes!!!!! They need to explain this change!

I've enjoyed reading all the

I've enjoyed reading all the comments. I just noticed that Jan made a comment today, Jan 4, 2016. What happened to comments from 2015?? It appears that the last comment was made in October 2014.

Thank you Tom!

Thank you Tom!

I've found in the supermarkets in my area only a few of the extra virgin oils on your list above, but the few I've tried are all good-tasting. These include O-Live (or O-L!ve), Lucini Premium Select, and Lucini Estate Select.

Another good one in my opinion is Loblaws' PC New World EVOO (Chilean), which seems like a slightly lower grade version of O-Live. (The glass bottle looks similar to the O-Live, even with the same "O" symbol with a leaf. While the O-Live label says the olives are pressed within two hours of being picked, the Loblaws PC version says "within a few hours". They both had the same 2013 award mentioned on the label). My first taste of what I would call good extra virgin olive oil was the PC New World EVOO. I still find it to be a good buy if I can't get a reasonably fresh bottle of O-Live or Lucini.

I've found O-Live olive oil

I've found O-Live olive oil to be fresh and flavorful. It has not disappointed. I make certain to look for the harvest dates on the bottle as some stores carry new stock than others.
California Olive Ranch, especially the Limited Reserve, has also been consistently fresh, aromatic and flavorful.

To avoid having this section

To avoid having this section become an ongoing series of "Have you tried / what do you think of . . . ?" -- unless you want it to be that -- it might be better to have people just email those requests to you directly, without expecting an immediate reply.

If and when you've been able to check the oil they've asked about you could then post your view of it here publicly in a list or table subject to updates should your opinion later change.

That would open this section up to other kinds of inquiries. Readers would probably benefit from the resulting filtering (i.e., of message content).

Just a suggestion.

So here's another of those

So here's another of those "have you tried" questions/comments: I was at Trader Joe's a couple of weeks ago and they had an extra virgin from Tunisia I hadn't seen before at $5.99 a liter. So I just opened it last night and found it quite good--delicate, lightly fruity, and very fresh tasting.

I like Trader Joe's

I like Trader Joe's California Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Consumer Reports recommended it a few years ago.

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