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

Tom,

Tom,
Have you had time to update this list from 2012?

hi tom, thanks again for all

hi tom, thanks again for all the valuable info! i had the privilege of trying a sample of CA olive ranch, olio nuovo, at our costco here in lancaster, PA, and it was like a little sip of heaven...i felt like i was having a party in my mouth! i was thrilled to see costco carrying it, but there were not many bottles to be had, so i quickly snatched one up! i guess they just got in a limited amount. i will definitely be asking them to keep offering it.

hey tom, forgot to mention

hey tom, forgot to mention that i think it would be beneficial for your followers if you would develop an app for 'truth in olive oil'-buyer's guide for wise selection, recipes, recommended oils, oils to avoid, etc. i think it would be so helpful to have on smartphones so it's handy when shopping. whaddya think?

Thanks Tom. I purchased the

Thanks Tom. I purchased the Kirkland Toscano you reviewed and will be trying it shortly. Will let you know how it goes. Thanks again - great information.

I bought 2 bottles of

I bought 2 bottles of Primadonna olive oil in lidl was only £1.99 each 1 litre.I looks a yelliw colir in glass not green.bottle dark.bottled by Oleificio R.M.SPA.VIA DEL PLAGE LUCCA ITALY.Says superior quality direct frm olives solely by mechanical means.blend of olive oils frm EU Extra virgin olive oil.Please advise if u know.Thanx.Daphne.

I have been partial to

I have been partial to Partanna Extra Virgin Olive oil from Sicily. It has a wonderful peppery flavor and great after taste. They only harvest once a year in October. They only package in cans, which I keep in my pantry. They do have an expiration date. I am hoping this is not one of the scam olive oil companies.

Just wanted to thank Tom

Just wanted to thank Tom Mueller for taking the time and having the courage to speak out publicly about the fraud and deceit going on in the olive oil industry. I just purchased his book and only have read about 15% of the book so far it looks like its going to be a great read great information and history. Thanks Mr. Mueller ! We need this in the American food industry which has gone to hell in a hand basket and is really killing people instead of nourishing them !

Ps Tom have you ever tried any Mexican olive oils and if so what do you think ? I ordered some Baja precious to try but I'm a real greenhorn to olive oils but I love the history and as I'm learning the incredible value that is the olive tree . I have been getting evoo from sams but not the omaggio you reference as the sams we go to does not carry omaggio just their daily chef brand which I after reading information that you have provided is probably not real evoo seems quite bland hopefully its just evo mixed with a lower grade of olive oil and not some toxic vegetable oil! It's a tragedy that when walks into a store and purchases evoo or any other food for that matter but you find out later it really is not what it says it is .

Couldn't wait for my Baja

Couldn't wait for my Baja precious to be delivered so I went to a local grocery store and found a bottle of California olive ranch everyday evo that had a harvest date of October/ November of 2015 so of course I had to get it and wow ! I did the sniff test with this evo and with the sams daily chef brand of eco , and the winner was ? The California olive ranch evo , it wasn't much of a contest really, to me it was as it was my first ever evo taste test ! I'm pretty stoked now , would like to try a whole bunch more ! But as I said it was no contest the California olive ranch was fresh smelling and grassy and the sams daily chef was musty and old smelling , fusty maybe ? At that point I didn't feel the need to do a taste test comparison it was garbage time for the sams brand ! Anyways I did have a tablespoon of the California OR evo and I had an almost magical awakening if I may to real quality evo ! It was sooooo fresh and grassy with that light peppery finish I've been reading about it seemed alive like a real living food , so yea I'm stoked to try some more feel like I could drink the whole bottle of the REAL evo and I can't wait now till my Baja precious comes so I can do another taste test or two !

How can a 2008 or 2009

How can a 2008 or 2009 vintage olive oil win awards -- including a gold medal -- in 2012/2013?

http://www.piodelramo.com/en/awards.html

PÍO DEL RAMO CRIANZA
Vintage: 2009
Silver Medal. Bacchus 2013.
Silver Medal. International Wine Challenge Catavinum 2013.
Silver Medal. Certamen de Calidad de Vinos de Jumilla.
Commended. Decanter 2013.

PÍO DEL RAMO CRIANZA
Vintage: 2008
Gold Medal. Bacchus 2012.
91 points. Guía Peñín 2013.
Silver Medal. International Wine Challenge Catavinum 2012.
Silver Medal. Cofradia del Vino Reino de la Monastrell 2008.

I wonder if you could comment

I wonder if you could comment on two very popular oils here on the East Coast - Goya and Colavita. While I have tried and use numerous other brands and there are a number I shy away from, these are what I believe to be decent everyday oils and I hope they're for real. Anything you can tell me about them would be greatly appreciated. Forgive if they've been mentioned in the many pages before this one.

I use Aldi "Carlini" extra

I use Aldi "Carlini" extra virgin olive oil for sautéing and making salad dressings. It has a bit of a dull flavor, but it is not offensive. It's flavor starts to come through when used for cooking and mixed with multiple ingredients in salad dressings. I keep an oil with a brighter, peppery taste on hand for dipping, drizzling, etc. It's cost makes it ideal for general cooking uses. I cannot, however, attest to it's legitimacy as "extra virgin". At just a little over three bucks a bottle, I would say to give it a try. You can always use it to sauté veggies if the flavor is to dull for you.

I buy Fairway Market EVOO's

I buy Fairway Market EVOO's they have a great selection and I asked them how they get these oils and they told me the oils come in barrels from the suppliers and they bottle it directly from the barrels here in the US

Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club!

Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club!
At Food Renegade's website, she informed me about an extra virgin olive oil club
you can join.
They send you a complimentary (trial) small bottle for free,
They don't start shipping the new, fresh stuff (quarterly shipment) till after your payment has cleared and I cancelled prior to paying after getting free bottle.
You can cancel any time or even put your membership on hold.
Can you look into this to see if it seems legit and whether the price is fair given that they air ship the new oil to you? The idea is the oil you receive is supposedly
much fresher since they fly it by air. Of course that would depend upon when it was
pressed and flown, also. The person in charge of the olive oil club goes to Italy or actually lives there and supposedly travels and picks various ones at various times.
T. J. Robinson, The Olive Oil Hunter
The Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club
Email: MemberServices@FreshPressedOliveOil.com
www.FreshPressedOliveOil.com

Member Services:
1854A Hendersonville Rd #20
Asheville, NC 28803
888-963-4582
memberservices@freshpressedoliveoil.com
www.freshpressedoliveoil.com
memberservices@freshpressedoliveoil.com
Food Renegade is a website where I found out about this club.
"The lab that verifies the purity of our olive oils is called
Chemiservice.
If you ever need assistance with your membership or
you have any questions, please visit our website at:
https://oliveoilhunter.com/home.php
There is a lot of good information in the Frequently
Asked Questions (FAQ) section that may answer your
basic questions.

Quarterly shipments
are sent to all active members of the FPOO
Club in the
mid to latter part of the following months,
with credit
cards being billed approximately one week prior to shipping:

March - Spanish oils
June - Chilean oils
September - Australian oils
December - Italian oils

Thanks if you have time for looking into this club. It may be a legitamite club
but I just don't know. They were very courteous and immediately cancelled my membership when I asked, even though I hadn't paid yet and only got the free bottle.

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,
I realize this article is from 2012. I got here from a link in Dr Hyman's article.
I wonder if you've ever tried Jovial's olive oil. I haven't seen it in stores, although their Ancient Einhorn flour and some pastas are at Natural Grocers. I buy their olive oil from their website jovialfoods.com.
When you open the bottle, it has a beautiful, fresh, fruity smell - not the rencidy smell a lot of grocery stores oils have.
Sometimes you have to wait for the next pressing - you can preorder and they'll ship it as soon as it's pressed. I would love to hear what you think about it.
Thanks,
Paula Wick

My favorite olive oil is

My favorite olive oil is Braggs organic olive oil...it's not cheap, but Thrive Market has the best
pricing. It's fresh, tastes/smells great, and I TRUST the company!

HI - What do you think of

HI - What do you think of THE FRESH-PRESSED OLIVE OIL CLUB ...run by T.J. Robinson? So far I have only received one bottle (gift when you join), and it's nothing like store-bought oils I've had. Very fresh and green and fragrant. They send 3 varieties, following the harvest around the world, 4 times a year. It's expensive, but I figure that it's worth it to have the health benefits that the oil should provide. Heard of it?

Hello, thank you very much

Hello, thank you very much for a great article. I'm always so confused as to why the brand Terra Delyssa is never mentioned but yet seems to have all the right qualities required and can also be purchased at Costco. Can you tell me if this brand is indeed a good one to purchase?
Thanks again!

I use unfiltered cold pressed

I use unfiltered cold pressed extra virgin Napa Valley olive oil. I heard this is very good, but it is not on the list. Also, I cannot find a date on the bottle.

I did not see the "Daily Chef

I did not see the "Daily Chef" organic, cold pressed evo mentioned. It is produced in Italy, Spain, Greece and Tunisia, bottled and packed in Italy, distributed by Sam's Club.

First off, I would like to

First off, I would like to thank you for your information on olive oils and some of your supermarket picks. I am happy to see that there are good quality olive oils without going to the specialty stores.
My question....I am in search of a really good olive oil, not EVO, to bake with. Is there such a thing? EVO has a very strong taste and it shows through in baked goods. Thx!

Thank ya'll for the very

Thank ya'll for the very informative input. Around these stompin grounds, we have Kroger, Sam's Club, Albertson's, and the Green Market. I will certainly expand my horizons in the EVOO.
May ya'll have great success in the EFGT Program; D Thank you, Tom, for your part in helping to educate us, to make wiser choices. As a youngster Crisco oil was the only oil in the kitchen.

I'm glad I have been buying

I'm glad I have been buying the right oils. I have been using the Costco Toscano and Whole Foods California 365 for some time. Thanks for the heads up on Trader Joe's. I will follow your advice. I am still confused about the mixed advice about the questionable benefits of cooking with EVOO. I have been using the house brand EVOO of a local Pasta store chain, Pastosa, for that purpose, though I often wonder if I should be using their less costly PURE oil to cook. I have been told that the Spanish TORO brand is a good bet to cook with.

I am curious if the Kirkland

I am curious if the Kirkland Toscano is Organic? Also, why do you not say anything about the brands carried by the many coops in the United States?

I SEE ITS BEEN A FEW YEARS

I SEE ITS BEEN A FEW YEARS SINCE ANYONE REPLIED TO THIS BUT WE HAVE A REGIONAL IMPORTER THAT WAS ONCE PARTIALLY OWNED BY A LOCAL RESTAURANT OWNER. HE HAS SINCE DIVESTED HIMSELF OF THE BUSINESS. HOWEVER THEY STILL CLAIM TO SELL A TOTALLY GREEK OLIVE OIL TSITALIA BRAND. THEY CLAIM ITS PURE BUT CANT PROVIDE ANY PROOF AND CLAIM ITS TOO EXPENSIVE TO PAY FOR CERTIFICATION.

Years ago the chef at a local

Years ago the chef at a local restaurant in my area suggested Zoe olive oil and I've been using it ever since. I trusted his recommendation since his restaurant only serves organic, grass-fed, locally grown (when available). If you have any comments regarding Zoe I'd love to hear them. Thanks.

My Kroger has three varieties

My Kroger has three varieties of Private Selection EVOO: Italian, California and Spanish. Any recommendations or comments within that group? Wonderful article!

I went to buy the Private

I went to buy the Private Selection brand at Krogers but got confused as they have three different varieties: Spain, California, and Italian. Olive varieties were listed but mean little to me. Could you comment on these varieties?

Wonderful article; I have been wanting to purchase better quality but have no way to judge. I appreciate all the work you've put into this!

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