Extra-virgin olive oil? Think again

FRESNO, Calif.

The sales of olive oil have risen substantially over the last five years thanks to its heart-healthy benefits. You can pay just a few dollars for a bottle to more than a hundred! Consumer Reports just tested almost two dozen extra-virgin olive oils from countries including Italy and Spain, as well as the state of California, to see whether they make the grade.

Expert consultants assess freshness and olive fruit flavors and determine whether there are any defects, such as oxidation. As the oil ages, it goes from slightly stale, wet cardboard, papier-mâché flavors all the way to rancid, painty notes. Extra-virgin olive oil is supposed to be top quality. Not only does it have to pass some basic lab tests but it also has to have an absolutely defect-free flavor, with no off-notes at all.

But testers found that only 9 of the 23 oils truly tasted like extra-virgin olive oil. And several big-name oils, including ones labeled extra-virgin from Bertolli and Goya, rated only fair. But Consumer Reports did find two excellent olive oils, both from California.

The McEvoy Ranch olive oil has an intense aroma with a distinct, balanced olive fruit flavor. But it's pricey at $22 a bottle. For far less, Trader Joe's California Estate olive oil, at $6 a bottle, is a great choice. It has very complex and balanced flavors with a strong aroma. Either would be a welcome addition to any dish that calls for drizzled olive oil.

Two other less-expensive olive oils rated very good in Consumer Reports' tests. They're the Kirkland Signature Select Toscano from Costco and the 365 Everyday Value 100% California Unfiltered Olive Oil from Whole Foods.

Be aware that when it comes to cooking, there's no need to use a pricey olive oil. That's because high heat can destroy the subtle flavors.

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