the ultimate guide to olive oil, extra virgin olive oil

Discover what olive oil is, how each variety differs in taste, and the best varieties to buy with our guide.

View our complete guide to olive oil.

How is olive oil made?

Olive oil is the liquid that comes from pressed olives. Chefs across the world use olive oil for cooking, seasoning and finishing dishes. There are many different types of olive oil, and the flavours and characteristics vary depending on the type of olives used and how many times they have been pressed. 

How does olive oil vary in taste?

The taste of olive oil differs depending on the variety of olives used, how fresh it is and how many times the olives have been pressed – some olive oils might have grassy notes, others sweeter, others rich with notes of almond. Oils made with pitted olives are less bitter than other varieties – this is because the tannins and polyphenols that contribute to bitterness in oil are mainly found in the stones.

The first olive pressing produces the best olive oil with the most distinct flavour, called extra virgin olive oil. Look out for new season extra virgin olive oil each year – this is made with the first pressing of the year’s first harvest of olives, and offers up some of the most excitingly complex, nuanced and ‘olive-y’ flavoured oil you can buy. 

How does olive oil vary by region?

The flavour and colour of olive oils differ by regions and countries. This is due to the variety of olives used, the climate and even the soil conditions. Italian olive oil has a darker hue, while Spanish olive oil is typically golden yellow. Olive oils made with ​​Spanish Arbequina and Picual olives tend to be sweeter, with a less bitter after taste, while an olive oil made with Apulian coratina olives has a pronounced spicniess – this is due to the exceptionally high levels of polyphenols in this variety of olive.

Olive oils produced in the same country can differ dramatically, too. The French Grand Brahis vert is nutty and buttery, while the Grand Brahis noir has an intense aroma of fresh black olives.

Which olive oil should I buy?

Best French olive oils

Grand Brahis Noir AOP Vallee des Baux de Provence Extra Virgin Olive Oil 500ml

As soon as you open the Grand Brahis ‘noir’ you're met with the intense aroma of fresh black olives. This carries through into the flavour – it's perhaps the most olive-y tasting olive oil we've ever had! In contrast to the vert, this has a very soft mouthfeel – not peppery at all. Try the noir with ratatouille, pasta with truffles or garlic snails.

This olive oil has gathered much attention over the last few years, and in a taste test for The Times, chef Francesco Mazzei calls it  "A f***ing great olive oil. It has a beautiful fragrance, a cascade of flavours and absolutely no pepper or harshness in the finish. It’s perfect."

Grand Brahis Vert AOP Vallee des Baux de Provence Extra Virgin Olive Oil 500ml

The Grand Brahis vert has nutty almond and rich buttery notes, but a surprisingly peppery finish you can feel in the back of your throat. You may also detect notes of artichoke and even the grassiness of hay.

Dishes like grilled trout, asparagus salads and bouillabaisse are excellent pairings for this olive oil. Use the oil to elevate a simple tomato soup, along with torn basil leaves, chunks of mozzarella and crusty bread.

Nicolas Alziari Provence Fruity & Intense Olive Oil 500ml

Nicolas Alziari fruity & intense, or Cuvée Pauline, olive oil is an Alziari house-speciality made purely from young, green olives for a fresh and lively flavour. The olive oil is a blend of oils obtained from different European olive varieties, and the exact recipe is a closely-guarded secret over 70 years old! 

The olive oil has a fresh, grassy aroma and a fruity flavour with a slight peppery kick. Drizzle over fresh tomato salads or simply enjoy as a dip for fresh bread. It’s also an ideal finishing touch for grilled meats or carpaccio.

Best Spanish olive oils

Brindisa Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1l

Use this cold pressed olive oil to season classic Spanish dishes such as the traditional breakfast of 'pan con tomate' – toast layered with crushed tomatoes and olive oil.

The extra virgin olive oil is made with the Spanish Arbequina and Picual olives, and has a slightly sweet flavour with no bitter after taste. It's fantastic on baked white fish, paella, pasta and pizza. A great olive oil to keep on the table for seasoning as you eat.

Nunez De Prado Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil 500ml

From the sun-drenched hills of Andalucia comes Núñez de Prado. It's a blend of three famous Spanish olive varieties: Hojiblanca, Picual and Picudo. What makes this olive oil extra special is that it's 'the Flower of the Oil', or Flor de Aceite – the absolute highest grade of olive oil, obtained even before the coveted first cold press.

This olive oil is fruity and citrussy, yet somehow spicy at the same time. It has a peppery finish that balances the initial sweetness. Use as a finishing oil only – drizzle over salads or white fish and seafood, or simply pour into a small dish and devour with fresh bread.

Best Italian olive oils

Medium Fruity Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Cuttlefish Terracotta Bottle 500ml

This medium fruity olive oil is made from peranzana olives, a cultivar that’s only grown in the Apulian region of Italy. The oil is fragrant with a very low acidity. It has notes of tomato, rocket and artichoke, which compliments very lightly cooked fresh fish and vegetable dishes. Take a leaf out of Michelin-starred chef’s Felice Sgarra’s book, and use this olive oil to dress seafood dishes.

Frantoio Muraglia Intense Fruity Olive Oil 3L

Frantoio Muraglia’s intense fruity olive oil is made only from Apulian coratina olives. The robust, rustic flavour of the olive oil comes from the exceptionally high levels of polyphenols in coratina olives, which lends the oil a pronounced spiciness. Expect notes of dill, fennel, pepper and artichoke in the aroma, with punchier vegetal notes in the mouth and a lingering bitter-spicy finish.

Tumai Anfosso Extra Virgin Olive Oil 500ml

Tumai Anfosso extra virgin olive oil is a Ligurian speciality. The golden olive oil is made from a blend of medium-fruity Italian olives and has a slightly spicy aroma. On the palate, the Tumai olive oil is delicately fruity and sweet, with a balanced finish that combines bitter and peppery elements.

Use Tumai Anfosso extra virgin olive oil to finish soups, salads and meat dishes. Or use to make the classic Ligurian pasta sauce – pesto.

Denocciolato - Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Pitted Olives 250ml

Denocciolato is a unique extra virgin olive oil that Frantoio Muraglia make from pitted coratina olives. It is exceptionally smooth with hardly any bitterness. Denocciolato also has a fruity after taste rather than the spicier finish that’s characteristic of the coratina olive cultivar.

When Michelin-starred chef, Felice Sgarra of Umami, first tried denocciolato he said that the delicate notes were ‘a gastronomic revelation’ and that ‘no kitchen should be without it’. 

Best Greek olive oils

Honest Toil Extra Virgin Olive Oil 500ml

Honest Toil extra virgin olive oil is unfiltered, cold-pressed it is an outstanding example of fine Greek olive oil. Made from 100% Koroneiki olives that are picked by hand in the rural Greek countryside, it is pressed and extracted within hours of harvest for the freshest possible product with the purest flavour. 

As the oil is unfiltered, it contains the sediment of olive skins and pips, giving it an opaque rich green colour and thickness. It has a light peppery spice that is balanced with fresh cut grass flavours for a full-bodied, raw extra virgin olive oil.

Honest Toil Olive Oil 3 Litre

This innovative large 3 litre box of Greek extra virgin olive oil is packaged just like a box of wine – the oil is protected from light-degradation by the beautifully illustrated outer cardboard box, and contains an inner three-litre bag filled with oil. Just press the push-tap to easily dispense your oil – no struggling with an unwieldy large container! And it’ll look stunning on a kitchen shelf. 

Taste the full flavour of this excellent olive oil by serving it with warm, just-baked bread at the start of a meal, swirling through a tomato soup or drizzling over vanilla ice cream for a smart and unexpected dessert. 

Shop different Italian olive oils here, or browse our view our complete guide to olive oil.


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