Approximately 99% of the human body is composed of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, calcium and phosphorus. But if you’re me, a percentage or two is certainly olive oil.
What can I say? I am a stereotypical Italian. And one who cooks with the liquid gold every day. I spray my pan to make eggs, coat my proteins to fire up on the grill, and mix salad dressings to toss with my go-to leaf of choice: arugula. Hell, I even drizzle some on vanilla ice cream if the mood strikes (which is often, much to my lactose interolance’s dismay).
But different olive oils serve different purposes, so judging the best of the best (as I do around here weekly) can be quite difficult, if not impossible.
“Much like wine, the flavor of olive oil will vary from region to region and year to year,” says Nick Ritchie, executive chef of luxury kitchen appliance company Signature Kitchen Suite. “If you choose to really get into its nuance, then extra virgin olive oil can be treated much like wine. There are many varieties of flavor, olive types and growing regions to explore.”
Heeding Ritchie’s advice and keeping elements like aroma, texture and, most importantly, taste in mind, this week’s round-up will be a “best of” list, of sorts, instead of a ranking. I tried no less than 25 olive oils over the past few months and narrowed down seven that shone brightest in the aforementioned judging categories. These were also readily available in most mainstream grocery stores because, let’s face it: There are plenty of gourmet, smaller-batch options that really do taste better, but they’re expensive and harder to find.
Check out what came out on top and be sure to try chef Ritchie’s Parm Dip recipe — perhaps the best thing I ate during my most recent trip to Napa.
Parm Dip by Nick Ritchie
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My top mainstream pick may be controversial (much like my decision to rock a bowl cut years after it was no longer cool) because not many people have given Botticell’s olive oil such a high ranking, but I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. It was bold yet smooth, elegant yet versatile and, best of all, sans extremely bitter aftertaste. I found myself drizzling it on practically everything, which isn’t a departure from my everyday norm, but a testament to its ability to enhance all food groups. Do yourself a solid — er, liquid — and load up on this stuff.
For cooking, you’re going to want an oil that infuses its robustness into the dish to zhuzh up boring proteins and vegetables. But you also don’t want it to overpower, which is why Pompeian’s smooth variety strikes a perfect balance between playing the lead role and fading into the background. Use a little, a lot, or Goldilocks it with an amount that’s “just right” and watch how your meals transform from somewhat drab to freakin’ fab.
If you’re all about supporting local, then opt for California Olive Ranch’s award-winning blend of oils from Argentina, Chile, Portugal, and — you guessed it — California. This definitely erred on the lighter, softer side with a somewhat fruity top note and a lingering element of spice, but thanks to its overall balance, it was quite versatile and could be used for anything from dips and dressings to marinades and curing dry elbows.
While some may argue that Colavita’s olive oil may be a bit too strong as a finisher for meats, fish, and cheeses, I beg to differ. Its subtle floral flavor would make a wonderful addition to most dishes and it was, by far, one of the smoothest and lightest of the bunch, coating the tongue with a silky-soft texture that wouldn’t detract from anything it’s served on top of. In fact, it would likely enhance it.
When it comes to salad dressing, you need an EVOO that can stand up to the potency of vinegar but also complement it in a way that doesn’t assault the taste buds. And because Whole Foods’ extra-virgin olive oil is a bit on the blander side (but with a wonderfully delicate pepperiness as an aftertaste), it is a perfect support for bolder ingredients that demand most of the attention.
Costco hit a home run with its Kirkland Signature brand olive oil that begs to be bought in bulk. The oversized jugs tasted like they had been directly imported from a small vineyard in Europe with a distinctly rich and full-bodied flavor that, frankly, put a lot of American grocery store finds to shame. Apologies in advance to those who lack a membership to the beloved big-box chain, but now is the time to find a friend who does and suck up to them.
That Parm Dip recipe above? Yeah, it’s going to taste pretty darn amazing with Fillipo Berio’s extra-virgin olive oil. It’s robust, it’s complex, and it pairs flawlessly with other intense flavors like Parmesan cheese, herbs and red pepper flakes. Bread is obviously amazing on its own, but when dipped in this bad boy, be prepared to drool.
As a somewhat out-of-touch millennial, there are plenty of viral TikTok trends to dislike or even loathe. But one product that actually lived up to its hype was this Graza “Drizzle” and “Sizzle” set that was as fun to use as it was delicious. There is something about a squirt bottle that makes you feel like you’re a professional chef and these delivered on taste, quality and a surprising form of kitchen entertainment (or maybe I just need to get a life).
Speaking of social media trends, I will take no part in the one-sided olive oil feud between Graza and Brightland (though we certainly know where Oprah’s allegiance stands), but I will say that this ultra-luxe option is worth the splurge, especially with its uber-popular duo set featuring one bottle that’s bold and robust and the other that’s smooth and grassy. The latter was my personal favorite because it was one of the more distinct flavors of the bunch, pairing effortlessly with my all-time favorite snack food, hummus, for a more herbaceous departure than the standard Mediterranean notes of basil and parsley.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com