Pouring olive oil

Olive oil

If you’re shopping for olive oil, extra-virgin is the highest quality you can get. It’s also a healthy choice with high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants and polyphenols. But are all extra-virgin olive oils created equal? We tested 17 from New Zealand, Australia and Europe to find out.

Join us now to unlock this content

Unlock all of Consumer from just $12 a month

  • Heaps of buying advice so you can choose with confidence
  • Independent reviews of thousands of products and services
  • Personal advice an email or phone call away on our advice line (members only)
Log in

Extra-virgin olive oil is produced without heat or chemical processing. The International Olive Council (IOC) says the oil must meet chemical criteria and be free from defects when assessed by a sensory panel trained to IOC standards.

We carried out 3 chemical tests and a sensory analysis of the oils. The oils that passed the chemical and sensory tests were lined up in a blind tasting by 3 IOC-accredited tasters. The tasters rated the oils out of 100 and were looking for well-balanced oils with good aromas and lots of fruity flavours.

What we found

No tested oil was worthy of a gold medal. But the 2 Aussie oils in our line-up achieved silver medal status (75% to 84%). Red Island First Cold Pressed (78%) had “a peppery finish” with artichoke, herb, cashew and lemon notes. Cobram Estate First Cold Pressed Classic Flavour (76%) had “a delicate fruity nose” with citrus and mint notes. At $1.40 and $1.60 per 100ml they’re also good value.

Eight oils achieved a bronze medal (65% to 74%) including Harvest Special Selection (73%) – the cheapest oil per 100ml in our test ($1.05). Two Kiwi oils – Kapiti Frantoio/Leccino and Divinity Premium Frantoio – made a good showing, both scoring 70%. The Kapiti oil had cinnamon and nutmeg notes and the tasters liked Divinity’s “chilli/onion finish”.

Select, Borges, La Espanola, The Olive Lady and Pams were our other bronze medal oils. The Select, La Espanola and The Olive Lady oils had no “pressed-on” or “harvested” date (although they were within their best-before) and we may have struck a newer batch of these oils. But there’s no way of knowing from the bottle. We’d like to see pressed-on or harvest dates for all extra-virgin olive oil.

Some oils didn’t perform as well as they did in our previous tastings. The Village Press Frantoio was one of our top performers in 2008, but the tasters thought the oil we tasted this year was lacking in fruit. On the other hand, the Kapiti brand rated well this year but was rated unacceptable by our panel in our 2008 tasting. Oil can be affected by transport and storage, an issue for producers to follow up with retailers.

Off the mark

Four oils weren’t included in our tasting because they failed either the sensory or chemical tests.

Olivani and Ceres Organics oils failed our sensory test.
Olivani and Ceres Organics oils failed our sensory test.

Olivani and Ceres Organics oils failed our sensory test. The Ceres Organics oil had a “rancid” defect, which means the oil had started to oxidise and break down. Olivani had a “fusty/muddy sediment” defect – the olives may have started to ferment before they were pressed. Both were well within their best-before date of mid-2018, but neither oil had a “pressed-on” date.

The Olivani oil was in a clear bottle. Packing oil in clear bottles and exposing it to artificial light for long periods, such as the lighting in supermarkets, results in oil deteriorating faster.

Moutere Grove and 100% Kiwi New Zealand had 1 UV absorption reading slightly higher than tolerated by the IOC standard.
Moutere Grove and 100% Kiwi New Zealand had 1 UV absorption reading slightly higher than tolerated by the IOC standard.

Ceres Organics provided us with certification its oil met the sensory and chemical specification for extra-virgin olive oil when it was shipped. It is investigating the matter with its supplier.

Two Kiwi oils – Moutere Grove and 100% Kiwi New Zealand – had 1 (out of 3) UV absorption reading slightly higher than tolerated by the IOC standard. This indicates the oil may have degraded during storage.

These oils also had the highest peroxide values (PV) in our test – Moutere Grove had a PV of 15 and 100% Kiwi New Zealand a PV of 16. When an olive is picked, it has a PV of almost zero. A good olive oil pressed promptly under good conditions will end up in the bottle with a PV of 2 to 3. However, there’s still oxygen in the bottle and, when oil reacts with oxygen, it begins to deteriorate. The PV will increase in the bottle, with the peroxides breaking down to give nasty-smelling and tasting compounds.

Olives New Zealand (the New Zealand olive oil industry body) believes the IOC’s PV maximum of 20 is too high. To qualify for Olives New Zealand certification, an olive oil must have a PV value of less than 15.

Italian olives

Buying extra-virgin olive oil from Italy? You need to check the labels carefully – it may not be made from Italian olives at all.

Spain is the biggest producer of olives and olive oil. Italy is the second-biggest producer. However, because the Italians are also one of the biggest consumers of olive oil, Italy doesn’t produce enough olives to meet its own demand. Much of the Spanish crop is exported to Italy, where it’s repackaged for sale as Italian olive oil. Other countries, such as Greece and Turkey, also export olives to Italy.

Lupi says it’s “imported from Italy”. This gives the impression the olives were grown in Italy, but it may mean the oil was only bottled there as the fine print on the back says it’s “blended and bottled in Italy from Mediterranean olive oils”. Gusto says it’s “packed in Italy” but the back label says it’s from European Union origin.

If you’re looking for olive oil made with Italian olives look for the label “Product of Italy” or “Produced and bottled in Italy”.

Top 5 in our tasting

Red Island Extra Virgin Olive Oil First Cold Pressed

Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil First Cold Pressed Classic Flavour

Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil Special Selection

Kapiti Extra Virgin Olive Oil Frantoio/Leccino

Divinity Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil Frantoio

Our tips

  • Buy the freshest oil possible. Look for a “pressed-on” or harvest date, as best-before dates aren’t necessarily a good indicator of quality.

  • Heat and light affect oil quality. Don’t buy clear-bottled oils, especially ones that have been displayed in a shop window or under fluorescent light.

  • Store in a cool dark place, tightly stoppered.

Full results

ProductPrice/100ml ($)[sort;asc]PackagingDate markingsFFA testPV testUV absorption testSensory testTasting results (%)Tasting results (%)[sort; hidden; asc]Tasting comments
Red Island Extra Virgin Olive Oil First Cold Pressed (Australia)1.40Green bottleHarvested 2016. Best-before 9/10/2018.0.45101.86EVOO7878Artichoke, green herbaceous, good transfer, cashew, citrus (lemon). Peppery finish.
Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil First Cold Pressed Classic Flavour (Australia)1.60Green bottleHarvested 2016. Best-before 9/11/2018.0.2371.69EVOO7676Delicate fruity nose. Citrus and mint notes. Very mild bitterness and pungency.
Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil Special Selection (Spain)1.05Green bottleBest-before 24/11/2018.0.2282.05EVOO7373Tropical fruits and passionfruit. Good transfer to palate.
Divinity Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil Frantoio (NZ)7.58Dark bottlePressed May 2016. Best-before May 2018.0.10121.66EVOO7070Cut grass and green herbs. Nice sweet grassy transfer to palate with chilli/onion finish.
Kapiti Extra Virgin Olive Oil Frantoio/Leccino (NZ)4.44Green bottlePressed July 2016. Best-Before July 2018.0.1091.84EVOO7070Soft harmonious palate. Spices of cinnamon and nutmeg. Mild bitterness and pungency. Fresh and clean.
Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Spain)1.50Green bottleBest-before 13/07/2018.0.2481.94EVOO6969Green fruits on nose. Mild bitterness and pungency.
Borges Extra Virgin Olive Oil Original (Spain)1.26Green bottlePacked on 11/05/2017. Best-before 11/11/2018.0.1871.94EVOO6868Tropical fruits. Good transfer to palate. Lingering flavours.
La Espanola Extra Virgin Olive Oil Special Selection (Spain)1.20CanBest-before 8/04/2018.0.27102.13EVOO6666Tropical fruits with gentle herbaceous flavours.
The Olive Lady Extra Virgin Olive Oil First Cold Pressed (Greece)1.60Green bottleBest-before 2/09/2018.0.43112.02EVOO6666Light delicate. Peaches and almonds. Buttery. Medium lingering pungency. Medium rocket finish.
Pams Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Spain)1.40Green bottlePacked on 29/02/2017. Best-before 28/08/2018.0.2492.19EVOO6565Low in aroma and flavour. Slight chemical taste. Unbalanced. Lingering long bitterness.
Gusto Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Italy)1.20Green bottleBest-before 31/12/2018.0.3771.93EVOO6363Exotic fruits on nose. Bit flat and oily.
Lupi Fruity Taste Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Italy)1.50Green bottleBest-before January 2019.0.28102.26EVOO6262Low in aroma. Bitter. Lacks complexity. Unbalanced. Lingering pungency.
The Village Press Extra Virgin Olive Oil Frantoio (NZ)2.40Green bottleHarvested June 2016. Best-before 31/07/2018.0.36122.05EVOO5555Lacking fruit. Lacks clarity and cleanliness.
100% Kiwi New Zealand Extra Virgin Olive Oil (NZ)2.20Dark bottlePressed June 2016. Best-before June 2018.0.12162.62EVOONT0Not tasted - failed one UV absorption test.
Ceres Organics Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil (Italy)3.40Dark bottleBest-before 16/05/2018.0.27102.31VirginNT0Not tasted - failed sensory test.
Moutere Grove Extra Virgin Olive Oil (NZ)5.39Green bottleHarvested June 2016. Best-before June 2018.<0.10152.54EVOONT0Not tasted - failed one UV absorption test.
Olivani Extra Virgin Olive Oil First Cold Press Fruity Taste (Italy)1.90Clear bottleBest-before 22/06/20180.52112.22VirginNT0Not tasted - failed sensory test.

GUIDE TO THE TABLE PRODUCTS are listed alphabetically according to their tasting result. PRICE is per 100ml and is based on the price we paid. Larger sizes may be more economical. FFA TEST Free fatty acid acceptable range 0-0.8%. PV TEST Peroxide value acceptable range 0-20 mEqO2/kg. UV ABSORPTION TEST acceptable range 0-2.50. Two additional UV measurements were taken; all products were in the acceptable range for these additional tests. SENSORY TEST EVOO = Extra-virgin olive oil. TASTING RESULTS % Gold medal standard (85% to 100%). Silver medal standard (75% to 84%). Bronze medal standard (65% to 74%). NT = not tasted.

The name game

  • Extra-virgin is the highest grade of olive oil. To maintain flavour and aroma it’s made with minimal processing.
  • Virgin is olive oil with minor imperfections.
  • Light or extra-light is refined olive oil. It’s light in colour and taste – but it’s no lighter in fat or kilojoules than other olive oils.
  • Pure is refined olive oil with a small amount of virgin oil added, resulting in a milder olive taste.

About our test and tasting

Our test and tasting were conducted by the IOC-accredited NSW Department of Primary Industries Oil Testing Service at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute. Product samples were purchased by Consumer NZ.

Chemical tests

According to the IOC trade standards, extra-virgin olive oil must have a maximum free fatty acid (FFA) level of 0.8% and a maximum peroxide value (PV) of 20. It also has 3 requirements for UV absorption.

The FFA level measures the amount of chemical breakdown of the oil. This tends to increase if the fruit is damaged and as the fruit ages. Poor handling and storage of fruit between harvest and processing can also increase FFA levels. However, it’s fairly stable once the oil is bottled.

The PV measures the level of oxidation at any given time. It’s affected by air or light coming into contact with the oil during processing and storage. An oil’s PV will continue to rise in the bottle over time.

The UV absorption test may also detect degradation of the oil during storage. UV absorption continues to rise as the oil ages.

Sensory test

The IOC also requires oils to be free from defects and have positive characteristics (such as fruitiness) when tasted by an IOC-accredited sensory panel.

Our tasting

Each oil that passed the chemical and sensory tests was included in a blind tasting. Three IOC-accredited panellists tasted the oils “blind” and gave each oil a score out of 100.

By Belinda Castles
Research and Testing Writer