We tested 20 from New Zealand, Australia, Africa and Europe to see if they meet "extra virgin" standards.
Extra-virgin is the highest quality olive oil you can buy. 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 20 from New Zealand, Australia, Africa and Europe to find out.
Extra-virgin olive oil is produced without heat or chemicals. The International Olive Council (IOC) states this oil must meet chemical criteria and be free from defects when assessed by a sensory panel trained to IOC standards.
All oils passed the chemical and sensory tests, so were lined up in a blind tasting by IOC-accredited tasters.
Two New Zealand oils were worthy of a gold medal (achieving 86 to 100 percent in our expert tasting). Olivo Extra-Virgin Olive Oil tasted of “complex green herbs with hints of lime with a peppery finish”. Kapiti Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Leccino/Picual was a very well-balanced oil, tasting of “oregano, artichoke, rocket and apple” with a “white pepper finish”.
These two oils also carry the OliveMark – Olives New Zealand (the New Zealand olive oil industry body) certification. To qualify for this, an oil must meet requirements for bottling and labelling (including the date the oil was processed) as well as chemical and sensory criteria. Olives New Zealand believes the IOC’s chemical criteria is too lenient and has stricter requirements. To meet its criteria, the free fatty acid level in an oil must be less than 0.5 percent (IOC requires less than 0.8 percent) and peroxide value less than 15mEq per kilogram (IOC limit is less than 20).
Nine oils achieved silver medal status (76 to 85 percent), including four oils (Olivado Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Barnea, Red Island Australian Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, Lupi Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Pams Extra-Virgin Olive Oil) that are good value (we paid $2.04 or less per 100ml).
Fresh is best when it comes to olive oil and both gold-medal oils had pressed-on or harvest dates, so you know exactly how old the oil is.
Eleven of the oils in our test didn’t provide this information including the three oils (Harvest Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, Olivani Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Countdown Extra-Virgin Olive Oil) that weren’t worthy of a medal in our tasting.
We may have struck an older batch of these oils, but there’s no way of knowing without a pressed-on or harvest date.
You need to check the label carefully to be sure you’re buying local oil. While most oils state the origin of the olives or oil, not all are upfront.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Matapiro New Zealand and the Village Press First Press Extra-Virgin Olive Oil are New Zealand oils. However, there’s no mention on the bottle where the olives or oil comes from.
We asked both companies for this information.
Matapiro general manager Simon Arthur said due to demand, the company had to blend its home-grown oil with oil from Australia. Arthur said Matapiro is undergoing expansion and hopes to return to wholly New Zealand grown olives and oil soon.
Despite The Village Press First Press stating New Zealand on the front label, CEO of the company Scott Wright said depending on harvest volumes, First Press is typically New Zealand extra-virgin olive oil blended with Australian oil.
“The reference to New Zealand on the label represents that we are a New Zealand brand and business. All oil is blended, filtered, bottled and labelled in New Zealand,” Wright said. The company told us, at its next harvest, it will amend the label so it’s clear not all the First Press product is New Zealand sourced.
New country of origin regulations, which came into force for fresh food from February 12 (frozen food has until May 2023 to comply), make it mandatory for companies to disclose the origin of certain foods such as fruit and vegetables, meat and cured pork, and fish and shellfish.
However, olive oil isn’t covered by the regulations. We think it should be.
Consumer NZ asked for the regulations to include all single ingredient foods and olive oil falls into this category.
Olives New Zealand also supports country of origin labelling.
Executive officer Gayle Sheridan said consumers should be clearly aware if a product contains imported ingredients.
“Unfortunately, this is not the case in New Zealand where some olive oils are imported and bottled in New Zealand. The Olives New Zealand logo can only be used on oils that use olives harvested entirely here,” Sheridan said.
Some imported oils also have vague origin labelling, such as packed in Italy or imported from Italy. This gives the impression the olives were grown in Italy, but it could mean the oil was only bottled there.
If you’re looking for olive oil made with Italian olives look for the label “Product of Italy” or “Produced and bottled in Italy”.
It's the highest grade of olive oil. To maintain flavour and aroma it’s made with minimal processing.
It means the oil is extracted by mechanical pressing and there’s little or no heat used. Cold-pressed oils usually have a darker colour, stronger natural flavour and are higher in antioxidants such as vitamin E and polyphenols.
It's olive oil with minor imperfections.
It's refined olive oil. It’s light in colour and taste – but it’s no lighter in fat or kilojoules than other olive oils.
It's refined olive oil with a small amount of virgin oil added, resulting in a milder olive taste.
Heat, light, air and time can affect oil quality.