What Is Early Harvest Olive Oil And Why Is It Superior To Other Types?

Anyone who has experience cooking at home likely knows that olive oil is one of the most important staples to have around. It can be used for cooking — including pairing with unexpected foods — as well as for integrating into salad dressings or sauces. But, while you've definitely heard of olive oil, you may not have heard of early harvest olive oil. To find out all about this type of olive oil, Tasting Table spoke to an expert: Katerina Mountanos, a certified olive oil sommelier and founder of the Mediterranean-rooted olive oil and lifestyle brand, Kosterina.

Mountanos explained that early harvest olive oil is a type of extra virgin olive oil that was, as the name suggests, harvested early in the season; olives are harvested for olive oil between October and February, so early harvesting would refer to sometime between October and December. Mountanos also noted that the olives are still unripe during this time — and still green in color.

So what are the benefits of early harvest olive oil? Well, as it turns out, it's both healthier and more flavorful.

The time of harvesting makes a major difference

While it may not seem like there's a big difference between October and, say, January when it comes to extra virgin olive oil, there is. Mountanos said, "Harvesting olives early (as well as a highly specific milling process) is key to making the best quality extra virgin olive oil."

One of the benefits of early harvest olive oil is that when the olives are still unripe, they contain the highest polyphenol content, which means that they have the most health benefits. Polyphenols are natural compounds found in some plant-based foods, including olive oil, and sometimes work as antioxidants — in other words, per National Institutes of Health, they can help prevent certain diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

Beyond the health benefits, early harvest olive oil is also more flavorful. Mountanos said, "Unripe olives harvested early yield less juice, which means more olives are required to make a bottle of EVOO. This is is why authentic early harvest EVOO tends to be healthier and more flavorful (...but also more expensive)." Essentially, you can expect the flavor to be more pronounced and robust than what you're used to with regular olive oil. Between the enhanced flavor and the better health benefits, it certainly makes sense that the price is also higher than what you're used to. To give you an idea of the price, a well-rated 16.9-ounce bottle on Amazon is $23.99.