For something so dearly essential to our cooking, a bottle of EVOO can be a pain in the ass to purchase—just look to the glass expanse of green bottles in the grocery store, and you'll be met with dozens of options that range anywhere from a couple dollars to an Andrew Jackson or two.
So we did what any other curious cook who's made his or her way through the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks would do: grabbed a few loaves of crusty bread and dabbed (no, not that dab) our way through eight of the most popular supermarket brands of EVOO. Now we know what Ina Garten meant when she said to use good extra-virgin olive oil.
Yes, even we admit to recommending that you keep both a lowbrow olive oil and a separate, ritzier bottle on hand. But we also admit we're lazy and would rather stick to just one great all-purpose bottle.
That's why for this test, we limited ourselves to more down-to-earth-priced brands: They certainly won't transport you to the olive farms of Tuscany, but they can be used for a quick sauté without a second thought, while still making a pretty excellent vinaigrette. (We were OK picking up anything that called itself "extra-virgin olive oil," despite all the misleading practices that go into EVOO labeling.)
While qualities like aroma and the exact shade of jade are nice things to take into consideration, in the end, they play a negligible role in our everyday cooking. Ultimately, our blind-tasting scores came down purely to the flavor of each oil. We graded each one on their balance of pepperiness, bitterness and fruit-forward flavors before handing out a final score.
Our Top Picks
① California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil (65 cents an ounce)
As much as we associate good olive oil with Greek sunshine or Spanish farmland, this highly talked-about domestic bottle was the unanimous group favorite. It's well worth the few extra bucks—throughout the rest of the sampling, we couldn't stop comparing everything else to this oil's buttery, almost-creamy smoothness balanced by a floral, peppery kick.
② Trader Giotto's 100% Italian Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (32 cents an ounce)
Ringing in at less than six bucks for a 500-milliliter bottle, Trader Joe's bested other brands nearly twice as expensive, with a fruity flavor followed by lingering bitterness that never overwhelmed.
Trader Giotto's Extra Virgin Olive Oil (24 cents an ounce)
As much as we romantically would have liked this budget-priced pauper to reign supreme, alas, the blend of olives from various European countries had an overwhelming synthetic taste straight from the bottle. That doesn't make it useless though: It's just best left to recipes where it's not playing the starring role.
Whole Food's 365 Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (35 cents an ounce)
While many of the other oils coated our tongues with a dull, metallic taste, Whole Foods' private-label brand was a fruity, refreshingly light (and very bread-friendly) option. Though some also found it forgettable, it's a cheap, all-around safe bet to grab the next time you're at the organic supermarket—because, you know, you can actually afford shopping there now.
De Cecco (47 cents an ounce)
An extra-grassy flavor (we're talking freshly mowed lawn here) made it hard to taste any other subtleties in De Cecco's olive oil. Not so good for dunking freshly baked focaccia, but ideal when balanced by lots of vinegar or lemon juice if you enjoy gutsy salad dressings.
Bonelli (59 cents an ounce)
As we chomped down on chewy pieces of ciabatta, our noses were permeated by the fruity smell of this crowd-pleasing brand. (Though some found it too similar to eating a basket of fresh-cut flowers.)
Filippo Berio (63 cent an ounce)
If you're the nitpicky person who doesn't like oils too bitter or too ripely sweet, this is your Goldilocks (literally, golden). The neutral flavor makes it a great basic olive oil to get your pantry started.
Bertolli (67 cents an ounce)
The most polarizing contestant in our test. Some tasters found Bertolli overwhelmingly bitter, while others found the strong, piney notes a desirable plus. However, being the most expensive option means for a little less cash you could walk home with our top pick.
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