Have you guys ever done shots of extra virgin olive oil? I’m going to guess not, because really, who does that? I’ve got to be honest: this was not the tastiest taste test ever. I kind of preferred chocolate week.

That said, this was actually not my first time drinking straight olive oil from a shot glass. At culinary school, you do a range of slightly odd things, and one of those things is olive oil tasting. Honestly, before I had to actually taste olive oil as one would taste wine, I didn’t really consider it to be a particularly interesting and complex product.

But I was so wrong! Olive oil is actually fairly analogous to wine in lots of ways. I mean, you’re talking about olives instead of grapes, but all the concerns of origin, climate, method of making, quality, price and so on do also come into play. There are professional olive oil tasters, and olive oil tasting events. It’s a whole new world.

Many of you probably don’t know (or perhaps care) about the difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. I was once like this. It was a cheaper time. Now I have been educated (actually, we probably drank more straight olive oil at culinary school than humans should). Basically, olive oil is graded by its level of acidity. The level of acid in olive oil tells you how much the fat has broken down into fatty acids. If you want the good stuff, you’re looking for an unrefined oil. Extra virgin olive oil is unrefined, has lower levels of acid compared to blended oils (no more than 1%), and higher levels of the vitamins and minerals from the olive. It also has far more flavour than blended oils.

The whole issue of whether or not oil is healthy and which oils are evil and which will save your life is so stupid and complicated and confusing, and I’m not going into it. Personally, for standard cooking (unless I am deep frying or know I’m going to be working at a very high heat, in which case I will go for sunflower or vegetable) I use a cheap extra virgin olive oil. For eating cold, drizzling over dishes, finishing salads, dipping bread, making dressings, or blending into dips or pestos, I use a better quality extra virgin olive oil.

For baking, I sometimes use extra virgin olive oil if I want its flavour in the finished product, but I’ll often use flavourless oils if the taste doesn’t belong in that particular baked good. I don’t much go in for flavoured oils, but I do have sesame oil and truffle oil (I know, I know) around. I keep a few different bottles of extra virgin olive oil in  the kitchen, and am not particularly loyal to one brand: there are so many to try and I like to mix it up.

But this is just me. If you prefer everything to be cooked in organic cold pressed coconut oil, or only buy vegetable oil and eschew all this fancy oil stuff, go on doing you.

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously there are, say, eight or nine different types of olive oil or whatever the product may be in each supermarket, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which supermarket had made A, B, C, D, E, or F.

The Blind Taste Test: Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil
per 100g
£*
kcal
fat
carb
fibre
protein
salt
Aldi
0.76
824
92
0
0
0
0
Tesco
0.52
900
100
0
0
0
0
Iliada
1.2
823
91
0
0
0
0
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference
1.2
823
91.4
0
0
0
0
Filippo Berio
0.85
822
91.3
0
0
0
0
Waitrose
2.4
823
91.4
0
0
0
0

A – Filippo Berio – 5/10

  • Smells grassy, herbaceous, and reasonably pleasant. The smell doesn’t really come through in the tasting. There’s a nice bitterness to it, but otherwise it’s a bit bland. Fine for cooking, but I probably wouldn’t use it for eating cold.

B – Waitrose – 7/10

  • Smells grassy, a bit spicy, and a little floral. An interesting taste and good flavour – a real kick of pepper on the finish, which is enjoyable, and a bit of fruitiness. I would use it for eating cold, dipping and so on.

C – Iliada – 5/10

  • Nothing particularly interesting in the scent. Tastes fairly bland. No peppery kick on the aftertaste. Not unpleasant but not going to set the world alight.

D – Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference – 8/10

  • Smells lighter than many of the other samples. A herbaceous, grassy tastes carries though in the flavour. A pleasant spiciness on its finish. Would use for salad dressings and so on.

E – Aldi – 7/10

  • No real notable scent, and initially doesn’t seem very interesting, but actually has a very nice flavour and a complex, strong, spicy finish when you taste it properly.

F – Tesco – 6/10

  • The only really visually different oil, looking much lighter and more golden than the others. Smells pleasant. Less body than the others and kind of disappears in the mouth, but has the pepper finish and quite a strong flavour – surprisingly not too bad.

Conclusion

I am not a professional olive oil taster, and it’s a whole skill that people specialise in. I am not one of those people. It’s quite possible that I am missing intricacies and subtleties here, so do remember this is a layman’s opinion. It would have been much nicer to dip bread into the olive oil, to be honest, but I wanted to have the best chance of just tasting the product.

I think what we have here is kind of a triumph of packaging. The Iliada oil, in it’s little can, looked interesting and pretty and very different to the other offerings, but the product didn’t really impress me. The basic Tesco packaging, though pretty uninspiring in and of itself, held an olive oil that had more of a unique taste than some of the other samples.

My favourite extra virgin olive oil from these six was the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference product, but the Waitrose, Aldi, and even budget Tesco options were all nice enough to use in dishes where you’d actually notice the flavour of the oil. The others were also fine, but I’d use them for cooking rather than eating. Please can I stop drinking straight oil now?

*Prices correct at time of writing.