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If there’s one ingredient that’s as cherished by amateur home cooks as it is by professional chefs, it’s olive oil. Drizzle it over your favorite salad, use it to sauté a fresh piece of fish, or dip a crusty piece of sourdough in it for a classically delicious combination. Plus, unlike some other oils, olive oil is known for its myriad health benefits, thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially extra-virgin olive oil, a.k.a. EVOO.
But if you’ve ever walked through the oil section of any grocery store or searched for a new one online, you know that there’s a veeery wide range of options to choose from. There are Italian olive oils from the depths of Tuscany, Greek olive oils from the Aegean Islands, and American olive oils from the coasts of California and Hawaii. Some cost just a few dollars, while others come with a sizable price tag, and each one seems to claim a different name, be it “pure,” “extra-virgin,” or “refined.” Needless to say, the sheer number of olive oils available to choose from can be quite overwhelming—but it doesn’t have to be.
First and foremost, most chefs and olive oil experts say to stick with extra-virgin olive oil. “Extra-virgin olive oil is definitely the top choice when it comes to flavor, quality, and health benefits,” explains Serena Poon, a celebrity chef. But because EVOO has a relatively low smoke point of around 350 degrees, it is best if used raw, in dressings, sauces, and gravies slow-cooked over low heat, says Taylor Fazio, RD, CDN, a wellness advisor at The Lamby.
Once you’ve found some options that meet these criteria, you want to think about how you plan to use the olive oil as well as your personal taste. And if you’re still feeling a little intimidated by the world of extra-virgin olive oil, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorites, all of which are great starting points.