Mar 172011
It wasn’t until I spent time in Europe and North Africa that I realized that olive oil didn’t have to taste nasty.For years, my Mom’s kitchen pantry housed a small cone-shaped bottle of Pompeian Olive Oil. I’m not sure when she bought the bottle, but I know it made many moves with our family, from Florida to Tennessee to Pennsylvania to a trash can in Augusta, Georgia. No one but Mom used the increasingly stinky, gluey mess inside. Sometimes she used it in her food, declaring it delicious, and sometimes she used it on her hair, extolling the resulting shine and manageability. Years later I realized Mom was on to something, but just not from that poor, rancid bottle. 

Olives come in many varieties, for example, frantoio, koroneiki, kalamata, mission, and arbequina, to name a very few, and the oil that is pressed as Extra Virgin, Virgin, Olive, and other grades of olive oil fit for human consumption vary in taste not only by variety of olive but by grade. Extra Virgin, which is the first press, generally has a stronger flavor than the other grades you can find on your grocery store shelf. But this strong olive fruit flavor isn’t what happened to Mom’s little, well-traveled bottle of olive oil. The olive oil in Mom’s bottle became rancid.

So why does your olive oil taste so bad? It is probably rancid too.

From the time an olive is picked and on it’s way to a press it is in danger of spoiling due to oxidation of the fatty acids in the olive fruit. Once the olive is safely pressed, stored, bottled, shipped to your grocery, and being used in your food the oxidation process slowly continues. There are three ways your bottle of oil oxidizes the fatty acids, the first is by photo-oxidation when light super accelerates the process, second is auto-oxidation which happens during storage in the absence of air the anti-oxidants absorb the free radicals until their aren’t anymore anti-oxidants left and the oxidation process accelerates, and third is called enzymatic peroxidation which is a natural plant enzyme reaction between oxygen and polyunsaturated acids.

Before I give you some tips on storing your olive oil, please do yourself and your family a favor and toss the old olive oil. Add olive oil to your shopping list and experiment with a few different grades and vendors. Have a tasting party with your family and decide which dishes you would prefer enhanced by Extra Virgin, Virgin, or Olive Oil.

Here are three tips for storing your olive oil:

1. Store in a dark cupboard away from sunlight and heat.
2. Store in a cool place, not the refrigerator, at a temperature between 64°F to 68°F or 18°C to 20°C.
3. Decant a large bottle or container of olive oil into well-sealed, small, dark glass containers and store according to steps 1. and 2.

Most olive oils have an 18 to 24 month shelf life from the initial harvest. Once you open the bottle the shelf life declines. So enjoy your new olive oil by pouring it on fresh pasta or toss in a leafy green salad. You’ll find the natural flavors of olive oil will make you Olive Crazy too.

May the sun shine through your branches.