The Best Flavored Olive Oils for 2021

The Best Flavored Olive Oils for 2021

OliveOil.com Staff

5 expert olive oil tasters evaluated 10 flavored olive oils for OliveOil.com. From “Delicious!” to “What were they thinking?” there was a wide spectrum. Take a dive with us into flavored olive oils! Jump to the results.

Flavored olive oils are a popular category in the US, and can often serve as an entry point for appreciating olive oil. Yet they are poorly understood by consumers and often dismissed by olive oil professionals. Let’s take a closer look at what goes into flavored olive oil, and how to tell the good ones from the bad.

Some background on flavored olive oil

Let’s start with some definitions. There are two main categories of flavored olive oils: co-milled and infused. These are made in completely different ways and understanding that will help you make informed choices in the flavored olive oil world.

Co-milled olive oil

This technique is known in Italian as Agrumato (from “agrumi” meaning citrus) and also as fused, crushed and various other names. The concept is this: fresh flavoring ingredients go into the mill along with the olives. The first examples of this method were made with citrus fruit such as lemons and mandarins, but creative millers have taken the ball and run with it. Fresh chilies, herbs and aromatic roots like ginger and turmeric have found their way into olive mills, producing some truly spectacular flavored oils.

Flavored olive oil can be an easy way to add complexity to a dish. The ability to add fresh chili flavor without handling a hot chili is so convenient. And well-made co-milled oils are a way to preserve the flavors of seasonal produce to enjoy all year long.
—Deborah Rogers, Master Miller

Infused olive oil

Infused olive oil is made by combining a finished olive oil with a flavoring. This can be the mixing of dried red pepper flakes or herbs with olive oil to create a flavored condiment. (These infusions of natural ingredients are easy to make at home.) The infused category also includes flavored oils that are made by adding an extract or other flavoring—it can be natural or artificial—to the olive oil. This is also the category where smoked oils end up. They are sometimes made by adding a smoke flavoring to olive oil, but can also be crafted using real smoke like our example in this tasting.

Labeling flavored olive oils

The international sensory definition says that extra virgin olive oil shall have aromas and flavors that “come from sound, fresh olives, either ripe or unripe.” An olive oil that has a flavor that comes from anything other than fresh olives cannot be called extra virgin—in fact, no other ingredients are permitted, just olives. To be clear, we are not talking about flavors reminiscent of grass, green apple or banana, etc, that come from the olives themselves. An oil flavored with rosemary might be lovely, but it is simply not extra virgin.

The Tasting Team blind-evaluated 10 oils, and 5 of those were labeled “extra virgin.” Interestingly, our 5 top-rated oils were all labeled accurately as a flavored olive oil—not extra virgin olive oil. An infused oil can list extra virgin olive oil in its ingredients—that makes sense—but the finished product should never be called "extra virgin."

Co-milled oils are more complicated, because technically even if they were perfectly made with fresh beautiful olives—that would have produced extra virgin olive oil—they were never “extra virgin” because they were flavored from the very beginning. It is up to the consumer to recognize that these co-milled oils can be every bit as fresh and fabulous as a fine extra virgin without having those words on the label. And equally, consumers should be skeptical of flavored products that do call themselves extra virgin. They aren’t, and the producers know that they aren’t. So a discerning consumer might choose to turn their back on such a product in order to send a message regarding such misleading labeling! In the US we definitely need better regulation of the labels in this category so that no one tries to gain advantage in the market by improperly using the term "extra virgin."

How did we judge flavored olive oils?

The oils for this tasting were purchased in mid July 2021 at a Whole Foods Market and a Raleys in Northern California. As always, the tasting was blind, remote, and used regulation blue glasses. Since our Tasting Team is based in California, they have a lot of experience judging flavored olive oils—these have been included in competitions in California for many years—and a method has been developed. California has been a pioneer in the flavored olive oil category, so our team has tasted a lot of great—and wretched—flavored olive oils. There are three parts to the assessment.

Olive oil:

The tasters look for good, fresh olive oil flavor. Signs of fermentation or oxidation in the olive oil will reduce the score. It is not uncommon for producers to think that by adding flavoring to a poor quality oil no one will notice the faults. That doesn’t work; you just end up with a flavored poor quality oil. The one oil that was rated Not Recommended was rejected for this reason: the flavoring was good, but the oil underneath had significant off-flavors.

Flavoring:

The tasters look for clean, fresh, natural-tasting flavoring. High marks are awarded for flavors that evoke perfect, fresh produce such as citrus, herbs or chilies. A flavor of old over-mature herbs or citrus past its prime is marked down. Artificial or chemical notes are also cause for downgrading: a lemon oil that smells like furniture polish or an orange oil that evokes orange popsicles won’t score well. Conversely, points are awarded for complexity and pleasant nuance in the flavoring.

Harmony:

High marks are awarded for oils that manage to have a good balance between olive character and the added flavor. It’s olive oil after all, so the flavor of good fresh olives is part of a well-made flavored olive oil; the flavoring should be clearly present and true, but shouldn’t overwhelm the olives. With garlic oils this can be a challenge, so the tasters are less insistent on the olive flavor standing out. That’s why a roasted garlic oil made with regular olive oil, not extra virgin, was able to score so well. The toasted garlic flavor was complex and very appealing so the oil was ranked quite favorably by the tasters.

The Tasting Team

Our tasting team comprises current or former members of an official olive oil taste panel and international and/or domestic olive oil competition judges. They bring a variety of skills and background in olive oil and the culinary world. The olive oil tasting team for this evaluation was: Deborah Rogers, Nancy Lilly, Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne, Glenn Weddell, Maria Farr.

The Results

Calivirgin Lavish Lime (250 mL)

Overall
4.5 out of 5
Origin

California

Harvest Date

2020

Best Before

N/A

Flavoring

Co-milled

Price Per Oz

$2.19

Taster Notes

Great lime olive oil. Clean fresh lime zest aroma & flavor. Good balance of olive oil and lime flavors.

Packaging Notes

Harvest date is printed directly on the glass and very hard to read.

Recommended Uses

Finishing oil. Wonderful for steamed vegetables or a marinade for chicken with some cilantro. Grilled fish, vegetables, guacamole, salad dressings, cocktails.


Calivirgin Hot Virgin Jalapeño (250 mL)

Overall
4.4 out of 5
Origin

California

Harvest Date

2020

Best Before

N/A

Flavoring

Co-milled

Price Per Oz

$2.19

Taster Notes

Great fresh jalapeño aroma and flavors, spicy but not too hot, clean and bright.

Packaging Notes

Harvest date is printed directly on the glass and very hard to read.

Recommended Uses

Finishing oil. Perfect for adding a touch of fresh jalapeño flavor and heat to slaws, beans, tacos, a quick salsa or anything else.


Star Family Reserve Olive Oil with Roasted Garlic (200 mL)

Overall
3.4 out of 5
Origin

Spain

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

10/22/2022

Flavoring

Infused with natural garlic

Price Per Oz

$0.92

Taster Notes

Pleasant toasty aroma with a nice balanced garlic flavor. No olive character, but the oil was clean tasting.

Packaging Notes

Clear glass, will need protection from light.

Recommended Uses

Finishing oil. For dipping, bruschetta, potatoes, in dressings or marinades—anywhere a toasty garlic flavor is desired.


O California Meyer Lemon Olive Oil (250 mL)

Overall
3.2 out of 5
Origin

California

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

Sep 2023

Flavoring

Co-milled

Price Per Oz

$1.75

Taster Notes

Olive oil character is fine but some tasters found a perfumey note in the lemon.

Packaging Notes

BBD printed directly on dark glass in black ink, very hard to read.

Recommended Uses

Finishing oil for grilled fish, chicken or vegetables or in salad dressings.


O California Roasted Garlic Olive Oil (250 mL)

Overall
3 out of 5
Origin

California

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

2/6/2023

Flavoring

Infused with natural roasted garlic flavor

Price Per Oz

$1.65

Taster Notes

Very dark roasted notes to the garlic. Olive oil was a little tired.

Packaging Notes

BBD printed directly on dark glass in black ink, very hard to read.

Recommended Uses

Finishing oil for potatoes, chicken, pasta or grilled vegetables.


Holy Smoke Smoked Olive Oil (250 mL)

Overall
2.6 out of 5
Origin

Oil origin N/A; flavored in N.Carolina

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

N/A

Flavoring

Cold-smoked with hickory

Price Per Oz

$1.54

Taster Notes

Base olive oil wasn't very good, but the hickory smoke flavor was clear and authentic.

Labeling Notes

Incorrectly says "Extra Virgin" on the front label. Once flavored, an olive oil is no longer extra virgin.

Recommended Uses

Finishing oil. Would add a bacon flavor to vegetarian food or a bbq note to oven roasted foods.


Whole Foods Market Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil Infused With Lemon & Mediterannean Herbs (250 mL)

Overall
2.4 out of 5
Origin

Presumably Greece, but "Product of Italy" so flavored and bottled there.

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

12/23/21

Flavoring

Infused, natural flavors and herbs

Price Per Oz

$0.59

Taster Notes

Herb and lemon flavors were not clear or fresh. Not much lemon aroma, and very little olive character.

Labeling/Packaging Notes

Incorrectly says "Extra Virgin" on the front label. Once flavored, an olive oil is no longer extra virgin. Clear glass, will need protection from light.

Recommended Uses

Try in marinades and dressings or on grilled vegetables or chicken.


Zeta Extra Virgin Lemon Flavored (250 mL)

Overall
2.4 out of 5
Origin

N/A

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

N/A

Flavoring

Infused with lemon extract

Price Per Oz

$1.42

Taster Notes

Base oil doesn't taste fresh. Lemon flavoring not bright and clean.

Labeling/Packaging Notes

Incorrectly says "Extra Virgin" on the front label. Once flavored, an olive oil is no longer extra virgin. Clear glass, will need protection from light.

Recommended Uses

Marinades and dressings or on cooked vegetables, fish or chicken.


Zeta Extra Virgin Basil & Garlic Flavored (250 mL)

Overall
2 out of 5
Origin

N/A

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

N/A

Flavoring

Infused with basil & garlic extracts

Price Per Oz

$1.42

Taster Notes

Not well balanced, garlic overwhelmed the aroma, and the garlic and basil did not taste fresh.

Labeling/Packaging Notes

Incorrectly says "Extra Virgin" on the front label. Once flavored, an olive oil is no longer extra virgin. Clear glass, will need protection from light.

Recommended Uses

Marinades and dressings, pasta.


California Olive Ranch Baking Blend Sweet Vanilla Extra Virgin Olive Oil (500 mL)

Overall
1.2 out of 5
Origin

Argentina, Chile, Portugal, California

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

2/7/2022

Flavoring

Infused with natural vanilla extract

Price Per Oz

$0.71

Taster Notes

Vanilla flavoring was good and very strong. Fermented and oxidized flavors of the base oil still came through.

Labeling/Packaging Notes

Incorrectly says "Extra Virgin" on the front label. Once flavored, an olive oil is no longer extra virgin.

Recommended Uses

N/A