The Best Olive Oils at Walmart 2021: Part 2

The Best Olive Oils at Walmart 2021: Part 2

OliveOil.com Staff

In Part 1 the expert OliveOil team blind tasted and ranked the lower priced extra virgin olive oil options at Walmart. Part 2 tackles the higher priced products, ranging from 41¢ to 75¢/oz. Products for OliveOil.com reviews are independently selected and we do not accept payments or affiliate links.

Our review of the lower priced options from Walmart had a wide range of scores; the higher priced assortment does as well. In a double blind tasting, our tasting team found several very tasty choices in this category, as well as one at the other extreme that they called rancid. Before we get to the ratings, a little bit of discussion about what we found...

A dynamic product

One of the results from this tasting is a great example of the effect of time on extra virgin olive oil. Back in early March, the Tasting Team evaluated the offerings at Whole Foods Market. The top-ranked oil from that tasting was the Cobram Estate 100% Australia Select with a score of 4 out of 5. In this tasting, the Cobram Estate Australia scored 3.4. The tasters still liked it, and it was one of the top two oils of the tasting, but it wasn't up at the level of the previous tasting. Why? The answer is in the harvest dates. When they tasted the Cobram Australia in March, it was the freshest oil in the collection by 6 months: it was Southern Hemisphere Apr-Jun 2020 harvest, while the others were from the Northern Hemisphere 2019-20 harvest, i.e. late 2019.

In this August tasting, the tables were turned. The Cobram Estate Australia was now 6 months behind many of the other oils because they came from the newer 2020-21 N. Hemisphere harvest, and it was showing its age a little. It's also interesting to note that the intensity score was lower as well. This all goes to illustrate one of the essential truths of olive oil: olive oil changes over time. Yes, all oils will eventually become rancid, but early on it is more a question of flavor evolution. The overall impression of the oil will soften with time, and it will become milder, less peppery and bitter. It is a testament to the good quality of the Cobram Estate product that even with a 6-month handicap, it still scored well with the tasters. But the top spot this time went to Partanna, a single region origin oil from Sicily harvested in the 2020-21 season.

The Not Recommended product in this tasting was rejected because of rancidity. A special offering from Star called Premium First Harvest, it seems like it was probably a good oil when it was made, but it was so severely oxidized that positive fruit notes were almost impossible to find. It has a best by date of Jan 2022, indicating a 2019 harvest at best, possibly even 2018. That could happen with a timeline like this: harvest Nov 2018-Jan 2019, + 1 year, bottle Jan 2020, + 2 years, best by date Jan 2022.

Because it is an lesser known label for this popular brand, it's possible that this oil sells more slowly and has languished in a warehouse or on the shelf. This is a challenge faced by many extra virgin olive oils that fall into a more "specialty" category: they turn over at a slower rate. It could also be that this olive oil suffered from exposure to high temperatures at some point. Olive oil needs to be protected from heat in transport and storage, and there is a lot of variability in the level of care taken by different distributors and retailers. Whatever the reason, this oil was shot. Hopefully at some point the team can taste a fresher sample of the Star Premium First Harvest and evaluate that.

Labels, labels, labels

In Part 1 we drew attention to the great information on the Bertolli label. They listed harvest, best by and bottling dates as well as countries of origin in a clear, legible manner. This time, the same parent company, Deoleo, gets the spotlight for a different reason: their Carapelli label says "Casa Olearia Carapelli Firenze [Florence] 1893" on a product that contains no Italian olive oil at all. One could argue that this is just the history of the brand name—and that is no doubt exactly what the company would say. But in the spirit of transparency, they might consider at least removing the word "Firenze" since it implies a geographical origin.  The Carapelli label has the same excellent info as the Bertolli on the back label, why not set the same bar for transparency on the front?      

Our tasting process

All the oils were purchased in mid-August 2021 at Walmart stores in Northern California. We found a total of 24 extra virgin olive oils. The most expensive cost 75¢/oz, and the least expensive was 21¢/oz. A gap in the pricing fell between 35¢/oz and 41¢/oz so that's where we split the categories. Two double-blind tasting sessions were held via Zoom in mid-August. (If you click on the underlined terms below, you'll get a pop-up with further information.)

The olive oils were tasted blind in warmed regulation blue glasses by five trained olive oil tasters. Each oil was evaluated based on a single bottle purchased off the shelf at Walmart. Extra virgin olive oil is a natural product and variation between and within lots is always possible. Because of this, an oil that is Not Recommended due to off-flavors may not be representative of the quality of other bottles and lots. The bottle our team tasted may not be representative of others from the same company—or even from the same lot—depending on how it was handled after bottling. Regardless, we report even the disappointing results because quality protection and control is an important issue for producers, distributors and retailers—and, of course, consumers.

coded samples in amber bottles were sent to the tasters
Sensory analysis—aka taste testing—by a trained, calibrated taste panel of 8 to 12 tasters is part of the legal grading process of olive oil. Such a panel can scientifically grade olive oil according to its sensory characteristics. Our mini tasting panel emulates the practices of an official panel in an effort to improve reliability over the tasting notes and opinions that you might get from a single taster or sommelier.

What did the Tasting Team look for?

Our tasters always ask “Where would this oil fit in the kitchen?” Although the Tasting Team has more stringent standards than most of us—that’s why we asked them to do the tasting!—we asked them to give a more practical angle to their tasting notes and look at everyday uses in the kitchen. Also, they are tasting the oils straight with no other flavors or ingredients. Although tasting like this is essential for accurately assessing olive oil's subtle flavors, it’s not the way most people use it. An oil that didn’t impress the team solo might be good in a mixture with other ingredients like garlic, herbs and lemon juice. And it would certainly be good for cooking.

Tasters focused on numerous characteristics related to usability in the kitchen. Salad? Sautéing? Finishing/drizzling? In some cases, the consensus was that the oil could be used for all purposes. In other cases, the oils got more limited ratings due to sharp aromas of overripe fruit or other faults, and the tasters agreed they were better for cooking rather than raw applications. (Subtle unpleasant aromas disappear when the oil is heated.)

Intensity and fruitiness. To help you decide if an oil is right for your taste or to complement a particular dish, the team provides an intensity rating and notes on the character of the olive fruit. More intensity indicates a higher level of bitter and peppery flavors. Bitterness—and pepperiness—are a sign of the presence of healthful polyphenols. The type of fruitiness present is indicated on our ripe–green slider, and in the tasting notes. In olive oil, fruitiness is a broad category that includes green vegetative notes like fresh-cut grass and tomato leaf, and smooth ripe flavors like buttery and nutty.

Bitterness is a positive flavor in olive oil—it is not a sign of rancidity—and is a great flavor enhancer. Pepperiness (or pungency as it is known in olive oil tasting circles) is a throat-catching or mouth-warming spiciness.

How fresh does the oil taste? One of the things we love about extra virgin olive oil is its fresh fruity flavors. Evaluating that should be obvious, right? Young = fresh, older = not so fresh. Unfortunately, it ends up that it’s not always that clear. Although almost all newly-made oils will taste fresh, a well-made, properly stored olive oil can continue to taste fresh for a year or more after harvest. And for even longer, these good oils can remain very usable, just milder. Tasters use the term tired to describe an oil that is beginning to show its age, but that’s not yet rancid. And although an oil that is “tired” may not be as bright or intense as it once was, but it can still have plenty of use in the kitchen.

With age, an oil experiences a general flattening of the flavors due to natural oxidation, and it may leave a greasy after-effect in the mouth.

The Tasting Team
Everyone on the Tasting Team is a current or former member of an official olive oil taste panel and an international and/or domestic olive oil competition judge. They bring a variety of skills and background in olive oil and the culinary world. The tasting team for these evaluations: Deborah Rogers, Nancy Lilly, Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne, Glenn Weddell, Maria Farr, Sandy Sonnenfelt and Arden Kremer.

Partanna Sicily Grown (750mL)

Overall
3.5 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Sicily, Italy

Harvest Date

2020-21

Best Before

8/24/2023

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$0.45

Taster Notes

Complex, with both ripe and green flavors: herbaceous, green banana, nutty, ripe olive, floral and tropical. Blanced medium bitter and peppery.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Cobram Estate 100% Australia Select (375mL)

Overall
3.4 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Australia

Harvest Date

Apr-Jun 2020

Best Before

10/11/2022

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$0.67

Taster Notes

Pleasant mild oil with ripe olive, nutty, buttery, floral and almond ripe flavors, and tomato leaf, herbaceous, grassy and hay green notes.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle; Harvest and BB dates etched on glass, hard to read.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Cobram Estate 100% California Select (375mL)

Overall
3.4 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

California

Harvest Date

Oct-Nov 2020

Best Before

12/22/2022

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$0.75

Taster Notes

A bit more ripe than green, with hay, nutty, herbaceous, banana, black pepper and grassy notes. Well-balanced, with some bitter and peppery flavors.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle; Harvest and BB dates etched on glass, hard to read.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Carapelli Oro Verde (750mL)

Overall
3.3 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Spain, Greece, Portugal

Harvest Date

2020-21

Best Before

7/13/2022

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$0.48

Taster Notes

Complex green notes: herbaceous, grassy, tomato leaf, hay and green banana, with ripe undertones: ripe olive, nutty and almond.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle; good product info including harvest and bottling dates. "Firenze" on the label is historical; the oil is not Italian.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


California Olive Ranch Global Blend (500mL)

Overall
3 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Argentina, Chile, Portugal, California

Harvest Date

2020

Best Before

5/18/2023

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$0.52

Taster Notes

A mild all-purpose oil, more ripe than green, with nutty, ripe olive, buttery and floral notes; green flavors are herbaceous and green apple. Getting a little tired.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle. Read the label carefully; this is mostly imported oil.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Carapelli Unfiltered Organic (750mL)

Overall
2.7 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Portugal, Tunisia

Harvest Date

2019-2020 & 2020-21

Best Before

4/15/2022

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$0.51

Taster Notes

Herbaceous and tomato leaf green notes and nutty, buttery and olive ripe notes. Strong ripe varietal character could put some people off raw uses, but will be good and stable for cooking.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle; good product info including harvest and bottling dates. "Firenze" on the label is historical; the oil is not Italian.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


California Olive Ranch 100% California (500mL)

Overall
2.6 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

California

Harvest Date

Nov-Dec 2020

Best Before

11/22/2022

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$0.59

Taster Notes

Very mild with mostly ripe flavors: nutty, buttery, ripe olive and banana. Slight notes of hay and leafy greens.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Colavita Premium Selection (750mL)

Overall
2.4 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Greece, Portugal

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

Jun 2022

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$0.50

Taster Notes

Mix of ripe and green flavors: herbaceous, grassy, floral, nutty and tomato leaf. Some overripe notes, but has good balance of bitterness and pepperiness.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Newman's Own Organic (500mL)

Overall
2.1 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Tunisia

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

5/10/2022

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$0.63

Taster Notes

A very mild oil. Some slight ripe notes, but best suited to cooking and where little or no olive flavor is desired. Getting tired.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Gaea Authentic Greek (500mL)

Overall
2 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Greece

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

11/11/2022

Variety

Koroneiki

Price Per Oz

$0.59

Taster Notes

Green leafy/grassy and ripe olive/nutty notes with clear peppery and bitter flavors. Getting tired, best for cooking but could be used in flavorful dressings.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


DCOOP Tree to Bottle (502mL)

Overall
1.7 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Portugal

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

2/18/2023

Variety

Not specified

Price Per Oz

$0.48

Taster Notes

Mostly ripe nutty, buttery, ripe olive notes. Some overripe aromas, getting tired. Better suited to cooking.

Packaging Notes

Excellent light protection from coated glass bottle.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Bari California Premium Organic (500mL)

Overall
1.4 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

California

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

12/31/2021

Variety

Not specified

Price Per Oz

$0.62

Taster Notes

Mild ripe profile nutty buttery flavors. Tired, better suited for cooking.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Star Organic (500mL)

Overall
1 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Spain, Tunisia

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

3/29/2022

Variety

Not specified

Price Per Oz

$0.45

Taster Notes

Very mild. Some nutty and buttery flavors. Suited to use where little or no olive flavor is wanted, perhaps baking.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle, great pour spout design

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Star Premium First Harvest (500mL)

Overall
0.4 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Spain

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

1/13/2022

Variety

Not specified

Price Per Oz

$0.41

Taster Notes

Oxidized, rancid. Would not recommend.

Packaging Notes

Dark glass bottle, great pour spout design

Recommended Uses

Not recommended