The Best Olive Oils at Whole Foods for 2021: Part 3

The Best Olive Oils at Whole Foods for 2021: Part 3

OliveOil.com Staff

In the third and final segment on the olive oil department at Whole Foods Market, the Tasting Team from OliveOil.com reviews the high end of the assortment—$0.95 to $1.66/oz. In a blind tasting these 5 expert olive oil tasters find a variety of tasty choices. To get the complete picture, Part 1 has the lower-priced products and Part 2 has the mid-range options.

When confronted with the massive olive oil section at Whole Foods Market we decided to divide it into three segments by price—separating the sections where the natural price gaps fell. Here we are looking at the most expensive sector, with oils priced from 95¢ to $1.66 per ounce. As you would hope in this segment of pricey choices, the tasters found the average quality to be considerably higher than the other price categories. As always, here is a bit about the tasting procedure before get into the findings. You can click on the underlined phrases for more detail and definitions.

Our tasting process
These oils were purchased in late February 2021 from a Whole Foods Market in Northern California. Our choice of products was influenced by their availability in other Whole Foods stores in the Midwest and Northeast. If we missed a brand that you would like us to review, please let us know in our Comments below. We want to know which olive oil brands you are interested in so we can add them to the list!

The oils were tasted blind using warmed regulation blue glasses by five trained olive oil tasters who connected via Zoom due to pandemic restrictions in late February and early March. Each oil was evaluated based on a single bottle purchased off the shelf at Whole Foods. A bottle from a different batch might be better—or worse—so remember that if you are see an evaluation that is wildly different from your own experience. As always, we want to encourage you to enjoy olive oil and explore its possibilities. We offer new perspectives, but in the end let your own taste be your guide!

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.
Because EVOO is a natural product, variation between and within lots is always possible. In some cases an oil that is rated Not Recommended due to off-flavors may not be representative of the quality of other bottles and lots.

What did the Tasting Team look for?

Olive oil is an ingredient, so the tasters asked “Where would this oil fit in the kitchen?” We share the professional assessments of the tasting team because they bring stringent standards and a wealth of experience in olive oil. But we also ask them to focus on the practical angle in their tasting notes: what about everyday uses in the kitchen? The reviews are based on tasting oils straight from a blue glass with no other flavors or ingredients. Tasting olive oil plain like this is essential for accurately assessing its subtle flavors but it’s definitely not the way most people consume olive oil. This means that an oil that didn’t impress the team when tasted plain might be good in a real-world recipe with other ingredients like onions, herbs and vinegar. And these oils 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 find the right one for your taste, or to use in a particular recipe, the team provides an overall intensity rating plus a note on the character of the olive fruit. Higher intensity indicates more bitter and peppery flavors. A heads up about bitterness and pepperiness: these are a sign of the presence of healthful polyphenols so you might want to start exploring intense oils on your more robust dishes. The type of fruitiness present is shown on our ripe–green indicator icon, and descriptors appear in the tasting notes. Olive oil fruitiness goes beyond what we would normally think of as fruit to include vegetative notes like fresh-cut grass and tomato leaf, and 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? Olive oil should taste fresh and good. So that sounds simple: a more recently made oil is going to taste fresher than an older oil. Well, maybe. Although almost all oils will taste fresh right out of the mill, how well they age varies widely. Tasters use the term tired to describe an oil that is beginning to show its age, but that’s not yet rancid. And an oil that is “tired” may not be as bright or intense as it once was, but it will 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
Our tasting team brings a variety of skills and background as professionals in the olive oil and culinary worlds. They are all current or former members of an official olive oil taste panel and international and/or domestic olive oil competition judges. Once again, our tasting team for this evaluation was: Deborah Rogers, Nancy Lilly, Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne, Glenn Weddell, Sandy Sonnenfelt.

What did we find?
Overall the quality in this segment was good, although we did have one oil that the tasters ranked as Not Recommended. This oil was found to be rancid, but still had another 20 months to go until its Best Before Date (BBD). Either there was a major hitch in the supply chain, or this BBD is way too optimistic. We found another interesting thing relating to the topic of freshness. Our shopper discovered something regarding the rotation of stock on the shelves of this particular Whole Foods Market. Pulling a product from a bottom shelf, the shopper noticed that a Best Before Date (BBD) in 2022 was on the bottles in the front. Fine. But then they noticed that the bottles further back had an earlier BB date—the opposite of what you want to see. At this point, the shopper was kneeling down and digging into the back, finding an even older BBD, this time indicating an expired product.

One of the cardinal rules of retail is FIFO—first in, first out—so you have to stock shelves from back to front. With a product like olive oil where freshness is so important, it’s critical to follow this best practice. Our shopper found the same thing in several other spots—usually with the less well-known brands that sell more slowly. This obviously is something that will differ based on the management of individual stores, but it’s worrisome to see that in this store at least, older stock was being pushed to the back and buried behind the new stock.

Superior packaging
The high-end section had some real stand-outs in the packaging department. A couple of the brands were in painted bottles—beautifully designed and 100% UV-protected. Dark glass is good, coated glass is even better. These are specialty products and they look the part. One of the unfortunate realities of the retail olive oil section is that many markets put their high-end olive oils on the top shelf where they are exposed to the maximum amount of damaging light, so these painted bottles are an excellent idea for these more expensive products that are likely to spend longer on the shelf.

We also liked the QR codes on the Bellucci products. This QR code lets you enter your lot code to find the region and even the mills where the olive oil in your bottle was produced. It also includes the harvest season—excellent information of course. The Bellucci website also does something that is rare in non-estate production: they show us the farmers who grow the olives. On their website you can access two-minutes videos that give wonderful little glimpses of the people behind the extra virgin olive oil. Hearing these voices, seeing the faces, adds an important dimension for consumers who want to know more about the products they buy.

Lucini Italia Organic Premium Select (500mL)

Overall
3.8 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Italy

Harvest Date

2019

Best Before

8/4/2022

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$1.39

Taster Notes

Versatile with nice complexity. Grassy/leafy green with ripe olive and nutty/buttery undertones. Balanced bitter and peppery flavors.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Garcia de la Cruz Organic (500mL)

Overall
3.6 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Spain

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

July 2021

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$1.66

Taster Notes

Lots of green, leafy fruit notes. Complex, with herbaceous, grassy, tomato leafy greens; nutty, buttery and floral ripe notes. Showing its age a little but still very good.

Packaging Notes

Opaque bottle provides excellent protection from light.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Lucini Italia Organic (500mL)

Overall
3.6 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Italy

Harvest Date

2019

Best Before

7/17/22

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$1.03

Taster Notes

Complex green and ripe flavors: grassy, herbaceous, nutty, almond, tomato leaf. Good structure with medium bitter and peppery character.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Hacienda Guzman Family Reserve Hojiblanca Organic (500mL)

Overall
3.6 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Spain

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

7/14/22

Variety

Hojiblanca

Price Per Oz

$1.18

Taster Notes

Some nice complexity with ripe and green flavors: grassy, herbaceous, nutty, ripe olive, tomato leaf, green banana. Slight bitter and pepper on finish.

Packaging Notes

Opaque bottle provides excellent protection from light.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Bellucci Organic 100% Italian (500mL)

Overall
3.3 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Sicily, Italy

Harvest Date

2019-20

Best Before

July 2022

Variety

Biancolilla, Nocellara, Cerasuola

Price Per Oz

$0.93

Taster Notes

Sweet mild oil with mostly ripe flavors: Nutty, ripe olive, buttery. Some herbaceous and green banana.

Packaging Notes

QR code on bottle connects to information about the oil and its production.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


California Olive Ranch Reserve Collection 100% California Arbequina (500mL)

Overall
3.1 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

California

Harvest Date

Oct-Nov 2019

Best Before

8/27/22

Variety

Arbequina

Price Per Oz

$0.96

Taster Notes

Mild, all purpose oil with nutty, ripe olive, buttery dominating. Some herbaceous green notes.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Lapas Organic (500mL)

Overall
3.1 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Greece

Harvest Date

N/A

Best Before

6/18/22

Variety

Koroneiki

Price Per Oz

$1.18

Taster Notes

Mild all-purpose oil with mostly ripe fruit flavors. Nutty, floral, green and ripe banana and herbaceous notes.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Lucini Italia Premium Select (500mL)

Overall
2.4 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Italy

Harvest Date

2019

Best Before

5/19/22

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$1.05

Taster Notes

Mostly green notes: grass, herbaceous, hay. Distinct bitter & peppery on the palate. Getting tired.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Bono Sicilia PGI (500mL)

Overall
2.3 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Sicily, Italy

Harvest Date

2019-20

Best Before

5/17/22

Variety

Not Specified

Price Per Oz

$0.95

Taster Notes

More ripe than green flavors: Nutty, ripe olive, herbaceous, buttery.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


California Olive Ranch Reserve Collection 100% California Arbosana (500mL)

Overall
2.3 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

California

Harvest Date

Nov-Dec 2019

Best Before

8/28/22

Variety

Arbosana

Price Per Oz

$0.96

Taster Notes

A mild all purpose oil. Mostly ripe: ripe olive, buttery, nutty; some hay/straw and herbaceous green notes.

Recommended Uses

All-purpose


Bellucci Toscano PGI Organic (500mL)

Overall
1.8 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

Tuscany, Italy

Harvest Date

2019-20

Best Before

Nov 2021

Variety

Frantoio, Moraiolo, Leccino

Price Per Oz

$1.15

Taster Notes

Pleasant fruit notes of ripe olive, buttery, herbaceous and floral. Tired.

Packaging Notes

QR code on bottle connects to information about the oil and its production.

Recommended Uses

Cooking


O California Organic (500mL)

Overall
0.4 out of 5
Intensity
Fruit Character
RipeGreen
Origin

California

Harvest Date

Dec 2019

Best Before

1/30/2023

Variety

Arbequina, Arbosana, Koroneiki

Price Per Oz

$1.02

Taster Notes

Oxidized—getting rancid. Other off notes, very little positive fruitiness.

Recommended Uses

Not Recommended