Salad season is in full swing, and the simplest way to spruce up your greens is a drizzle of EVOO. But with so many options on supermarket shelves, how’s a shopper to choose? California Olive Ranch oleologist—an olive oil expert—Maia Hirschbein poured it all out for us.
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Q: What should you look for when buying olive oil? 

First, choose a dark glass bottle. It will protect that liquid gold from light, which can make oil go rancid. Next, check the back of the label for a harvest date within the last year—ideally 2017 or later—and any certifications for authenticity, like the California Olive Oil Council seal. 

Q: Is the extra-virgin kind a must? 

It's the highest level on a quality scale that goes from pure to virgin to extra-virgin, offering the freshest and best expression of the oil without any off flavors and with all the pungency and bitterness that you want. There's rarely a scenario for a home cook to use anything besides extra-virgin. 

Q: How much should you spend on olive oil? 

Choose an olive oil that's priced according to how you'll use it. For cooking and everyday use, look for something in the $9 to $15 range. For more of a finishing oil—to use on salads and in pestos, for example—experiment with something fancier. Starting at $15, these can get very pricey, and they usually have a more intense taste. I love COR's Arbequina, which is fruity and costs $20. 

Q: What should it smell and taste like when you open the bottle? 

The oil should smell fresh, like fruits or veggies. When you taste it, it should be slightly bitter and should give a little bit of a burning sensation in the back of your throat. 

Q: Does the color matter? 

Some olives have more chlorophyll in their skins than others, so you can get a greener or more yellow oil. Tasters actually use blue glass tasting cups because color has nothing to do with quality. 

Q: How long will olive oil last? 

Once a bottle is opened, it should be used within about two months. After that, the quality will fade and the oil can go bad. (You'll notice the obvious off taste and smell, plus a greasy mouthfeel.) To hold on to your olive oil for as long as possible, store it in a cool dark cabinet away from the stove.