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Putting Single-Varietal Olive Oils to the Test

I find myself cooking with olive oil practically on a daily basis. There are many recipes that call for it and just as many where olive oil can be used as a substitute for highly refined vegetable oils.

Did you know that just as different grapes are used to make different types of wine there are also many different olives used to create olive oil all with their own unique flavors?

It’s this flavor difference that makes some folks swear by more than one olive oil in their pantry. Many dedicated home chefs have a standard olive oil for cooking and then a premium finishing oil to use sparingly.  

With this in mind, Whole Foods Market® created a collection of organic olive oils; each using single-olive varieties to showcase the olive’s flavor. In theory, using a particular varietal should elevate a recipe but I needed to test this theory myself to be convinced. 

The experiment: I took the three 365 Everyday Value® Organic, cold pressed single-varietal olive oils, noted their suggested food pairings, and chose three recipes to test whether or not the olive oil would noticeably complement certain key ingredients and in theory highlight the varietal olive oil’s properties.

The olive oils were:
  • 365 Everyday Value®  Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Arbequina - The pleasantly fruity aroma and moderate peppery notes pair well with vegetables.  This olive oil has delicate properties and is at its best with minimal to no heat. 
  • 365 Everyday Value® Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Koroneiki - Bold olive flavor with a peppery finish pairs that well with rustic greens. It’s ideal for preparing fish.
  • 365 Everyday Value® Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Hojiblanca - This has sweetness with a bold pepper flavor and pairs well with nuts and vegetables. It’s best used for baking, pasta and pastries.

My “control” olive oil was a typical 100% Italian olive oil. 

Everything was prepped equally and after cooking was tasted blind. Nothing other than the type of olive oil was different in my preparation of all the recipes. Once ready, I randomly labeled various batches “A” or “B” and asked some friends and co-workers to be my taste-testers in a blind tasting of each to see which they preferred.

Here’s how it went…

 

Recipe 1:  Linguini with Broccolini-Walnut Pesto calling for 1/3 cup of olive oil.

The single varietal olive oil I used for this recipe was the Arbequina, which pairs well with vegetables and is at its best with minimal to no heat. I combined it with toasted walnuts, shocked Broccolini, garlic, and pecorino. That says pesto to me! 

Outcome:  Tasted immediately after preparation and tossed with hot linguini

“A” was tasty but definitely had an oily aftertaste. “B” was smoother and the layers of flavor were highlighted. My friends could taste the elements of walnuts, broccolini and the pecorino separately and then the uniformity of the blended pesto.   The natural peppery overtones of the Arbequina were an added bonus to the pesto flavor.

“A” was the 100% Italian Olive Oil, “B” the 365 Everyday Value® Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Arbequina. The Arbequina won this round for pesto it was very subtle and delicious.

 

Recipe 2:  Olive Oil Poached Fish calling for ½ cup to ¾, depending on size of fish with 1/8” to cover layer.

The Koroneiki varietal is the natural choice to use in this simple seafood preparation. The flavor profile includes moderate peppery notes with a pleasant fruity aroma and seafood is a suggested pairing. I chose a white cod fillet which is a great canvas for almost any flavor. 

I prepared the fish in the oven and basted throughout the 8 minute cooking process.  I then plated them and gave a quick sprinkle of sea salt.

Outcome:

“A”, the 365 Everyday Value® Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Koroneiki, was the second choice in the taste test.  When asked which complemented the flavor of the fish better, it became first. 

Now before “coaching” accusations start flying the taster said she preferred the mouthfeel of the oil “B” the 100% Italian olive oil.  The flavor of the Koreneiki was better but she did not like the way it lingered in her mouth. I personally liked the stronger flavor of the Koreneiki but in the interest of keeping this democratic, we will go with my taster’s opinion and call “B” , the fish made with 100% Italian olive oil the winner of this round.

 

Recipe 3:  Olive Oil Cake calling for ¾ cup of olive oil

Easy and savory, my olive oil cake has a pretty powerful flavor punch from the orange juice and zest I use. I knew it would be a tasty canvas on which to test the sweet and peppery Hojiblanca against the 100% Italian olive oil.

Outcome:

I brought this one into the office where eight of the ten tasters preferred “B,” the cake made with 365 Everyday Value® Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Hojiblanca  They noted it was “moist,” “rich,” “peppery,” and had a “nice texture.” 

 

So what did I learn through all of this? First of all, I’m a pretty good cook! Secondly, not only does oil quality matter, olive variety matters too; more than I would have thought.

I think it’s worth having single varietals in your pantry to highlight the flavors of your fresh ingredients and bring out the best in your cooking. So explore and enjoy with our single varietal 365 Everyday Value® Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oils -- Arbequina with vegetables, Koroneiki for seafood and Hojiblanca for baking.

Do you use special olive oils for certain dishes? Tell me about it in the comments.