How to spot a premium olive oil and why you should always buy local

Who’s keen on some good news about sunny South Africa? If you like to look on the bright side of life, we’ve got a beautiful piece of Afro-optimism to share with you. Get this – if you want to enjoy the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil, the very best thing you can do is to buy SA olive oil. 

That’s right! Our locally-produced oils are of a far superior quality than the imported oils that share our shelves, and supporting South African producers has a positive knock-on effect that benefits our entire economy. According to EVOOSA (The Guide to Extra Virgin Olive Oil in South Africa) our producers offer the best quality, freshest oil, and your purchase supports the local agricultural industry and creates employment. It’s a win-win situation!

Derek van der Riet, co-owner and proprietor of the Olive Boutique in Riebeek Kasteel, agrees. “In the interest of your own health, and that of your family, use extra-virgin olive oil. And if you’re going to be doing that, do yourself a favour, buy local. Olives as a crop has been identified as a vital component of sustainable growth in the agri-tourism trade; it’s a labour-intensive process, which is important for creating jobs in our smaller communities.”

Now that we’ve confirmed that you should only ever be shopping for South African olive oils on South African soil, here are a few ways to ensure that you’re picking up a premium oil when you go shopping:

How to spot a premium South African olive oil on the shelf

When you’re shopping for olive oil in the supermarket, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you’re getting a top-notch product. 

“This little sticker is a guarantee that tells the consumer that the producer of the oil has submitted their products to the South African regulating body for testing, and that they are compliant with its measures of quality,” explains Ansie Vlok from Het Vlock Casteel in Riebeek Kasteel. “A given oil goes through a two-part process before receiving this hallmark of authenticity – it is tasted by the SA Olive tasting panel to ensure that it doesn’t have any olfactory defects; and then it is put through a chemical analysis which ensures that the free acidity is no more than 0.8% (an indicator of quality) and peroxides are lower than 20 meq/kg (an indicator of freshness).”

READ MORE Discover a foodie wonderland at Het Vlock Casteel in the Riebeek Valley

READ MORE The wonderful health benefits of Swartland olive oils

  • Check for award stickers

Once you’ve established which oils are extra virgin, and have been certified as such by SA Olive, you can then hone in on the truly top-notch oils by looking for award stickers, according to Susan Aird from the Olive Boutique. “The most important accolade you want to look out for is the SA Olive Awards sticker,” says Susan. These awards exclusively honour 100% South African extra virgin olive oils that have been produced in the current season by South African producers registered with SA Olive, so you know this is the best of the best.

READ MORE Revel in the beauty of home-grown olive oil at the Olive Boutique in Riebeek Kasteel

  • Look for the ‘best before’ date

Unlike wine, Extra Virgin Olive Oil does not improve with age. Two years from the date of harvest is the maximum age for the best health and flavour benefits. Fresh is best!

What a premium olive oil looks and tastes like

But say you’re not in the supermarket, where you’re in charge of the oil being bought, but in a restaurant instead? How can you tell if an oil is any good? 

  • Check the bottle

“Ideally you want your waiter to bring your olive oil to the table in the original bottle so you can check it like you would in a store,” says Susan, “but this is not always possible. The next best thing is a dark bottle with a screw cap. Clear bottles with decanting spouts are all sorts of wrong – the olive oil oxidises and loses all of its body, taste and health benefits.”

  • Look at the oil itself

An oil should look lush and full-bodied. If it seems watery or colourless, chances are it’s old or oxidised. Rather ask for another oil or forgo the use of the oil altogether if the main motivation for having it was to boost your health. 

  • Taste the oil

Finally, the proof lies in the pudding. Taste the oil to see if it’s any good. According to Susan, a good olive oil has a few important taste markers that are pretty simple to identify. “A good, fresh oil has an unmistakable grassy fruit note and a distinct little peppery burn at the back of your throat,” she explains. “The health value of the olive oil lies in polyphenols and the antioxidants. The little peppery notes you get at the back of your tongue and the hints of bitterness along the sides of your tongue, those are the polyphenols and the antioxidants, so that’s what you want to be tasting.”

Learn more at an in-depth Swartland olive oil tasting

If you’d like to learn more about olive oil, the best way to do so is to go for a tasting with the experts. Here are two places you can do so along the Swartland Wine- and Olive Route: 

THE OLIVE BOUTIQUE

The Olive Boutique is open to the public as a proudly South African olive oil-, olive- and vinegar tasting bar, from 09:00 – 16:00 Monday to Friday, and between 10:00 – 13:30 on Saturdays and Sundays. While guests are more than welcome to pop in for a quick visit, or to pick up a jar of olives or two, proprietors Derek and Susan also host more in-depth tastings, workshops and tours that are tailored to immerse visitors in the full olive oil experience. 

Website: www.olive-boutique.co.za | Email: olives@olive-boutique.co.za | Telephone Number: (022) 448 1368

HET VLOCK CASTEEL

Het Vlock Casteel is open for olive oil tastings from 09:00 – 17:00 Monday to Friday, and 09:00 – 14:00 on Saturdays and public holidays (closed on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas).  Informal tastings of up to 200 different bottled products are available daily, as are talks on the characteristics, tasting, health benefits and usage of olive oil in cooking. Groups of 10 to 50 can be accommodated by appointment.

Website: www.hetvlockcasteel.co.za | Email: info@hetvlockcasteel.co.za | Telephone Number: (022) 4481 488

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