The Alarming Fact About Olive Oil's Shelf Life

Chef Samin Nosrat has an enthusiasm that makes you want to follow her wherever she may go, even to the barrel of freshly pressed olive oil where, in one episode of her Netflix "Salt Fat Acid Heat," she took an elegant swig of the stuff straight from a wine glass.

However, don't try this at home. Turns out, the olive oil in our pantry might be bad since most of us keep it around way too long. Nosrat spilled the beans about her American friend who, when gifted a most amazing olive oil for her wedding, used it only sparingly for years, thinking this was honoring a special gift.

That is the exact wrong thing to do. Olive oil only has a shelf life of 18 to 24 months, depending on harvest date, and, according to California Olive Oil Council, is good for three to six months once the bottle has been opened. 

A further problem, though, is that most of us wouldn't know what the good stuff tastes like even if we had it. FiveThirtyEight reported on a 2011 olive oil taste test where basically rancid olive oil won the day, largely because that's the flavor participating panelists had grown up with and figured that's how olive oil should taste.

Let the record show, it is not. Olive oil has foundational flavors to look for, plus a harvested-by date and a few incidentals on its bottle that can help us turn our rancid-olive-oil-in-the-pantry problem around.

What to know when choosing olive oil

The California Olive Oil Council suggests that you check your olive oil bottle for its harvested-by date and for the specific location where it was produced. If the bottle lists multiple countries, the harvest date is probably questionable. Also, pick an olive oil that's packaged in darker glass and preferably not from the top shelf at the grocery since quality can suffer up there from the unkind glare of industrial lights. 

Your olive oil label should specify "extra virgin," investigative journalist Tom Mueller said (via Nudo). Mueller, who outlined in his explosive best-selling book the fakes and fraud of the olive oil industry, also said that what we really want is to elevate our palate so that we better recognize quality olive oil. He has a simple suggestion: taste more. He suggests we line up the bad stuff next to the good stuff and get familiar with what flavor profile we love.

Adopt a paradigm shift of what olive oil even tastes like, which can range from bitter to spicy to Ina Garten's favorite, fruity. New York Magazine listed its top 2023 olive oils as voted on by chefs and broke down the criteria to include best for dipping, best peppery finish, best for baking, and more. The options are practically endless. It would be easy to throw a taste-testing extravaganza with plenty of high-quality olive oils to choose from without breaking the bank. 

Chef Nosrat would be so proud.