Supermarket Saver: How Much to Pay for Olive Oil?

published Feb 20, 2008
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Eating consciously and minding our budgets can be a tough balancing act, especially as we all look for ways to trim down our spending as gas and food prices continue to rise. Sometimes thinking strategically can help when cutting corners won’t work.

Let’s take a look at olive oils, something that we all probably use daily and that are readily available from local and artisan sources. These top oils can get rather pricey, though, so keep in mind how you intend to use it before deciding what to buy. Different oils are better suited for different uses, and it doesn’t always mean shelling out big bucks for the expensive stuff.

If your olive oil is destined for everything from weeknight stir-fries to long-simmered sauces, a less expensive extra-virgin or virgin olive oil is often the better choice. As your kitchen workhorse, olive oil is really more of a cooking medium than a component in your dish since the delicate flavors of a quality olive oil become lost and muted when cooked with other ingredients. Using a neutral-flavored commercial brand like Colavita or Bertolli will work just fine. These kinds of olive oils are also easier to find in bulk quantities where the cost-per-unit is lower. Look for large containers on the lowest shelves at the supermarket, at places like Costco or Sam’s Club, or at natural food stores in self-serve bins.

Save your high end, specialty olive oils to finish dishes where the oil’s nuanced flavors and aromas can really shine through. Quality extra-virgins add new layers of flavor when drizzled over soup or pasta just before serving or whisked into a vinaigrette. Commercial oils just don’t deliver when used like this, so it’s worth the extra money to buy a good one. Keep in mind that oils only have a shelf-life of about a year, so look for smaller bottles if you don’t think you’ll use it all in time.

What brands do you prefer to use every day? Any good finds for budget-friendly oils in your local markets?

More on olive oil:
What’s the Deal with Oils?
Great Olive Oil Scam
When Will You Splurge on Expensive Ingredients
Chefs on Common Mistakes
• Price Check: Are you Cutting Your Grocery Budget
• Price Check: Coping with Rising Food Costs

This is by Emma, who is up for one of our new writer positions. Welcome Emma!