That bottle of artisanal olive oil that you received as a birthday gift five years ago may be a beautiful showpiece on your countertop, but chances are, it is not going to taste nearly as nice as it looks. Indeed, while wine, balsamic vinegar, and other delicious Mediterranean exports may develop complex flavors and nuance as they age, there are a number of notable exceptions to that rule. Prime example: olive oil. Contrary to popular belief, this delicious, antioxidant-rich elixir is meant to be enjoyed fresh, which means that the bottle you’ve been saving for a special occasion probably should have been used in meals many months past.
Why does olive oil go bad?
At its core, olive oil is comparable to fruit juice. It is, after all, pressed from the fruit of an olive–in the same way that you would expect orange juice to go rancid after some time, olive oil will too. It is also not fermented in the same way that wine and other alcoholic beverages are, meaning that with age, olive oil will not improve.
There is one caveat to our answer to the question of whether or not olive oil goes bad. “Bad” is a bit of a loose term–while expired orange juice can certainly make you sick, you won’t have the same issue with old olive oil. It will, however, taste off, and cooking with it can make your food taste similarly flat or even slightly rancid.
“Olive oil does not literally go bad, but after 18 to 36 months or sooner–depending on the type of olive oil–it will lose its flavor,” says Biagio Cepollaro, owner of Via Roma Pizzeria in Camp Springs, MD. “Filtered olive oil can last up to 36 months; unfiltered up to 18 months,” he notes. Extra virgin olive oil is best used within a few months after opening, 12 months max.
“Unlike wine, which gets better with age, olive oil degrades over time,” adds Aishwarya Iyer, the founder and CEO of Brightland, a premium olive oil purveyor. In particular, Iyer notes that olive oil that has sat idle for too long loses many of its green, grassy, fresh flavors. She also says that aging depletes an olive oil’s health benefits, particularly its antioxidant potency.
How to store olive oil for optimal freshness
According to Iyer, exposure to light, heat, and air will all speed up the aging of olive oil. But given that these are culprits that can be avoided, there are a few easy steps you can take to keep your olive oil fresher for longer.
1. Buy olive oil that comes in an opaque bottles, or decant yours into one.
“Do not store your olive oil in a clear container or bottle,” she says. “One of its biggest enemies is light, so you should always store it in an opaque container, like the UV-protected coated bottles we use.” If you buy olive oil in bulk, you may consider decanting the oil into a darker container (assuming your original container is made of clear plastic).
2. Avoid storing your EVOO next to the stove.
Moreover, Iyer recommends storing your oil away from heat sources. Read: as tempting and convenient as it is, you should neither keep your bottle of olive oil right next to your cooktop or your oven, nor any other surface that will frequently radiate heat. Instead, it’s safer to store your olive oil in a cupboard or other area in your kitchen where the temperature remains stable.
3. Remember that 60? F to 72? F is the sweet spot.
While you don’t want to store your olive oil near heat, you also don’t need to refrigerate the product. Although it might vaguely extend the shelf life of the oil, you also run the risk of accidentally solidifying it, which would make it a pain to use in a pinch. Instead, the ideal temperature for olive oil is somewhere between 60? F and 72? F–much warmer than a fridge.
4. Always keep the cap on.
Finally, Iyer emphases the importance of keeping air out. “Remember to re-cap your bottle. Air is an enemy of the oil’s integrity and quality.” So if you’re using one of those fancy spouts to help pour your oil, make sure that spout is capable of sealing completely so that you’re not accidentally introducing oxygen into the bottle.
What to do with olive oil that’s gone bad
If your oil has turned, the best recourse is likely to dispose of it or use it for something else, such as cleaning. Don’t pour it down the drain–you’ll clog your pipes and pollute water sources. Instead, pour your oil into a non-recyclable container, and toss it in the garbage (unfortunately, it cannot be composted).
Lastly, keep in mind that once you’ve opened up a new bottle of EVOO, it needs to be used relatively quickly. That means that buying smaller quantities is likely a good call, unless you’re cooking pasta or pizza for a crowd on the regular.
So the next time you gift a bottle of fancy olive oil, be sure to also give your lucky recipient the gift of knowledge: encourage them to make (relatively) quick use of that all-important elixir.
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