by Andrew Skousen
Olive oil is the best shelf-stable oil I can recommend that is still liquid at room temperature. Unlike coconut oil and other saturated fats that hold up well during heating and cooking but are stiff and hard at room temperature, olive oil is a perfect complement. It should not be heated, says Dr. Mercola since it rapidly degrades under heat, but it is ideal for pouring on salads, making into mayonnaise or drizzling it on pasta or soups after cooking. Healthy fats in salad dressings not only make salads taste better, they help the body assimilate the vitamins in raw vegetables better. Olive oil will be very valuable in this and other roles in hard times, if you can store it so it lasts.
With over 700 varieties of oil-bearing olives there are thousands of olive oil possibilities in a range of flavors and prices. Connoisseurs treat olive oil like wine, comparing the different flavors (mild and buttery to robust and peppery) and pairing them with different foods. But unlike fine wine, olive oil slowly deteriorates with age losing the fresh flavor, antioxidants and other beneficial properties over time. Proper storage makes all the difference. In the presence of air, heat, light and water or other contaminants it degrades in a few months. Most olive oil in the grocery store is in clear containers under fluorescent lights where it degrades quickly. But good quality, pure, extra virgin olive oil stored in sealed tins in a cold environment can last years. That still isn’t a lot of time so buy the freshest oil you can. Good oils will print the “harvest date” on it to give you an accurate starting point to measure from, rather than the arbitrary “use by” date which is meaningless considering it depends so much on storage conditions.
Keep in mind the factors that affect the shelf life: unfiltered olive oil is often considered healthier but it may not last as long since the tiny remains from processing can be a source of contamination. Bottles with any sediment on the bottom generally don’t last as long. Stronger, darker oils last longer due to a higher antioxident content since Air (oxygen) is very degrading to this oil. Some sell it in bags that keep air out even as it gets drained, but I haven’t seen this in bulk yet. You can still keep oil from a bulk container fresh longer by pouring it into a smaller container to avoid frequent opening of the cap on the large container. Olive oil freezes very well and last nearly indefinitely this way. Unlike water it actually shrinkswhen frozen. If you have enough freezer space, keep your oil stockpiled there and bring it out to thaw a day before you need it.
Watch out for poor quality olive oils. Cheating of olive oil consumers goes back to at least the days of ancient Rome where olive oil containers have been found with several kinds of quality control markings on them to tackle the problem. Modern cheating includes “olive oil blends” that are a mix of cheaper oils like canola, soybean or hazelnut oil (watch out for light, flavorless oils). Even “100% olive oil” may have cheaper refined olive oil from the 2nd and 3rd pressings. Virgin and extra virgin are good labels to look for but even these are often mixed with last year’s virgin oils or diluted with lower quality oils from other countries. The profits of cheating are huge and have even attracted the Mafia and organized crime.
Truth in Olive Oil has good tips for sourcing the best olive oil and recommends (among others) OliveOilLovers.com as a good source of reputable oil. We trust the oil from Sciabbica’s after touring their facility in California. Their 1 gallon (3.78 liters) is very good quality ($50, free shipping) but it only comes in a clear plastic container, which isn’t ideal for long shelf storage. I recommend looking for extra virgin olive oil in 5 liter tins (1.3 gal.) for a better bulk price. The rectangular form of the tins make for compact storage and it keeps air and light out better than anything else. A search on Olive Oil Lovers for “5 liter tin” turned up several options at reasonable prices. You may be able to shop around for the same varieties or find a local vendor you trust. Taste the oil before stocking up on it to make sure you like that variety’s flavor.
Note that olive oil is also extremely useful for infusions of herbs—the oil readily absorbs the properties of herbs that are immersed in it for a few weeks in a warm place and can then be rubbed on as a lotion or added to salves and soaps—very valuable in natural remedies. Be careful to only add dried herbs as even the small amount of water in the leaves can cause the oil to spoil or allow botulism to grow. Stockpile this age-old treasure before supply lines from warmer climates get cut off—or if you live there, consider growing your own olive tree.