Can I cook with olive oil?, Is Italian olive oil better than Spanish?, Is Lidl olive oil better than Aldi?, Is supermarket olive oil any good?, What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?, What's the difference between Spanish and Italian olive oil?
This post has taken some time to write because I wanted to give Lidl supermarket a chance to answer my queries, rather than make assumptions. So, here’s the background. I bought two Extra Virgin Olive Oils from my local Lidl recently and wrote to their Customer Service team to ask two questions (which in their responses to my emails they consistently referred to as complaints!):
- Why is the Italian EVOO priced at £2.99 for 500ml whilst the Spanish EVOO is priced at £2.39 for 750ml?
- Which olive varieties are used for each of the different oils?
As an aside, I put this picture of the two bottles of oil on my Twitter feed (@TasteOliveOil) and asked if anyone could explain the price differential to me. I didn’t mention which was the more expensive but, without fail everyone who answered me (and there were some wildly differing theories) figured out (correctly as it happens) that the Italian was the more expensive. Okay, I concede that it looks a little classier (pictured right) – a glass bottle as opposed to plastic, and being taller and thinner, it looks more elegant and well, as if it is literally more! But it’s an illusion because is has 250ml less EVOO inside!
So I eagerly awaited a response, prompted, chivvied and reminded them and eventually I was told that the Italian is a blend of Ogliarola and Coratina olives which are sourced entirely from Italy, while the Spanish is (wait for it) a blend of Picual, Cornicabra, Hojiblanca and Arbequina. And I’m not even going to begin trying to paraphrase the explanation for the price differential, instead I’ll copy and paste it here: Regarding the price of the products, this is regulated by the market. Different influential factors like offers, high demand and high quality requirements have a knock on effect with the regards to the price of raw materials and production costs therefore changing the supplier’s sales price. Clear as mud eh! I have no idea what they mean but am interested that, unless I’m misreading it, there is no suggestion anywhere there that the Italian is in fact a superior EVOO.
There is a myth that I’d like to bust right here: that Italy produces the best EVOO – I’m not going to get into the significantly higher number of International Awards that the Spanish producers win, or what percentage of EVOO badged as Italian is actually produced from Spanish olives or, or …. I’m not even going to argue that Italian EVOO is not the best in the world. Yes, my palate is biased and I usually prefer Spanish EVOO over others but I’m not claiming it’s the best in the world. It bugs me though when the myth is being perpetuated by supermarkets for no good reason that I can discern. However, if you taste both oils and prefer the Italian, then pay the extra. They’re both labelled as EVOO so, in theory, should be equally ‘good’ in terms of quality – stick with the one you like the best, To help you out, I’ve done a taste test and here are my tasting notes (this horrifies some of my fellow Olive Oil Sommeliers but heck, it’s EVOO!)
Primadonna Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil – an image of a stereotypical mature olive tree on the label and tiny Italian flag
Smell: light, slightly acidic
Taste: bitter, pepper, slightly burnt, chicory leaves
After taste: the pepper goes quite quickly, leaves an oil coating in the mouth
With bread: peppery, bitter, walnuts
Strength: medium robust
Uses: puttanesca sauce, meats, pizza
Primadonna Extra Virgin Olive Oil – the tree picture on the front looks identical to the Italian but reproduced at a slightly different angle! A tiny Spanish flag and the statement: ‘Made from premium quality Spanish olives’
Smell: apple, apricot, sweet almond
Taste: creamy, pepper as it’s swallowed, fruity, herbs
After taste: fruit, peach/apricot, the pepper mellows but lingers
With bread: pleasant coating, bitter to the roof of the mouth
Uses: dipping, cooking, mayo, dressings, dishes with courgettes and aubergines
As I’ve mentioned before, my kitchen is pretty much an exclusively olive oil domain (with a bottle of Sesame allowed in with a special permit!), and, while living in the UK, my everyday, ordinary EVOO is going to be from a supermarket – the sort of oil you can use for everything (yes, including frying!). I’m guessing that the Lidl and the Aldi Spanish EVOOs are direct competitors (both priced at £2.39 for 750ml and I’ll contact Aldi and ask what their blend is for future reference). Of the two, I think my own preference is for the Aldi Solesta which is a Product of Spain (hmm, does that suggest it’s not exclusively made from Spanish olives?!)
Do you have a favourite supermarket EVOO? Remember, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is one of the world’s original superfoods which, eaten as part of a Mediterranean style diet, can help to overcome some of the health issues we’re struggling with in the UK. Anyway, cook, eat, enjoy and let me know what you think.
Until next time …