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Nowadays it is common to store olive oil in opaque (dark green/brown) bottles to preserve its condition.

  • Does the olive oil get bad if I would use clear glass bottles instead?
  • Does the light "damage" the oil in general, or would this only appear in case of strong sunlight exposure directly towards the bottles (but not in case of placing within shaded areas)?
  • I don't know what do you mean with nowadays, I've always seen dark or opaque bottles for olive oil. – Luciano Mar 12 at 9:38
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With a lot of commercial oils, the industry distinguishes auto-oxidation from photo-oxidation (also called photosensitised oxidation), where the former is in the absence of the light, and the latter with light:

[W]hen olive oils are exposed to light, photo-oxidation occurs through the action of natural photosensitizers (i.e. chlorophyll), which react with triplet oxygen to form the excited state singlet oxygen. Thus, protection from direct light is required for commercial edible oils.

Note how the mechanisms are slightly different, even though both involve the C=C bond of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The issue with photo-oxidation is that it is through the action of chlorophyll and other chemical pigments that absorb wavelengths of light.

Hence the reason that extra virgin olive oil requires darkened glass is more to do with the cause of its colour, i.e. the fact that it has a relatively large amount of chlorophyll. As the 2006 study states:

Light is much more important than temperature in 1O2 oxidation. Light of shorter wavelengths had more detrimental effects on the oils than longer wavelengths.

...and interestingly about the role of chlorophyll:

Although chlorophylls are strong prooxidants under light via acting as a sensitizer to produce 1O2, they act as antioxidants in the dark possibly by donating hydrogen to free radicals.

The concentration of the antioxidant tocopherol on the other hand (well known in its role as Vitamin E), known for slowing oxidation, varies greatly across different olive oils:

Tocopherol content of virgin olive oils (VOOs) varies from 97 to 785 mg/kg. Despite differences in the concentration of total tocopherols that can be attributed to agronomical, geographical, and technological factors, α-tocopherol is the dominant homologue in virgin olive oils making more than 90% of total tocopherols.

Also note that these oxidised products, the hydroxyperoxides, generally aren't detectable on their own - it is their breakdown products that are directly detected by our nose as "rancid".

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"Nowadays" means - "since the moment we learned to make clear glass and noticed how bad it is to store oil in it."

Light damages oil in general. Among the many reactions it speeds up or makes possible, the most noticeable is the oil going rancid. My ex mother-in-law thought she'd gotten a great deal on bottles of olive oil in Italy. It took two days of transportation in transparent glass and one day of storage on a shelf for it to go rancid (due to oxidation).

When we're talking about direct sunlight, what is meant is (mainly) "temperature rise." You start to give so much energy in a short period of time that you might start chemical reactions within the product (think "over low heat").
Just "light" (even a shaded area, which is why we usually say "store in a dark place") gives oil a dose of UV light. Saturated fats take that pretty well. Unsaturated, not as well.

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  • Not all olive oil comes in dark bottles. Google Images shows about a 50/50 split, with mainly the extra virgins being most likely to be in dark glass. For Italian, Bertolli is a good example, only their extra virgin is in green, the rest is in clear. – Tetsujin Mar 12 at 10:39
  • @Tetsujin saturated and unsaturated fats. Also you don't cold press oil to be then boiled in transparet (plastic usually) bottle. – SZCZERZO KŁY Mar 12 at 10:46
  • You're going to have to explain to me how the %age of mono-, poly-unsaturated & saturated fats changes in non-virgin olive oil & how this will affect the need for dark glass. Looking it up gives me reams of opinions on 'health' sites & no actual data. – Tetsujin Mar 12 at 12:58
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    @Tetsujin because it low in unsaturated fats (due to hot pressing) and is probably refined. So light won't do a lot of harm because there is not a lot to thing that would react with light. Extra virgin or virgin means it was cold pressed. Or it could be olive oil made from mixing few type, for exmaple from third or fourth pressing. – SZCZERZO KŁY Mar 12 at 13:45

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