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I was hoping you could all educate me. I remember living in Turkey and travelling around the Mediterranean in general and a lot of the Olive Oil was sharper or you might call it bitter, and I know it was fresh. I loved the taste. In the US where I'm from, all the store bought olive oil that I've purchased is smooth and doesn't have any special kick to it. Why is that?

I assume it's for one of three reasons

  1. I am not always the cheapest but I won't go all out and spend the most on something usually, and I wouldn't know what bottles to choose anyway.

  2. The manufacturers know or think they know their market, and they think, probably correctly, that American's wouldn't go for that.

  3. The process of storing and transporting it either reduces the sharpness or requires they refine it in a way that reduces it.

I'm interested in EVOO of course. I assume the stuff in the Mediterranean I ate was Extra Virgin but if it wasn't, that's fine too. I know it was fresh.

Am I correct with my reasons above, and more importantly where can I find sharp strong olive oil like I remember (including on Amazon)?

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  • Welcome to SA! However, requests for health information are off-topic for this board, so I removed that part of your question. Tackling the rest. – FuzzyChef Feb 3 at 2:07
  • Thanks for the heads up on this point! – gcr Feb 3 at 4:08
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Your best source for quality olive oil with strong flavors in the US is going to be a specialty market, either an upscale "gourmet" one, or an ethnic market, such as a Greek, Arabic, Italian, or Turkish market, or even a specialty olive-oil only store. Farmer's markets can also be a good source of premium olive oil. Once COVID is over, you can even find markets that will let you taste their olive oils, so that you can pick the one with the degree of pungency you're seeking; many producers create a range.

The bitterness you're talking about is hopefully from oleocanthal and is a sign of quality. I say "hopefully" because there is a lot of fake virgin olive oils out there, and the wrong kind of bitterness comes from "deodorizing" low-quality oils. These taste different, but you'd have to try both to recognize it.

You are also right that most Americans don't like pungent or bitter olive oils. That's why the oils you buy in mainstream supermarkets are usually bland, and why you usually need to go outside of them to find better oil.

The fake olive oil problem is why I can't recommend trying to find any high-quality Turkish olive oils here in the the US. While Turkish producers to create very fine olive oils, overwhelmingly what reaches the US is fake olive oil with Turkish labels, and there are no reliable brands available here I've found. So I'd recommend getting an oil from Greece, Lebanon, or Israel instead, since all of those countries do have import channels that follow labelling laws and their oils should be fairly similar to Turkish.

This is also why I'm avoiding the term "extra virgin" in this answer. The US does not enforce conditions on "extra virgin" labelling, so seeing those words on the bottle tells you absolutely nothing. Instead you need to go by producer and recommendations.

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  • Thanks for your detailed answer. I read all of the articles you cited. Basically, one has to do legwork. It's true that sellers will often mislabel, or that price doesn't necessarily mean higher quality. I was excited about buying truffle oil but lost interest when I learned they mostly use artificial flavoring. There might be some EVOO bottles on the shelves somewhere that have the oleocanthalic bite but you wouldn't know because they don't advertise that fact. You almost have to talk to a person who knows and cares. Even at my local co-ops, they don't seem to know or have an interest. – gcr Feb 3 at 4:24
  • Yeah, you may have to wait for covid to be over so that you can do oil tastings again. Unless you can find a place where the staff care about olive oil and can give you advice. Here's two I can recommend: Carapelli's Il Centennario is decent and has a bit of a bite, and sometimes shows up in supermarkets (that brand also sells some fakes though, so beware). Costco's glass-bottle dated-varietal Italian olive oil is actually quite good, and the 2020 has some bitterness to it. Other stuff I have isn't open, so I can't taste it right now. – FuzzyChef Feb 3 at 5:55

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