The olive oil aisle at the supermarket is not short of options. Phrases such as “unfiltered” and “cold-pressed” clutter the labels and a whole host of Mediterranean countries arevying for attention. So we are demystifying this delicious ingredient for you, with our roundup of the best extra virgin olive oils on the market.

In short, extra virgin simply means that it comes from the first pressing of the olives – and as a result has a more concentrated flavour. Similarly, the term cold-pressed or cold-extraction refers to olives that have been kept at a cool temperature to retain the optimum fresh, fruity notes we associate with a top quality product.

Early harvest means olives will be under ripe, which doesn’t sound like such a good thing, but is actually highly prized for young and vibrant flavoured oils.

If you’ve noticed some olive oils looking cloudy – this will be what’s referred to as unfiltered. Most olive oil will be filtered as this extends the shelf life, but one isn’t necessarily better than the other – it’s just a matter of taste. We’d liken it to low intervention wine in that regard.

Of course, there’s no best country for olive oil either, with fabulous varieties coming from Italy, Greece, Spain and further afield. You should be able to detect fruity notes alongside punchy pepper with a long aftertaste often present in some of the more premium bottles.

Things to look out for when buying good quality olive oil is the harvest date which is simply the date the olives were picked. The best before date will let you know when to use it by, but in general olive oil will last about 18 months, deteriorating as it ages – so use liberally.  Dark glass bottles will slow down this process, and always store them out of direct sunlight.

Olive oil is a versatile kitchen cupboard staple, so aside from the obvious salad dressings and dips, why not try replacing the butter in your next bake? Not only is this a delicious change, but it’s also a really helpful substitute for vegans or those with dairy intolerances.

Hero ingredients that simply sing with a little olive oil include tomatoes, fish and even vanilla ice-cream – simply swirl over before serving – trust us!

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Lorenzo no 5 olive oil, 500ml: £18.99, Selfridges

This stylish perfume-like bottle looks like it belongs on a dressing table, but the Italian ingredient has firmly earned its place in our kitchen. Fruity and full flavoured with a creamy mouthfeel, this is made from 100 per cent nocellara olives from Sicily. A beautiful golden colour, we found this had an exciting spicy finish without any added bitterness. Although not cheap, it’s very memorable and the spout allows for controlled pouring so you’re unlikely to waste any.

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Messinian Treasure organic early harvest olive oil, 500ml: £14.50, Maltby & Greek

If you like your olive oil with a long, pleasingly bitter aftertaste, this organic bottle is the one for you. Created with Greek koroneiki olives, the herbaceous notes make this a particularly good option for marinating meat and veg. Fruity and spicy, we can see why this well-balanced oil is so popular with Michelin star chefs.

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Oleificio Russo zammara monte etna DOP, 500ml: £19.50, The Red Beetle

This is a game changer for olive oil. From Sicily, the olives are grown on the volcanic soil of Mount Etna. A blend of nocellara etnea, biancolilla and moresca olives, the fruity bouquet hits you in the face upon opening the bottle, however, the flavour is medium bodied, so not overpowering. There is a bit of pepper on the finish but it isn’t overly spicy so we think this will be a real crowd-pleaser. Use as the Sicilians do and pour liberally over roasted vegetables, soft cheese and piping hot pasta with plenty of garlic.

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Farchioni Il Casolare extra virgin olive oil, 1L: £7.60, Ocado

Flavoursome without being completely overwhelming, this unfiltered oil really allows the nuanced taste of the olives to shine through – we felt as though we’d picked them straight from the grove. Rustic with a good consistency, we love the industrial looking unfiltered bottle which can be closed using its bottle stop or screw cap. It’s exceptionally good value at this price and will last a long time.

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Belazu verdemanda extra virgin olive oil, 500ml: £14, Belazu

Belazu do things a little differently with this, their verdemanda oil (meaning “green on demand”). Going one step further than simply keeping the olives cool, these olives are frozen at the point of crushing to stop any deterioration in its tracks. Using early-harvest arbequina olives from a single-estate in Spain, the fresh, grassy flavour is the perfect pairing with asparagus and pasta – theatrical swirl optional but highly recommended.

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Castillo extra virgin arbequina olive oil, 500ml: £9.75, Ocado

The award-winning, family-run Castillo company takes its name from their hillside castle in the Spanish countryside. This olive oil doesn’t take any prisoners – it's strong and punchy with a thick mouthfeel, and we’re a big fan of the nutty aftertaste. Extremely fragrant and fruity, ours was gobbled up with fresh bread and a touch of sea salt.

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Maltby & Greek charisma extra virgin olive oil, 500ml: £5.95, Farmdrop

Rich and aromatic, this one really lives up to its name. Purveyors of the finest Greek food, Maltby & Greek have sourced this versatile oil from the Greek island of Crete where it is both grown and bottled. The clear golden-green liquid has beautiful subtle notes of fruit with a pleasing peppery finish, making it excellent with both fresh food such as Greek salads as well as cooked meats and fish. Excellent value.

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Brindisa la barca smoked olive oil, 250ml: £12.45, Brindisa

Having served Spanish food in their restaurants for the past 30 years, Brindisa have learnt a thing or two about what makes a great quality olive oil. Stocked in their online Spanish food store, this one has been smoked with holm oak wood which has imparted a subtly savoury depth of flavour. Particularly delicious drizzled over potatoes or roasted vegetables, it’s a very useful bottle to keep on hand, ready to transform even the most boring of dinners.

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Pure Drops organic extra virgin olive oil, 500ml: £14.99, Selfridges

This is a proudly Greek extra virgin oil that uses only hand-picked organic olives from the highly regulated protected designation of origin (PDO) town of Kranidi in the Peloponnese region. So it seems only right that we’d put it to the test in a Greek salad – where it really came to life. That robust, sun-ripened olive flavour really comes to the fore, with only a touch of bitterness on the finish. Available in limited quantities.

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Leoube premium olive oil, 250cl: £14.99, Daylesford

Where you find a vineyard, you can often find an olive grove nearby. Which is exactly the case with Leoube, a brand you might be more familiar with for their pale pink provincial roses. However, a variety of olives are also pretty happy growing in Provence (in this case olivette and aglandau blended with more from Italy). Adding heat to olives allows for more oil to be extracted, however, it can impact the taste. As such Leoube only use cold extraction, meaning the liquid can retain its fruity and more delicate flavours.

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The Greek Kitchen extra virgin olive oil, 750ml: £7.99, Ocado

You don’t always want a full-bodied, peppery olive oil, particularly if you’re planning on cooking with it, or perhaps are feeding children. So if you’re on the lookout for a more mild-mannered version that can be used liberally every day, this offering from The Greek Kitchen should fit the bill perfectly. Use it to cook meat and fish on a low heat or for simple salad dressings.

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The verdict: Extra virgin olive oils

If you’re looking to splurge on something really special, we’re big fans of Lorenzo No 5 for its rich, full-bodied flavour. But for something you can use more liberally we’d suggest the cheap and cheerful Maltby & Greek charisma extra virgin olive oil.

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