Since olive oil is such a staple in the kitchen, it seems like a no-brainer to leave it next to the stove. It's convenient; it's easy to tell when you're running low; and it looks stylish, especially if you decant the oil into one of those cute glass cruets. Unfortunately, it's also the worst possible way to store this essential ingredient because exposure to heat and light are two of oil's worst enemies. Here, learn how to keep your olive oil as fresh as possible. Whether it's your everyday workhorse or the fancy finishing variety, there are four key factors to consider.
Unlike wine or vinegar, olive oil does not improve with age. An unopened bottle typically lasts up to a year after the harvest date, but once it's open, the sooner you use the oil, the better. You should ideally finish a bottle within a month or two of opening. Because of this short shelf life, it's better to purchase olive oil in small quantities and replace more frequently, rather than buy in bulk (resist the temptation of those gallon-sized containers!).
Oxidation can compromise the taste of your olive oil, so make sure the container is airtight. Cap the bottle tightly between uses, even when you have it out to cook. And skip fitting the top with a pour spout—it might be handy, but it exposes the oil to air. Avoid decanting the oil to a cruet unless it's a portion you plan to finish right away.
Think of olive oil as the Goldilocks of pantry ingredients—it doesn't like anything too hot or too cold. Keep it away from the stove and be especially vigilant if your oil is in a tin—because metal is a good conductor of heat, if the tin is stored in a warm spot, it will promote rancidity. Experts agree that olive oil shouldn't go in the refrigerator, either. Temperature fluctuations can cause condensation, which breaks the oil.
Keep the oil in a dark place, such as the back of your cupboard or pantry, and minimize exposure to any kind of light, which includes fluorescent lights as well as sunlight.
What Does Rancid Mean, Exactly?
Not sure if your olive oil is rancid? Use the test kitchen's smell test. If the oil is past its shelf life, it'll smell like cucumbers; if it has a sweet banana odor, it's been exposed to too much light. If your oil has gone off, the good news is that it's not harmful to your health—it'll just make your food taste unpleasant. The oil still has plenty of non-culinary applications. Use it to moisturize your skin or clean rubber boots, or try making your own lip balm, soap, or body scrub.