One ingredient cooks always need: olive oil. This versatile cooking tool touches everything from salad dressings to marinades, pastries to pasta dishes, and can also be used as a way to sauté meats and veggies when added to the pan.
We also now know that it’s packed with healthier medium-chain triglyceride fats than butter and vegetable oil, and can be a great way to improve overall health and wellness when making the swap. Even hair and skin care can benefit when olive oil is added to a daily beauty routine.
With its abundant uses, you might want to stock up on a few high-quality bottles, which also begs the question does olive oil ever go bad? That is, if you even have a bottle left over after a month.
Olive oil shelf life
Like almost any food, olive oil can absolutely reach a point when it spoils. Over time, things like air, heat, and light can all have an impact on the quality of the product as well as its overall safeness to use. Eventually, no matter what steps are taken to keep it pure, olive oil will go rancid.
While pure, natural, non-GMO olive oil is a better choice, it also means that the olive oil won’t last as long as more conventional options since it doesn’t have the preservatives or additives that could increase its shelf life. It’s still worth the tradeoff, of course, as long as you buy a bottle you can use in the time allowed until it spoils.
Most olive oils are considered good for roughly two years from the date it was bottled—and may even stay good for up to three years in some cases. This will be stamped on the bottle as the “Best By” date. To ensure even more freshness, look to see if the olive oil has a “Harvest Date” on the label too, since it’s two years from this time that can really maximize quality.
To extend the longevity all the way to its peak, try these tips:
- Only open one bottle at a time. Different types of oils may have different tastes or essences, but it’s important to remember that once opened, the contents of the bottle will last for a far shorter length of time than when factory sealed. Your best bet is to use one at a time to ensure maximum freshness.
- Keep olive oil cool. Though it’s not necessary to refrigerate, keeping olive oil in a cool cupboard in a location away from cooking areas and heat sources will help to significantly extend its peak freshness.
- Keep the bottle tightly sealed. Those fancy decorative bottles may look great, but if they don’t allow for a solid seal between the oil and the rest of the outside world, the exposure to much greater levels of oxygen will turn it rancid much quicker.
- Hide the bottle from the light. Most olive oils are packaged in dark colored bottles for a reason—they filter out most light, which can degrade the oil over time. A dark bottle or a dark pantry (or both) are the keys to keeping the product fresh for even longer.
Signs that olive oil has gone bad
Just because olive oil has a “Best By” date stamped on the bottle doesn’t guarantee that the product will necessarily stay good for that long. Start by checking the date before using the product as a guideline for quality, though be sure to pay attention to the following additional signs that can help identify rancid olive oil.
The first thing to pay attention to is the appearance of the oil. After a year to a year-and-a-half, it will begin to start changing colors. As it goes rancid, expect a brighter yellow color to start taking shape.
Scent is also a dead giveaway. While fresh olive oil does have a pungent odor, when it begins to spoil, it will smell more like old peanuts, crayons, or putty.
When in doubt, take a small sip of the oil and swirl around in your mouth. A greasy mouthfeel, bitter flavors with lack of fruity undertones, or a pumpkin-like taste are all signs that the oil has spoiled.
Another thing to understand is that some olive oils naturally may have a taste and scent similar to wine or vinegar. This is known as “fusty” oil. If present, it’s due to the fact that the olives were allowed to ferment before being properly processed. While it’s not technically spoiled, the fermentation process means that the quality of the oil isn’t quite what it should be and you may want to choose another bottle.
A note about infused olive oils
Olive oil in its pure, natural state has a very long shelf life. But it’s important to note that there are many other types beyond just plain, natural oil. Infused olive oil has become increasingly popular, blending different herbs or flavors to add extra dimension to the overall taste.
While rosemary or basil are often used, garlic-infused olive oil is even more common and can add unparalleled depth to a dish. However, it’s important to note that the addition of garlic and other ingredients can quickly reduce the shelf life of olive oil.
Specifically, the problem can be botulism, a bacteria that spreads in certain types of foods when they aren’t exposed to oxygen (it’s mostly apparent in expired canned goods). Since the garlic added to olive oil will be sealed off from air supply and necessary oxygen, it’s a prime target for botulism, which can provide a serious risk—even fatal in some instances.
If you like to create homemade infused oils, you’ll want to refrigerate the bottle immediately when not in use and be sure to use all of the oil within about a week. Store-bought infused oils from trustworthy sources are much safer, but it’s still important to use within 12 months before the risk of botulism rises dramatically.
Don’t throw away expiring olive oil just yet
Just because olive oil is on its way out doesn’t mean it’s a total loss. Cooking with it might be out of the question, but there are other ways to use it:
- A makeup remover to fully clean pores and promote healthier skin; just dab a bit on a cotton ball and wipe over your face
- An ingredient in homemade lip balms, lotions, and creams
- Rejuvenating face masks; just blend with mashed avocado or organic coconut oil
- A nail soak to help strengthen fingernails and nourish cuticles
- A polish for furniture, tires, or even shoes
- A natural cleaner for tile and wood flooring; just mix with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar for effectiveness and a clean scent
- A gear or hinge lubricant (without the bad fumes)
Cooking with olive oil
As long as you’re using it regularly, you won’t have to worry about olive oil spoiling before its time. The long shelf life means that it does in fact take a very long time before it will spoil, and the versatility means that it can be used practically every day in one way or another. If you need some ideas, here are some of our favorite ideas for cooking with olive oil.
Swapping out basil for a combination of kale and hemp seeds can offer a mild flavor in this fresh pesto recipe that can be poured over pasta or used as a dipping sauce for a range of crisp breads. The end result will be filled with omega-3 fatty acids and incredibly easy to make in a matter of minutes—you’ll also need some garlic, sea salt, lemons, and of course olive oil.
Potato salad is a favorite side dish of barbecues, holiday parties, and other fun gatherings, but many recipes tend to load it down with mayo, adding tons of unnecessary calories and fat. Instead, our recipe uses olive oil, spicy mustard, and plenty of herbs to create a version that not only tastes amazing, but is much healthier.
The delicate, fruity notes from olive oil blend perfectly with bittersweet chocolate to create a cookie that is big on flavor and provides a perfect texture as well. Go for a more full-bodied olive oil to bring even bigger taste complexity to every batch.
Fresh avocado, cheese, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers blend together perfectly with a bed of lettuce and grilled or roasted chicken. This refreshingly nutritious salad is elevated even further thanks to the olive oil–based salad dressing.
Fresh fish is a fundamental part of any healthy diet, and this recipe goes for the less commonly utilized opah, also known as moonfish. It’s a great substitute for tuna; the combination of the rich meat and spicy yet sweet mango salsa creates a meal anyone will love. Tip: Drizzle with olive oil before roasting for even more impeccable taste.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho