The Life of Olive Oil

How to store olive oil and what to do to prevent degradation of the oil.


Heat, light, air, time, and cold are the enemies of olive oil.


HEAT –  Degrades the flavors

LIGHT – Can make the oil rancid

AIR –     Causes oxidation

TIME –   Oil naturally degrades over time,

COLD – Causes the oil to gradually solidify

Store the oil in a cool dark cupboard, use it frequently, buy in smaller quantities. Always buy certified extra virgin olive oil and pair it well with good food. Find a local purveyor. Find the variety of olive oil that you enjoy and pair it with the way you cook.

We have had 3- and 4-year-old oil that still has fruit, bitterness, and pungency, but it was stored in perfect conditions. UC Davis Olive Center has an ongoing research study that is examining the degradation of olive oil varieties over time. This should provide very interesting results. More information to come as this study is released for publication.


HEAT  – Degrades olive oil and the delicate flavor molecules, which give the oil character. After you purchase oil do not leave it in a hot car. Cooking with olive oil is fine, just keep the temperature below about 350° F.


LIGHT – Sunlight, can turn the oil rancid; keep the oil in a dark cool cupboard. This is a similar process that occurs with “light struck” wine.


AIR – Oxidation! “air” degrades the oil by breaking down the naturally occurring antioxidants. The antioxidants, polyphenols, oleocanthal, and flavor molecules are why we use olive oil in the first place. Try covering the surface of the oil with a wine preserver. A little preservation goes a long way to protecting the oil.


TIME – If the oil is stored in the dark, at a constant temperature, (65° F), and not exposed to air, oil will remain good for up 3-4 years. It will always degrade in intensity and flavor but not necessarily become “bad” or unpalatable. Fresh oil is always the best.


COLD –  Solidification of olive oil is a slow and gradual process that takes the consistency from liquid, to a soft butter state, to a solid state. The cooling process begins at 40-50° F. That is the temperature that oil will begin to become solid. If you leave your oil in the car or the garage overnight, it will turn solid. If you put it in your wine room, the same process begins.