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For centuries people have been using the oil that is obtained from the fruit of the olive tree – olive oil – for cooking, eating, good health, and beauty. Today it is more popular than ever and people everywhere are touting its culinary worth as well as its numerous, documented health benefits.

The perfect olive oil requires precise skills and knowledge to create. The methods and quality of those methods at each step of the process determine the quality of oil you get at the end, known as the grade. The highest grade is extra virgin olive oil. What many people don't realize is that "pure" is a lower grade than extra virgin. If you are confused about choosing the best olive oil you are not alone.

The best fresh olive oil has a marked fruit flavor that suggests cherries and vanila. The olives are picked early in the season at their peak of ripe fruit flavor, and within hours they are pressed, using impeccably clean equipment. A sign of quality is a degree of bitterness and pepper. You don't want to smell old peanut butter or other unpleasant odors as these would indicate that the oil is rancid. Provided you don't encounter any of the unwanted smells, take a taste. The oil is unrefined; its texture is luscious, it disappears on your tongue like butter. The way that is achieved is by minimizing the time between harvesting and processing. Like fresh fruit juice, the shorter the time, the better the quality. If you keep it at room temperature in a darkened cupboard good quality oil will keep for about two years, so when you are shopping look for the harvest date on the bottle

The next thing you want to look for is where the oil comes from. Labeling may not tell the whole story so you need to look deeper. For instance, you pick up a bottle of extra virgin olive oil that is packaged in Italy – but don't assume that the oil itself is Italian. Oils can come from Turkey, Greece, Spain, Tunisia, and other parts of the Mediterranean and are then sent to Italy for packaging. This is probably not the freshest oil, but you won't know until you taste it and smell it.