16 May 2024

Olive oil getting too pricey? Here's what you can use instead

9:43 am on 16 May 2024
Olive oil.

Photo: Unsplash

In March, RNZ warned of a global shortage of olive oil and in turn, higher prices at the checkout.

It is all down to severe weather conditions in Europe, where New Zealand sources a majority of its olive oil. Dry weather, flooding and hailstorms have created an unstable climate for harvesting over the past few years.

Olives New Zealand executive officer Emma Glover told RNZ drought was the main problem in places like Spain, Italy and Greece.

"Drought has led to a lack of water supply for the growers, so they can't irrigate their trees. That has dropped the production levels, and now we're seeing the effects of that in New Zealand."

According to Foodstuffs, olive oil represents roughly 40 to 50 percent of New Zealand's total oil sales, making it a hugely popular grocery item. As global demand outstrips supply, prices have naturally gone up.

What if I buy locally?

Locally produced olive oil only makes up about 10 percent of what is consumed in New Zealand, and while the price of New Zealand olive oil has not increased at nearly the same rate as what is produced overseas, it still does not come cheap.

New Zealand has experienced similarly challenging weather conditions the past few seasons, with regions across the North Island experiencing flooding in early 2023. In addition, increasing labour and material costs across the horticulture industry means local olive oil production "is not a hugely profitable industry", Glover said.

"[Olives New Zealand's] recorded production within our members dropped down to 70,000 litres last year, from 120,000 litres the year before... we're surviving."

What are some alternatives if you can't afford olive oil?

There are plenty of affordable options just as versatile and flavourful as olive oil. Avocado oil and coconut oil have great health benefits, and the former is excellent in salad dressings and dips.

If you are intent on using olive oil, be savvy - reserve the good stuff as a finishing oil or consider using a spray bottle, so you get bang for your buck.

Olive oil has a low smoke point, so it is not great for cooking or frying at high temperatures. A neutral oil - such as canola or regular sunflower - might contribute less flavour, but it can bring the same body and texture to meals as olive oil.

Canola oil is probably the best all-rounder for its affordability and versatility - it has a high smoke point, can be used on the BBQ, wok or fry pan and has low levels of saturated fat. It is currently about $10 cheaper per litre than olive oil.

What about lard and other stuff my nan has spoken about?


Christchurch fine dining restaurant Inati Simon Levy never grew up using olive oil.

"We used butter and duck fat," he said.

"Olive oil's always been expensive, back then you were lucky if you ever had it. I remember my mum and grandparents, they'd make a Jewish chicken soup - so when you make it, you boil the stock for a day and let it set, then you take all the fat that came out from the bones and floated to the top to make dumplings. You reuse fat you'd usually throw away."


Ghee, or clarified butter, is a good alternative to olive oil for cooking. Photo: Megumi Nachev / Unsplash

Levy says lard, or any type of animal fat, is a good alternative. In Jewish households, schmaltz is popular.

"It's more of a poultry fat - it gives you that richer, fattier texture. We might even smoke beef fat and put it into a dressing."

Lard has been used for centuries in various cuisines, but consumer beware - it comes with higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. A 1:1 ratio is best for substitution (one tablespoon of lard to one expensive spoon of olive oil).

Levy says ghee - clarified butter - is another good alternative to olive oil as it can be used for all types of cooking, seasoning, grilling and roasting.

"Ghee has a higher smoke point as well, and it's got a fabulous richness and this lovely, nutty mouth-feel. It's gonna enrich your dish and give you more textural backbone than olive oil."

What you need to know about olive oil

Many people do not know this, but olive oil does not have an infinite shelf life - it expires quite quickly.

Glover said you should always check the harvest date on the bottom of the bottle, and it should be two years from the best before date. Once opened, use it up within three months.

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