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Does Olive Garden use olive oil?

Olive Garden is a popular Italian-American restaurant chain known for its unlimited salad, breadsticks, and pasta dishes. With “olive” in the name, one might assume that olive oil is a staple ingredient at Olive Garden. However, this is not necessarily the case. Here’s a quick look at whether Olive Garden uses olive oil in their recipes and food preparation.

Do They Use Olive Oil for Cooking?

When it comes to cooking their dishes, Olive Garden uses a blend of vegetable oils including canola, soybean, sunflower, and olive oils. Olive oil is part of the mix, but it’s not the predominant oil used. The blend allows Olive Garden to keep costs down while still incorporating some of the flavor of olive oil.

For fried menu items like calamari or chicken parmigiana, Olive Garden relies more heavily on soybean and canola oil which have high smoke points that are better suited for frying. Dishes that are sautéed or roasted generally contain some olive oil in the vegetable oil blend.

So in summary, olive oil is used in some capacity for cooking select dishes at Olive Garden, but it’s not the only oil used. The restaurant strikes a balance between cost and flavor by using a blended oil approach.

What About Salad and Breadsticks?

Two of Olive Garden’s most popular offerings are their salad and breadsticks. Do these staples contain olive oil?

The house Italian salad dressing at Olive Garden does include olive oil along with vinegars, herbs, and spices. However, it is not entirely olive oil-based. Soybean and canola oil are also ingredients likely used for consistency and to keep costs reasonable. So while the salad dressing contains some olive oil for flavor, other oils are part of the formula as well.

Olive Garden’s famous breadsticks are brushed with a garlic-butter sauce both before and after baking. The base ingredients are butter, garlic, and parsley. Olive oil is not an ingredient in the breadstick recipe or butter sauce.

What Oils Are Used for Frying?

Deep frying requires oils that can withstand very high temperatures. Olive oil has a relatively low smoke point so it is not suitable for deep frying. At Olive Garden, their fried menu items are cooked in a combination of soybean and canola oils which can reach high temperatures before burning or generating smoke.

Dishes like fried calamari, chicken parmigiana, and zeppoli fritti doughnuts are examples of menu items cooked in the soybean/canola oil blend. Using these high heat oils ensures the food reaches the proper internal temperature and develops a crispy fried exterior.

Do They Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality and most flavorful variety of olive oil. However, it also comes with a higher price tag so it is not cost effective for use in large restaurant chains.

Olive Garden uses regular refined olive oil in their recipes rather than the pricier extra virgin variety. This allows them to keep menu costs down while still incorporating some olive oil for flavor. But high quality extra virgin olive oil would lose some of its unique taste when cooked so regular olive oil gets the job done for the restaurant’s needs.

Is Olive Oilused for Tables and Serving?

Olive Garden does provide olive oil at the table for dipping breads and seasoning dishes. The olive oil offered for customer use is generally a lower quality and more affordable option compared to fine extra virgin olive oils. But it’s still real olive oil for patrons who want to add some to their meal.

In addition to the table olive oil, dishes that are served with sauce or dressing on the side may contain olive oil in the accompanying liquid. Examples include salad dressings, pasta sauces, and dipping oils. So patrons will encounter some olive oil during the dining experience beyond just what’s used for meal preparation.

Nutrition & Ingredients

Olive Garden makes their ingredient and nutrition information available online so customers can see exactly what oils are used in specific menu items.

Looking up the recipes shows that olive oil is included in various salads, sauces, and Italian entrées. But it is typically combined with other oils rather than being the sole oil used.

Some examples of dishes containing olive oil include:

  • Italian salad dressing
  • Risotto
  • Chicken piccata
  • Shrimp scampi
  • Eggplant parmigiana

Checking the nutrition data and ingredient list for any menu item gives a clear picture of which oils are used in its preparation. Olive oil makes an appearance but always alongside other oils.

Are There Olive Oil Options?

While olive oil may not be the predominant oil used at Olive Garden, they do offer some ways for customers to incorporate more olive oil if desired:

  • Request olive oil specifically for dipping bread or topping dishes
  • Order salad dressing on the side and add extra from the table olive oil bottle
  • Select dishes like chicken marsala or eggplant parmigiana that typically contain some olive oil
  • Substitute steamed veggies as a side to get olive oil seasoning rather than fried veggies

Since Olive Garden has the olive oil available at tables, it’s easy to customize meals and add more as wanted. Patrons can also ask to have dishes prepared using olive oil rather than the standard blended oils, though substitutions may not always be possible.

Olive Oil Use at Other Chains

The use of olive oil at Olive Garden is fairly typical for large Italian restaurant chains. Here’s a look at how some competitors compare:

Restaurant Olive Oil Use
Carrabba’s Italian Grill Uses blend of oils including olive oil for cooking
Maggiano’s Little Italy Features olive oil prominently in recipes and for serving
Romano’s Macaroni Grill Blends olive oil with other oils for most menu items
Buca di Beppo Uses mix of oils but olive oil specifically for Italian dishes

Olive Garden falls somewhere in the middle of competitors when it comes to prevalence of olive oil in their kitchens. Chains like Maggiano’s use olive oil more heavily in their cooking while others rely more on less expensive oils. Overall Olive Garden takes a balanced approach using olive oil along with other oils in their recipes.


So does Olive Garden use olive oil? The answer is yes, but with some caveats. Olive oil is incorporated into some recipes and available at tables, but usually as part of a blend rather than being the sole oil used. Cost savings, high cooking temperatures, and the desire for consistency mean other oils like soybean and canola oil play a prominent role as well. In the end, olive oil usage at Olive Garden is moderate, not heavy or exclusive. The restaurant lives up to its name by using olive oil in many dishes, but relies on other oils to prepare much of the menu.