DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR OLIVE OIL COMES FROM??
Olive oil is like wine – there are 700+ varietals of olives, each varying in flavor depending on the region they’re grown. Similarly, there are good years and bad years for olives. And also like wine, olive oil has a following of passionate connoisseurs and is at the top of every Foodies’ list of kitchen essentials. However, unlike wine, olive oil does not improve with time.
Olives are a fruit and at its best is like a fresh squeezed fruit juice – clean, bright and full of the energy of the sun. Deborah Rogers of McEvoy Ranch in California describes it this way, “If you could taste and smell the color green, this would be it.”
The U.S. is the 3rd largest importer of of extra-virgin olive oils however, our per person consumption falls way behind. In Greece, the average person consumes 23 to 24 liters per year – one large bottle each week. In the U.S. we barely hit a liter per year per person. Considering health benefits, it is one of the healthiest oils and easiest to consume. Unfortunately, we consume almost three times as much vegetable oil as olive oil.
Extra Virgin is supposed to denote the very best in olive oils. However, the quality is degraded sometimes so much it’s almost unrecognizable. Once you try REAL extra virgin, you’ll never be able to go back to the “Fake” kind.
READ ALONG FOR THE BASICS AND SOME HELPFUL TIPS TO FIND A DELICIOUS AND NUTRITION OIL FOR YOUR CULINARY ADVENTURES
There are three major factors that determine quality:
- The olives themselves. What is the varietal?
- How ripe were the olives when picked?
- How much time passed between picking and pressing?
There are different grades:
All “virgin” olive oil is extracted by a physical process like crushing or centrifuges, and without the use of chemicals or heat.
- EXTRA VIRGIN (EVOO) is unrefined and produced without heat or chemicals. There are no additives or preservatives used in production or bottling. It has a low smoke point and should not be used for cooking at high temperatures. Cold Pressed or First Cold Pressed are probably the most misused statements. Most EVOO is produced by centrifuge and isn’t pressed at all. There is no “second press”, and all pressings are cold.
- VIRGIN is also unrefined and produced without heat or chemicals; generally the same but not as strict production standards as EVOO. They’re a bit lower quality and usually used for cooking. Rarely seen in stores anymore because producers label it as Extra Virgin.
- OLIVE-POMACE OIL is refined with chemical solvents such as hexane. Hexanes are used in making glue for shoes, leather products, and roofing. They are also used to extract cooking oils from seeds, for cleaning and de-greasing, and in textile manufacturing. They are potentially present as contaminants in all soy food products; the lack of regulation by the FDA is a matter of some controversy. A heat technique is used to produce Olive-pomace oil. It’s extracted from the solid waste residue from the olive oil manufacturing process. This type of oil is usually blended with some virgin olive oil to provide flavor.
- LAMPANTE (Italian for lamp oil) – Lampante is unfit for human consumption without further refinement and is not available as a food product. It is refined using both heat and chemicals to neutralize the acidity, remove the flavor defects, deodorize, and de-color the oil. It is sold as “olive oil”.
When Shopping you’ll also see:
“Pure” or “Olive Oil”: a blend of EVOO and refined olive oil (heat and chemicals used for processing to remove
the “flaws” from the olive fruit).It’s mostly used as an “all purpose” cooking oil.
Light Olive Oil: Is NOT lower in calories! It is a refined oil with a neutral taste and higher smoke point. This is primarily a marketing term.
Be sure your oil is labeled “extra virgin,” as other categories – “pure” or “light” oil and “olive oil” have undergone chemical refinement stripping away olive flavor and many of the oil’s health benefits.
Your Extra “VIRGIN” Olive Oil May Not Be So PURE…..
Sadly, of all the fraudulent food practices, olive oil leads the pack. This is nothing new, however. Ancient jars of Roman olive oil have been excavated and when sampled, traces of counterfeit oils were detected.
The USDA has made putting grades on oil labels voluntary. Since there are no regulations on labeling, it opens opportunities for less-than-honest producers and dealers to to make more profit and thus….you end up with bad oil. Label claims like “packed in Italy” or “bottled in Italy,” don’t mean that the olives were grown in Italy and the oil was made in Italy. Italy is another of the world’s biggest importers of olive oil, much of which originates in Spain, Greece, Tunisia and elsewhere. In general, avoid oils whose precise point of production is not specified on the label.
All things considered, you can feel confident in an oil that’s certified by national and state olive oil associations. Look for seals from the Australian Olive Association, the California Olive Oil Council and the Association 3E. The North American Olive Oil Assn and the International Olive Oil Council have certifications too. Organic certification can, but doesn’t always, offer further assurance of quality and healthfulness.
There are three ways that olive oil quality is tampered with before being bottled:
- EVOO is diluted with a lower quality oil such as soybean or safflower oil.
- High-quality EVOO is diluted with low-quality olive oil; usually ones that have been heavily refined with chemicals.
- Left over and often rancid oil from the previous year is mixed with new pressings.
Some brands even flavor their oils or dye it green to make it look and smell like real olive oil.
What to Look for When Buying Olive Oil
- To ensure you’re getting a quality oil, look for a named region within a specific country. If you don’t find a region on the bottle it probably means it was mass produced and from a number of different regions, all differing in quality. In general, the more specifics you find on a label the more likely it is to be authentic and high quality.
- When choosing bottled oil, select dark glass or other containers that protect against light and oxidation. An excellent oil will rapidly go rancid when left in hot or brightly-lit conditions, so store in a cool dark place in your kitchen or pantry.
- Look for bottles with a “best by” date or a date of harvest. “Best by” dates are usually two years from the time an oil was bottled, so as with most items on the shelf, the longer out the date, the fresher the product.
- Be wary of labels – using terms like “pure”, “natural”, “virgin olive oil”, “olive-pomace” “premium”, “light”, or simply “olive oil” suggest a lower quality. This can mean the oil was made from refining skin and pits of olives rather than the olives themselves. Even “cold pressed” and “extra virgin” can easily be slapped on low quality oil.
- To draw a further comparison to wine, choose an oil that pairs well with your meals. Pick a bold olive oil, perhaps labelled as “robust,” “early harvest” or “full-bodied”, with strong flavors like pepper steak, bruschetta, or vegetables like arugula. Choose a milder oil, described as “mild,” “delicate fruit,” or “late harvest” for foods like fish, chicken or potatoes.
Great health benefits are found in olive oil – it’s at the top when comparing healthy fats. The FDA even allows certain health claims on its label. It is the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, being low in saturated fat, high in Omega-3 fatty acids that reduce the risk of heart disease. For more specific details about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet check out this article from Delicious Living and New Hope Network. It’s high in anti-inflammatory polyphenols and antioxidants. The effects are similar to ibuprofen. Reputable claims include fighting some types of cancer, assists in assimilating vitamins, helps with digestion and lowers blood cholesterol. Want to know more about the benefits? Read more about the health benefits of olive oil here: https://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-health-benefits. Fraudulent practices deprive you of these health benefits and the beautiful flavors of good quality olive oil.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines extra virgin olive oil as oil with “excellent flavor and odor” and containing less than 0.8 % free fatty acids. Since Extra Virgin is the highest quality, it shouldn’t be MUSTY (moldy flavor or aroma) or FUSTY (sweaty socks smell),or WINEY (fermented taste). To be extra virgin, oils are actually required to pass both a sensory test by a panel of experts and chemical analyses. The experts are looking for FRUITY, pleasantly BITTER, and PUNGENT attributes.
Pure Extra Virgin Olive Oil, especially Greek, has rich flavor and aroma. Use it in place of butter and vegetable oils. You won’t lose flavor and you’ll gain the health benefits. Pair it with baguettes for dipping and use it for salad dressings. Personally, I love a good olive oil with a squeeze of lemon and a nice finishing salt on my salads. Toss it with your favorite pasta after it cooks, not in the boiling water.
Wrapping it up
Many passionate people are talking about this issue. Much more information is available if you’re interested in diving further down the olive oil rabbit hole. Of course, a simple Google Search will take you on an EVOO Adventure with opinions aplenty! Here’s a great article from Food & Wine. This post is meant to get you thinking and help you select a decent oil for your personal use. I have done a review of a brand that I believe in here: https://freshlookfoods.com/prod_review/vrisi-36-olive-oils/.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your health, invest in a quality oil. If you feel strongly about supporting producers who put care into their products, quality olive oils are an excellent place to invest your grocery dollars. Have fun and experiment with different oils for different uses. My daughter used olive oil instead of baby oil on my grandson and he always smelled like a yummy loaf of fresh baked bread!
I hope you’ve found this information interesting and valuable. Comments and Questions are always welcome!
In Health & Happiness,