Have you ever wondered what exactly you’re getting when you purchase a bottle of olive oil?
Extra virgin? Pure? “Pure,” “which is such a great word from a marketing standpoint, indicates to a lot of consumers that they’re buying the very best olive oil. But in fact, it’s a lower grade.” Extra virgin is the highest grade for olive oil. There are problems with consumers’ notions of this product that would make lovers of great olive oil, or those knowledgeable about it, cringe. Only one in four of us understands olive oil grades. Eighty percent cited flavor as an important factor in buying olive oil, yet earlier studies have shown that a majority of imported oils have off flavors or are already rancid. Rancidity negatively affects the human body by forming free radicals and depleting certain B vitamins. If you’re using olive oil for your health, ingesting a rancid one will not bear the valuable antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and viable polyphenols.
Refined olive oil has been processed with solvents to mask off odors and flavors. This do-over is done because the oil might have started out with olives of questionable quality, or it’s a blend of low-grade oils gushing around the Mediterranean from Turkey, Greece or Spain, or it’s been cut with other oils, such as hazelnut or safflower. In these cases, that’s all got to be covered up. Turn the bottle over. Where is the oil from? Just because it was packed or produced in Italy doesn’t mean the oil’s Italian. Look for the harvest date. Remember that olive oil is the opposite of wine. It is not meant to age. Think of it as fresh fruit juice. Look for seals of approval. Many California olive oils are sent, for a fee, to the California Olive Oil Council’s panel of trained tasters. If the oil passes, the producer is given permission to place the COOC seal on the label.
Smell it and taste it. Because you can’t very well take a swig at the store, as soon as you get the olive oil home, smell it and taste it. Ideally you won’t encounter the off odors, like wax, bad salami, old peanut butter, or sweaty socks. Take it back. “This is North-America. You can take everything back.” Tell the store manager that the oil is rancid and return it. If the manager is unable to lead you to a better product, find a shop that specializes in fine olive oil, or look for good olive oil online. Favor domestic oil. First, this is not an us vs. them: There are high-quality producers all over the world. Olive oils made in the U.S. and Canada consistently score higher in quality than imports.
Photo credit: omegafood