Olive Oil’s Dirty Little Secret
If you’re like me, you love extra virgin olive oil. But what you may not know is that the olive oil industry is saturated with a dirty secret and that it is “ripe” with fraudulent oil.
According to Tom Mueller who, in his recent book Extra Virginity – The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, some say as much as 50% of the olive that is sold as “extra virgin” is really only a mix of olive oil that has been diluted with low-grade vegetable oils and artificial coloring.
How can you tell if you’re getting the real deal? Mueller says, “You can’t really tell before you open the bottle, which is why knowing or trusting the individual producer is so important.”
Here are some other tips that will help you to make sure that the oil you are buying is truly 100%, extra virgin. One good sign is a seal of approval. For European oils it would be PDO (Protected Designation of Origin – “DOP” in Italian) and for California oils there’s the COOC (California Olive Oil Council) seal.
Packaging is also an indicator that the oil is probably 100%. Light, together with heat and oxygen, is one of olive oil’s enemies since light will cause the olive oil to degrade. So most high quality extra-virgin olive oil will come in a dark glass or metal container that will filter out light. If it’s in a clear plastic or glass then most probably the quality is low. When storing your oil, keep it away from a stove or any other heat source, including windows where light and heat from sunlight could affect it. Be sure to store it in a cool, dark place.
Also, when purchasing your olive oil if there is a label that tells about the specific producer and place of origin instead of just a generic reference to more than one country, that’s a good thing. Keep in mind, just because it might say “bottled in Italy” doesn’t mean it is Italian Olive Oil. A harvest date is also a good indicator that the oil is probably of a good quality.
You want your olive oil to be fresh since it’s an agricultural product, it’s not like wine that gets better with age. Olive oil will degrade with age, so the younger, the fresher, the better. If you can buy your oil from a place where you can taste it before you buy that’s wonderful. It should remind you of a fresh, olive flavor. As Tom Mueller says, “The good stuff is peppery and alive and, sipped neat, can make you cough.”
Once again I’ll say, in my opinion, if you buy local, you’re probably going to be okay. Places like Stonewall Kitchen is going to have great olive oils, so is Terra Cotta Pasta. Philbricks used to have the big vats of it, I’m not sure if they still do.
So, the next time you invest in extra virgin, make sure that you’re getting the real thing and that you get your money’s worth!
Have a super Friday and a great weekend,
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