The Great Olive Oil Caper
Them: Olive oil is extremely healthy for you.
Also them: Olive oil is extremely unhealthy for you.
The answer? Both.
That golden-emerald glass bottle on our kitchen counter is so easy to pour into a pan for cooking, on our veggies for eating, on our meat for seasoning, and maybe even for dipping bread if we’re feeling Italian. Spoiler alert: if your bottle isn’t glass – it’s unlikely to be real extra virgin olive oil no matter what the label says.
“Much of the extra virgin Italian olive oil flooding the world’s market shelves is neither Italian, nor virgin.”The New York Times
Like many other industries, olive oil production is not above unscrupulous business practices to cut costs and boost profits. According to Forbes.com, 80% of the Italian olive oil on the market is fraudulent. Bottles everywhere labeled extra virgin olive oil are often cut with cheaper oils like sunflower and canola oil, cheaper olive oil, and coloring agents like chlorophyll and beta cerotene.
Olive oil is very different from the seed oil, like canola, that it is often mixed with. Former olive oil specialist Nicholas Coleman says olive oil belongs in the produce section, not on a shelf. “It is closer to a raw juice than a cooking oil.” He points out that cooking oils like canola and safflower are pressed from seeds and nuts, not of fruit like the olive.
Most Americans don’t even realize olive oil is perishable. We think of it as any other cooking oil found in the grocery store, but probably opt for extra virgin olive because we’ve heard it’s healthier.
Why Is Olive Good but Seed Oil (Like Canola) Bad?
Extra virgin olive oil is made only by pressing the olive, while regular olive oil is created with a combination of pressing and heating. Seed oils are created only from heating, and that may be where the drawbacks come into play. While olive oil and canola oil have similar nutritional profiles, the refining process in canola oil significantly reduces the antioxidant and polyphenol content. Polyphenols are micronutrients that occur in plants and are found in true olive oil but less highly-refined seed oils.
According to healthline.com, people who regularly use extra virgin olive oil reduce their risk of heart disease, improve blood sugar levels, and are at a lower risk of death. Studies even show that people with the highest consumption of olive oil have a 16% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than people with the least consumption.
Another study found that greater olive oil consumption was linked to a lower risk of stroke and reduction in heart disease risk factors including bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
How to Choose a Quality Olive Oil
There are many home tests found on the internet, from freezing your olive oil overnight to drenching a candle wick and lighting it, but the best way I’ve found is to look for a harvest date on the bottle. While most large producers do not include a harvest date, smaller producers usually do – especially ones committed to purity. European bottles provide a “best used by” date, however, there is no oversight to see when the olives were bottled in the first place. The United States Department of Agriculture requires no such labeling.
However, the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) regularly purchases olive oil from grocery stores and test them for purity according to the standards set by the International Olive Oil Council – yes, this s@#$ runs deep. Brands that pass the test earn the NAOOA’s quality seal, but if you forgot your magnifying glass the next time you’re at the store, they have a list on their website.
My personal favorite brand is California Olive Ranch. All olives are pressed and bottled within 8 hours of harvest, and all olives were California-grown until a bad crop in 2018 forced to the company to outsource produce for the first time. This extra virgin olive oil is 100% real.
Pour It With the Elbow up High
Now that you know some tricks, maybe it’s time to discard the giant bottle of olive oil you’ve had in the pantry for years, knowing that a real olive oil would have expired after two years. When you go to the grocery store, inspect your olive oil brand for a harvest date, or research the quality tested and approved brands in this article ahead of time.
Once you begin consuming real extra virgin olive oil, your body will thank you; your heart will thank you, and your taste buds will thank you too! In European countries like Italy, Greece, and Spain, the average person consumes 20 liters of olive oil each year compared to just 1 liter in America. Now that we are sure our olive oil is real, let’s enjoy it to its full potential like the European’s do and enjoy all the flavor and health benefits it has to offer!
“There’s a saying about olive oil: ‘Pour it with the elbow up high.”Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte
2022 04 25