Not all oil is created equal; many brands don’t offer the health benefits promised
The health benefits of olive oil, such as protecting against heart disease, have been well documented; however, many olive oil users aren’t getting any of them and being duped in the process. The University of California-Davis tested olive oils bought from grocery stores to determine whether they met the strict standards to be classified as “Extra Virgin”—a whopping 69 percent did not.
“Creditable producers are under scrutiny and trying to make a profit and a honest living while the cheaters continue to find ways to extend the harvest yield through adulteration of other oils or using inferior oil from a previous harvest to reduce cost and increase profits,” says Whitney Brown, Owner of local olive oil company, The Olive Wagon (theolivewagon.com).
The report has sparked increased scrutiny of industry standards, but you still need to be informed in order to choose olive oils that are rich in polyphenols, which have been shown to help fight cancer, reduce inflammation and protect the cardiovascular system.
One way, according to Pam Skea, Managing Director of Flying Olive Farms, is to identify a single-sourced olive oil whose origins are traceable. All the olives that get pressed into their signature extra virgin olive oils under the brand Vrisi 36 (vrisi36.com) can be traced to a small farming community in Greece called Glykovrisi. “We’re very transparent,” says Skea. “We test for levels of polyphenols in our oils.”
It’s this transparency that’s often lacking in mass-market brands. But small shops like Brown’s work with distributors that provide chemical test results from independent labs that are approved by the California Olive Oil Council. “This assures the store owner that we are purchasing a pure product and can therefore confidently represent the products with integrity intact,” adds Brown.
How to choose a good olive oil: Brown and Skea offer tips on ways to choose olive oil brands that you can trust.
“Choose a label that comes from a smaller distributor, has dates of harvest and country origin listed,” says Brown.
Price of the olive oil is not an indicator of quality and neither is color, so don’t base your purchase on either.
“A good quality olive oil should have a pleasing aroma- fresh, grassy and herbal with no lingering mustiness,” says Brown. Of course, you can’t always smell or taste oil in all supermarkets, but you can learn from your purchase for next time.
Taste it! The oil should not be greasy or have a vinegary aspect. Take a small sip into your mouth, then inhale air through your closed teeth. If you feel a burning sensation in the back of your throat, it’s often a sign of quality olive oil.
Make your olive oil last longer
Olive oil is meant to be enjoyed not saved, so once you unseal the cap, the clock starts ticking. “Time is its enemy,” says Brown. “The oil will eventually go flat, then rancid.”
Store your olive oil at room temperature, and keep it away from direct sun, preferably in a dark bottle. Also, avoid keeping it near the stove.
Once opened, try to allow as little oxygen to enter the bottle as possible, says Skea. Don’t leave it open on your countertop for hours on end. Lastly, if the bottle has been sitting in your cupboard for more than six months, toss it.
Keep in mind you don’t necessarily cook with the same olive oil that you drizzle on your salad or dip your bread into. Save your more expensive, quality oil for dishes where you’ll really taste the robust flavor.