During a trip to the very foodie city of Vancouver, I had the pleasure of participating in an amazing dinner event hosted by Tonio Crenza – a 6th generation olive oil producer. Before the meal (which included delicious and authentic dishes from Puglia, Italy), Tonio educated me on the olive oil industry – and I learned some pretty shocking facts about this industry that are affecting your health and the environment in a very negative way.
Everything that Tonio taught me was confirmed in Thomas Mueller’s book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. While olive oil does have the potential to prevent heart disease, boost our immune system, prevent colon cancer, breast cancer and Alzheimers – the bad news is that 75-80 percent of olive oil sold in the U.S. does not meet the legal grades for extra-virgin oil. Can you believe that?! That’s bad news for all of us, and leaves me wondering – what else don’t we know about the olive oil we are consuming? And how can we ensure we are getting the best quality so we get the best nutrition?
To answer these questions and more, let’s scope out the good, the bad and the ugly of olive oil.
Good olive oil is…
- Labeled as Extra Virgin Olive Oil and certified by a reputable organization like the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin, DOP in Italian) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication)
- Certified by national and state olive oil associations, such as the Australian Olive Association, the California Olive Oil Council, and the Association 3E. The North American Olive Oil Association and the International Olive Council.
- Has a “best by” date, or a date of harvest. This assures freshness
- Sometimes has Free Fatty Acid (FFA) content of 0.2 percent or lower. Anything higher is of low quality
- Has smoke point of about 210 degrees Celsius, while lower-grade quasi–extra virgins begin to smoke at about 185 degrees Celsius.
- Has a flavor profile and pleasant or unique aromas. For example, If an oil doesn’t sting at the back of the throat, it contains little or no oleocanthal one of the main anti-cancerous and anti-inflammatory compounds polyphenols in Olive oil.
- Has a bitterness (peppery perhaps) to it as a result of their powerful vitamin E and plant sterols
- Sold in a dark bottle to protect it from light which oxidizes the oil
Bad Olive Oil…
- Bad Olive Oil is poorly processed olive oil (tasteless, odorless, colorless), therefore containing very little artery scrubbing, cancer preventing, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds that could be so beneficial to our health.
- Labeled as “Refined Olive Oil, “Olive Oil”, “Light Olive Oil”, or “Pure Olive Oil” – all of which are NOT Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). If you are not consuming EVOO, then you are not consuming any of the nutritional benefits associated with EVOO. Instead, you are consuming a watered-down version, one that is a blend of EVOO and poorly refined olive oil (saving the producers money, but wasting yours).
Ugly Olive Oil is…
- First and foremost labeled as Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) but is actually counterfeit Olive Oil that’s colored with chlorophyll and contains rancid soy, peanut, corn or canola oil that can also contain artery clogging trans fats.
- Sold as Pomace oil – which is a highly refined oil primarily made of olive pits, skin, and flesh—using a chemical solvent known as “hexane.”
- Tastes and smells moldy, rancid, cooked, greasy, meaty, metallic, and like cardboard.
The good news is that a lot of research is being done on this topic, and more and more resources are out there to educate the consumer. My advice to you is to look at the links above and explore resources like Thomas Mueller’s website The Truth in Olive Oil and his book – but above all, give thanks to the good folks around that are still making good quality olive oil, like my friend Tonio.