Extra virgin olive oil is a product with extraordinary properties good for our health. However several brands cut olive oil with other cheaper oils and chemicals to increase their profits, compromising the quality of this precious food.
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest fat we can use on our dishes: it’s not just utterly delicious, but it also improves our health being low in saturated fats and high in omega-3 fatty acids that contribute to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Olive Oil also very different from other seed and vegetable oils (olive is a fruit, even if the seed as well is squeezed in the process) as it is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols (compounds that facilitate the cardiovascular function). Other studies also claim it could help preventing some forms of cancer, improve digestion and reduce cholesterol. And even if we don’t care about the health benefits that come from it, let’s face it: it’s incredibly delicious.
Emerald green and very peppery when freshly squeezed, golden and smoother when it’s maturing, extra virgin olive oil is a wonderful condiment for any kind of food. In Italy we use it on salads, on steaks (you should try if you haven’t! much better than mustard or any other sauce) or cakes (replacing butter) or we simply sprinkle it on toasted bread to make a deliciously healthy bruschetta (it’s pronunced with a “k”, brusketta!). Extra virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only, and is of higher quality: it contains no more than 0.8% free acidity and it has a superior taste, having some fruitiness and no defined sensory defects. Extra virgin olive oil is better than virgin olive oil, where sensory defects are present. And virgin olive oil is better than olive oil, the latter being the result of refinement of olive oil. Virgin olive oil can have a decent flavour for cooked dishes, but no doubt you should use an extra virgin one as a raw seasoning ingredient. The olive oil “neither extra virgin nor virgin”: “it’s good for the engine of your car”, we say in Italy.
A recent study has confirmed over 70% of olive oil sold in the USA markets is fake, cut with other oils like peanut, canola and sunflower. The same brands are sold all over the world, including UK, France, Italy and Spain.
A similar scandal was brought into attention in Italy in 2008, when several police officers were involved in the breakdown known as operation Golden Oil. It was disclosed that 85 oil farms were mixing chlorophyll, chemical colourants and flavours with sunflower and canola to the olive oil, in order to have a cheaper product. Of course the results were awful and the healthy properties of the olive oil were lost.
California University has recently undertaken a study on 124 olive oils and found that over 70% of samples failed the tests.
- Antica Badia
- Whole Foods
- Felippo Berio
- Corto olive
- McEvoy Ranch Organic
- California Olive Branch
- Bariani Olive oil
- Olea Estates
- Cobram Estate
- Kirkland Organic
It’s not possible to tell how pure the oil is just by looking at it. However you can do your own simple test at home: store the bottle in the fridge and, if after 30min it gets solid, it means it is pure and has monounsaturated fats. If it stays liquid, then it’s cut with other cheaper oils.
As there are other ways of cutting the oil (for example mixing new oil with old oil from the previous years) this test would not guarantee the product we are using is a good quality oil.
So how should we choose our extra virgin olive oil?
First of all: taste it. A good extra virgin olive oil has that extra level of flavour, texture, aroma that is hard to fake. Do a simple test buying two different brands and taste them both, one after another, just seasoning a slice of sourdough bread with the oils. You will immediately spot differences in smell and flavours and you can start using this “comparative” method to identify the oil you like most.
But this is not enough to make sure we are eating real extra virgin olive oil. We would need to trust the seller and the producer. So even now that I live in London and good extra virgin olive oil is less accessible, I make sure I buy it from someone who can guarantee the provenience. And you can do the same: visit farmer’s market in your area and talk to them; meet local producers or producers that import their products; meet people that have passion for olive oil and ask them where they buy their own.
Through time you will find a product you will taste many different extra virgin olive oil and therefore you will be better able to understand which product you like most and, most importantly, which one you trust.