Food Freedom Friday Edition 51

Be EVOO Savvy

In the second part of my series on that 'other good oil' I want to emphasize the importance of being aware and prepared when buying your olive oil....

The culture of olive oil is rich and vital throughout the world despite the fact that olives can only grow in certain regions and climates.

Extra virgin olive oil is made simply by crushing olives and extracting the juice. It is the only cooking oil that is made without the use of chemicals and industrial refining.

Extra virgin olive oil must comply with very high standards, having no discernable taste “defects.” It needs to have a nice flavor of fresh olives and achieve higher scores in lab tests for its chemical composition than other grades.

Since extra virgin olive oil is simply fruit juice without any additives, its quality and taste are influenced by the varieties of olives, where they were grown, and the countless decisions and production practices of an experienced, dedicated producer.

The best olive oils are not easy to find, and if like the majority of people, it is quite possible you have never had a truly excellent extra virgin olive oil. The good news is that once you have tasted a high quality olive oil, you will easily be able to differentiate oils of quality.

Every year in the spring, the results of the New York International Olive Oil Competition (a stage to recognize the difficulty and skill required to produce an exemplary olive oil) reveal the best olive oils of that year. These results are trusted by chefs, discerning cooks and food industry professionals around the world who seek extra virgin olive oils of the very highest quality.

When buying a natural olive oil, dark glass packages are superior. The dark colour of the glass protects the oil from degrading due to heat and light. Additionally, the bottle should be labelled as certified by the IOC which ensures that the oil itself really is natural.

Unfortunately, a large majority of the so-called olive oil sold in stores today is not pure olive oil. Instead the oil comprises a rather deceptive blend of inferior oils that may or may not include traces of actual olive oil.

An estimated 50% of all the commercially sold olive oils in North America do not pass the stringent testing standards used to qualify the authenticity of real olive oil. These high-volume, non-certified olive oils may contain various blends and amounts of rapeseed (canola) oil, soybean oil, flavoring chemicals, fragrances and artificial colors and dyes that give the illusion of real olive oil, but are fraudulent imposters.

Olive oil adulteration is much more widespread than people know about or are aware of.  For an olive oil to truly be considered "extra-virgin," it has to come from fresh, crushed olives, not be refined in any way and not contain any chemical solvents. It also has to pass certain tests of integrity in order to be considered legitimate, for which many of the brands popularly sold today would fail.

Olive oil piracy is rampant in certain areas of the European Union and serves as one of the most lucrative enterprises of the Italian Mafia. This results in most olive oil commercially sold on the market is either greatly diluted or completely forged by a massive shadow industry that involves many major producers and bottlers. Unfortunately, up to 69% of imported extra virgin olive oil has questionable authenticity.

Authentic olive oil is typically characterized by its vibrant green color and bright, peppery taste. It is often stored in amber, glass bottles to protect its flavor and quality and prevent rancidity. It turns out that a large number of olive oils do not even pass these basic authenticity criteria and are often diluted olive oils at best. Many brands fail to meet the standards set by the International Olive Council (IOC).

There are a number of ways to determine whether the olive oil you are purchasing is authentic:

1.       Look for the IOC label of authenticity on imported olive oils. The oil needs to meet a strict set of criteria by which the IOC tests the authenticity of olive oils. Olive oils that bear official IOC labels of authenticity are very likely to actually be authentic. If purchasing in North America, most California-grown oils are pure, real olive oil.

2.       Observe the texture and appearance of your olive oil when refrigerated. Authentic olive oil becomes slightly cloudy and thickens when refrigerated. If your olive oil remains mostly the same consistency when refrigerated, it has most likely been diluted with additive oils or has been adulterated in some other way.

3.       Check to see if your olive oil is flammable. Real olive oil is flammable, which means that it can be used as a fuel source for an oil lamp. In ancient times, this was a primary use for olive oil.If your olive oil does not burn when lit with a match, it is probably an imposter.

4.       Avoid any olive oil labeled as “light” as these are the lowest quality olive oils available.

5.       Taste your oil. Real extra-virgin olive oil should have a vibrant, almost peppery flavor, for instance, and not taste bland or watered down.

6.       The bottle the oil comes in should be made of a dark glass so that the array of health-promoting antioxidants, the taste, and the green color are preserved and not damaged by UV light or the sun. Beige olive oil in plastic bottles is most likely not pure.

7.        Pure olive oil should be a vibrant green, not yellowish in color

Some authentic brands include:

·         Corto Olive

·         California Olive Ranch

·         Kasandrinos International

·         Kirkland Organic

·         Lucero (Ascolano)

·         McEvoy Ranch Organic

Even though the monounsaturated fats found in olive oil are more stable and heat-resistant than the polyunsaturated fats that predominate in other oils (especially the easily damaged omega-3 fatty acids found in flax seed oil, which should always be refrigerated and never heated), olive oil should be stored properly and used within 1-2 months to ensure its healthy phytonutrients remain intact and available. When purchasing olive oil in a tinted glass bottle, it is recommended to store it in a lightproof area, like a cabinet with solid doors or closed pantry. If you decide to purchase in either plastic or metal containers, you may want to take the additional step of moving the oil into a ceramic container that can be sealed. If you are unsure how fast you will be using your olive oil, you may want to buy it in small-size amounts to avoid the problems that can arise with longer-term storage. Protect the flavour and antioxidants of your oil by transferring 7 to 10 days' worth of oil to a smaller bottle to lessen the oxidation that occurs when the oil is exposed to air. Leave this small bottle at room temperature for easy use, but refrigerate the rest. Although it may be convenient, definitely don't store your olive oil near the stove as the heat will damage it

The recommended amount of pure extra virgin olive oil to be consumed to begin to appreciate its benefits is between 2 to 3 tablespoons daily. With its unique taste and numerous culinary applications, incorporating real extra virgin olive oil into your diet is a highly beneficial and enjoyable task.

Michal Ofer