Thanks to those of you who came to our olive oil tasting that snowy February evening! Did you know that real olive oil is simply the juice pressed from the fruit (the olives) of the olive tree? Pressing olives for their juice is the way olive oil has been made for thousands of years.
Why do we eat olive oil? Not only because it makes our food luscious, but because it has so many health properties (one US cardiologist recommends we enjoy at least 2 Tbsp per day).
In this country, we consume one quart per person per year, while citizens of Greece consume five gallons each. Citizens of Spain enjoy 3.4 gallons per person per year. We have a long way to go to catch up, don’t we!?!
However, it upsets me that today we can chemically clean rancid olive oils and mix them with stuff none of us would deem fit for human consumption. While we have grades for olive oil, compliance is voluntary. Two of the grades called “pure” and “light” sound good, don’t they?
Well, buyer beware! “Pure” and “light” are typically 85% refined oils (often blends of cheaper oils such as canola and soy with some olive), and because they’re chemically treated, they may contain harmful components known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) such as benzopyrene. Research has shown that PAHs can be carcinogenic and mutagenic.
Does this mean if we just buy the highest grade of olive oil, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) everything will be hunky dory? I wish it were that simple!
When the olive oil scandal erupted in 2010, 67% of imported EVOO was found to be something other than EVOO. Some “EVOOs” contained “lamp oil,” from spoiled, fallen olives, though it is illegal to sell lamp oil as food. Some EVOOs were found to have been colored with industrial chlorophyll or flavored with synthetic beta carotene. In US, the FDA doesn’t routinely test imported EVOO for adulteration. And the Canadian Food Inspection Agency concluded in 2013, after extensive testing, that one in three imported EVOOs failed official fraud tests….
Yes, we want EVOOs because they have amazing flavor and greater health benefits. The antioxidants called polyphenols in EVOO are said to prevent human colon cancer cells from proliferating. They are said to protect bone mass, help guard us against cardiovascular disease and slow the aging process. [The highest levels of polyphenols come from EVOO pressed from the green, unripe olives, which are also the most pungent and bitter of EVOOs – and, yes, we stock those too.]
In our store, we buy EVOOs from people we trust. I am happy to say that we personally know many of our growers/producers. We want you to ooh and aah over their EVOOs just as we do. How many EVOOs do I have at home now? I’ve five bottles, each with a different personality…