Buying a Better Olive Oil
“Caveat emptor” or “buyer beware” looms large as most consumers walk down a grocery store aisle these days. Packaged foods constantly get recalled due to bad meat or processing practices (remember when horse meat was passed off as beef last year in Europe?). Long grain rice often gets sold as super-premium (and therefore more expensive) basmati. And the same unfortunately holds true for olive oil. Sometimes, the oil is “cut” (or simply diluted) with much less expensive, refined oils, which results in you, the customer, getting duped into spending your hard-earned money on a product that isn’t as extra virgin as it claims.
According to an article in the UK’s The Independent, things aren’t much better in Europe where “Britain’sFood and Environment Agency plans to launch the EU’s Food Integrity project at a conference in York, which is to commission €3m (£2.5m) of research into food fraud.” The article goes on to say that “Operation Opson, a joint Interpol/Europol investigation, revealed it had already found more than 1,200tons of counterfeit food and nearly 430,000 liters of drinks.”
Back to olive oil, Huw Watkins, head of the intelligence hub at theGovernment’s Intellectual Property Office, says that his biggest concern is public safety. Why? Because even when consumers think they’re getting”best quality Italian olive oil,” for example, they may well just be getting a mix of olives from all over Europe (or beyond) that after fermenting,”have been washed through with deodorant.” Good olive oil should neither be fermented nor “washed” with anything approaching deodorant.
According to Canadian registered dietician Cara Rosenbloom, olive oil has to have a free acidity of not more than 0.8 grams/100g (plus meet other standards) to even be considered “extra virgin.” A high number of olive oils labeled extra virgin, fail to meet these standards: some are rancid before the consumer takes them home, and some, as cited above are cut with cheaper oils.
The Flavour Your Life Campaign is working to educate consumers looking to buy quality olive oils. Here are some of their top tops to keep in mind the next time you go shopping:
Look for monocultivars, not blends, when purchasing your Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO); that way, you begin to avoid buying oils claiming to be an extra virgin that is in fact adulterated with other substances.
When reading an EVOO label, you should be able to trace the origin of that bottle and the harvest/crop date. If you cannot, then don’t purchase it.
The best olives are early harvest olives when they’regreen.
A good EVOO will cost a little extra money – think of it like a fine wine where you would want the best for your table and guests. If the bottle you’re holding says $5.99 for a liter, you may want to question why it’s much less expensive than the others (see noted reasons above).
Your EVOO should come in a dark glass bottle and best stored in the pantry (where it’s ideally cool and dark) when not being used.
Avoid using those lovely, clear, decorative glass olive oil bottles you leave on your countertop – the light and oxygen will turn it rancid quickly.
Properly stored EVOO can last up to a year in your pantry, again, in a cool, dark environment, making sure your bottle is kept airtight.
And for die-hard cooks, you’ll likely already know that EVOO is the Mediterranean’s choice for sautéing, baking (an olive oil cake is a thing of beauty), and even frying. Its absolutely true that an EVOO’s smoke point is lower than other oils, but its rare that you’ll need to hit 405 degrees (EVOO’s smoke point) for most of your frying needs.