“It’s so hard to know what olive oil to choose because so much of it is actually fraudulent….apparently mixed with soy oil.” commented Enlightened Eater Facebook fan, Jennifer Kehler.
Jennifer, you’re right. News stories about fraudulent extra virgin olive oil seem to appear on a regular basis. Some refer to extra virgin olive oil being diluted with other cheaper oils such as soybean while others deal with the oils not being extra virgin at all. Others, yet, deal with the true origin of the oil, whether the oil has simply been bottled in one country using product from another country or if the oil was pressed from local olives and then bottled.
Yes, olive oil has certainly generated a great deal of controversy.
Firstly, though, here’s a little background on olive oil.
Virgin olive oil is simply the oily unrefined juice of the fruit.
Extra virgin oils are the least acidic and vary in taste and colour depending on the variety of olive used. The term virgin refers to oils that are slightly more acidic than the extra virgin ones.
Extra virgin and virgin varieties contain about 200 different micro-components or phytochemicals linked to protection against disease. Included are various forms of vitamin E, carotenoids – pigments which provide colour – along with phenolic compounds.
The more aromatic and flavourful an oil, the higher the level of phenolics. And it’s these phenolics that research shows raise levels of the beneficial HDL-cholesterol while lowering total blood cholesterol readings. These compounds also supply antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer action. They’re also linked to fighting H pylori, the bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers.
Oils with high acidity levels or unacceptable appearance, taste or aroma must be refined - a process that results in the loss of phytochemicals and phenolics. The term olive oil means that the oil has been refined but according to the International Olive Council regulations, a small amount of virgin oil (five per cent) is added back.
Extra light and light olive oil are the most highly refined of olive oils and are no lower in calories and fat than more colourful and fragrant varieties. But unlike the refined olive oil, extra light and light have no virgin olive oil at all added back and therefore lack the phytochemical perks of other olive oils.
Keep in mind, though, that all olive oil is mono-unsaturated fat. And this fact is one that you can use to detect some fraudulent oils. Monounsaturated fat hardens when you refrigerate it while polyunsaturated fats remain liquid. If you suspect that your olive oil is indeed a mixture of other oils, put it in the refrigerator overnight and see if you can easily pour the oil out of the bottle. If you can, it’s not pure olive oil. If this happens, be sure to report it to the appropriate authorities such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
But there’s also the question of the classification of the oils – whether they would qualify as extra virgin or not. In some cases, an oil may indeed have been extra virgin originally but due to improper handling, may seem anything but. Oils exposed to higher than ideal storage temperatures or light will deteriorate more quickly. And those which taste bitter may, in fact, be rancid, because they have been kept for too long.
For maximum quality when purchasing extra virgin olive oil, check the bottle for either the date of harvest or use-before dates. Expect them to last only two years. Darker bottles also offer protection from exposure to light. Also keep in mind that if the price is outrageously cheap for a large quantity of extra virgin oil, chances are it’s too good to be true.
Have you purchased extra virgin oils that you have thought were impostors? What made you think so? Please share in the comment section below.