As many of you know, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is on our “yes indeedy” list. It is a good, healthy fat (see our post about fat) and one of the best sources of oleic acid, an omega 9 fatty acid found in animal and plant oils. Oleic acid has been found to counter inflammation and fight diseases including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Olive oil also plays host to an impressive nine categories of polyphenols (fancy word for a type of anti oxidant), and more than two dozen well-researched anti inflammatory nutrients. Benefits here may extend to lowering blood pressure, easing the pain of arthritis, and playing a role in decreasing risk of dementia.
But what if we told you that your olive oil, the one you bought at the specialty store, the one that says 100% EXTRA virgin on the label, was, um . . . counterfeit?
Ahh yes, sad but true.
In fact, it’s more than likely that many Americans have never actually had 100% pure, extra-virgin olive oil, despite their good intentions.
The Inside Story
Though the scam has probably been going on for decades, here is what has been recently found:
- The University of California at Davis has done extensive testing on the validity of EVOO. The majority of olive oils FAILED, including some very popular brands such as Colavita, Newman’s Own Organic, some Whole Foods varieties and Rachael Ray.
- In 2011, Tom Mueller — author of the book “In Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil” revealed how up to 70% of all olive oils are fake, which means they’re mixed with cheaper olive oils or even refined vegetable oils. Read his NPR interview HERE.
Is Extra Virgin all its cracked up to be?
REAL “extra virgin” olive oil, the kind that contains only olives picked at the correct ripeness, cold pressed right away, extracted without the use of chemicals, and tested for the perfect acidity, IS in fact a health gold mine for all the reasons mentioned above.
Lesser grade olive oils will NOT have the same health benefits and may in fact be more harmful to health instead of helpful; especially if mixed with inflammatory refined seed oils like sunflower, canola or soybean.
FUN FACT: Unlike good wine or cheese, age does NOT make your olive oil better. That’s because olive oil contains mostly monounsaturated fats, which can get oxidized when exposed to oxygen, light and heat. Fresh is best!
If you are fortunate enough to live near a vineyard, rest assured that artisan and locally-produced olive oils from small family farms have always passed every single scientific test of authenticity.
This is because most of the problems occur when the oil is sold to a middleman. So if you can, buy locally. However, we know this is not the case for most of us.
Fortunately, there are now voluntary inspection agencies that reputable brands can use to prove their olive oil is truly extra virgin.
Two such agencies are the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) and the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA). The USDA now offers this service as well. Look for seals of approval like this one to be totally safe.
Here are several brands that passed the UC Davis test, many which can be found at local supermarkets and chain stores.
- Corto Olive
- California Olive Ranch
- Kirkland Organic
- Lucero (Ascolano)
- McEvoy Ranch Organic
- Whole Foods CALIFORNIA 365
- Trader Joes (both their 100% Greek Kalamata and California Estate)
That does NOT mean that all other brands are fake, and lists are continually being updated.
Clarifying other claims:
- Virgin: A lower grade of olive oil. More acidic and has more taste defects.
- Light or Extra Light: Does NOT mean the oil contains less calories or fat. Only that it has a milder flavor compared to extra virgin.
- Pure: The oil contains only olives. However this says nothing about the quality (how it was harvested, when, etc).
- Blended: Olive oil mixed with other oils, often all refined. Best to avoid.
- No claim: A bottle with only “Olive Oil” on the label didn’t attain any quality grade and contains cheap, refined and often adulterated oil.
We want to know. What olive oil have you been using? Was your brand on the pass or fail list?