Over the past several years, problems with adulterated extra-virgin olive oil have hit world news head lines. Articles in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Time and the Olive Oil Times for example, discuss problems with manufacturers watering down extra-virgin olive oil or mislabeling it.
This problem is worrisome for olive oil producers as well as consumers. I live in Andalusia, Spain where 45% of the world production of olive oil occurs and negative news about olive oil directly affect local mills and growers.
Olives are a fruit and olive oil is the juice. As the info graphic below shows, there are many olive oil products. Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality product and it must meet high standards. There are many ways to cut corners or disrespect the standards and as you can imagine, cutting the quality with lower quality substitutes will increase the profitability of a business (in the short-term). So there are those that do cut corners.
“Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fraud: A Guide to Purchasing Olive Oil” is a good article by John P. Thomas in Health Impact News. The author provides specific details regarding testing of products and how to choose an extra virgin olive oil.
“How to Buy Great Olive Oil“, by Tom Mueller is another great article. Tom has a website extravirginity.com which is dedicated to truth in olive oils. Tom wrote a NY Times bestselling book called “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil“, which was published in December of 2011. Tom’s book and website provide an in-depth look into the olive world, the good and the bad.
So,… with all the news about adulterated extra-virgin olive oil, how do you choose the real thing on the supermarket shelf? Good question. I recommend starting with three easy steps.
- Read the label. There are many lower quality olive oil products such as “pure” or “light” oil, “olive oil” and “olive pomace oil”, all of which have undergone chemical refinement. Make sure you are buying “extra virgin” olive oil.
- Buy quality. Remember the adage “You get what you pay for”. There is a cost associated with growing, harvesting and producing high quality olive oil. If you stumble upon cheap, extra virgin olive oil, chances are it may be too good to be true.
- Buy local. Or buy from a source you trust. Take the time to find a source you trust and buy from them. The closer you are to the olive oil mill the better your chances of buying the real thing.
The olive oil market is huge and growing. With so many international producers, manufacturers and marketers involved in the product cycle, it is sometimes difficult to control the quality for the consumer. But, if you apply these 3 recommendations, it should help make certain you have extra virgin on your table, not a poser.
Thanks for reading. I live near Seville, Spain. I work with workshops and family factories that produce hand painted pottery. Olives are a part of the landscape here and I am very interested in understanding the industry and some of the challenges involved. The photo below was taken with great friends Karen and Rich McCann at a mill called Almazara 1945.
The Olive Oil Production by Country table is from Quartz blog at qz.com. “Quartz is a digitally native news outlet, born in 2012, for business people in the new global economy”.
Olives to Oil Info-graphic is from Amanda Bailey on Olives, the official blog for The Olive Centre in Australia.
“Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fraud: A Guide to Purchasing Olive Oil“, an article by John P. Thomas in Health Impact News.
“How to Buy Great Olive Oil“, by Tom Mueller is from his website extravirginity.com.