Is Your Olive Oil Really Olive Oil?
Mark’s Daily Apple
by Mark Sisson: Are
Eggs Really as Bad for Your Arteries as Cigarettes?
of years, humans have been picking, prizing, and pressing the fatty
drupes found among the oblong leaves of the gnarled, twisted olive
tree into rich, green-gold extra virgin olive oil. And for almost
as many thousands of years, humans have been coming up with ways
to fake it, to pass off cheaper, less delicious, less nutritious
oils as the real thing. The earliest known written mention of olive
oil – from Syria, 24 BC – describes how court-appointed
inspectors would tour olive oil processing facilities to ensure
quality, purity, and the absence of fraud. In ancient Rome, the
vessels containing olive oil bore detailed information about the
contents, including varietal of fruit used, place of origin, name
of producer, the weight and quality of the oil, the name of the
importer, plus the name of the official who inspected it and confirmed
the previously mentioned data. Let’s just say they really,
really liked their olive oil, and that olive oil adulteration has
always been an issue.
today, of course, and studies are bearing out the fact that extra
virgin olive oil is often adulterated with cheaper, more refined,
deodorized olive oils, oils from olives deemed unfit for human consumption,
and/or random nut, seed, and vegetable oils spiked with chlorophyll
and beta-carotene to replicate the authentic color. An Australian
study found that over half the supermarket EVOO was anything
but, even the supposedly legit stuff from the Mediterranean countries;
New Zealand researchers had
similar results with Mediterranean imports into their country.
Last year, a University of California at Davis study (PDF)
found that 69% of imported extra virgin olive oils failed to meet
international standards, while 90% of California EVOO tested passed
(the study was partially financed by major California olive oil
producers, and producers
of some of the failed imports are crying foul). Similar adulteration
is taking place in China,
where imported olive oil is mixed with cheap seed oils. In 2007,
the New Yorker published a harrowing account of widespread and longstanding
fraud in the Italian olive oil industry (“Profits were comparable
to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks”), and more
recently, a study
found that four out of five Italian olive oils were “debased.”
spent the last few years recommending
that you eat extra virgin olive oil, and now it appears as if
the fraud is pervasive enough to throw everything you thought you
knew into a state of confusion. So what are you supposed to do?
How do you know if your olive oil is actually olive oil?
By now, you’ve
probably all heard about it: to test the legitimacy of a supposed
olive oil, stick it in the fridge for a day or two. If it begins
to solidify, you’ve got yourself a bottle of true extra virgin
olive oil. Does it hold true?
fat, also known as oleic acid, solidifies at 39 degrees F. Since
olive oil is primarily oleic acid (about 70-85 percent, generally),
sticking a bottle of real olive oil in the fridge should elicit
solidification. The original olive oil adulterants, sunflower
oil and safflower oil, were mostly polyunsaturated,
so adulterating olive oil used to be easy to spot. Now, with high-oleic
sunflower oil, high-oleic safflower oil, and high-oleic canola oil
on the scene, adulterated olive oil can still solidify in the fridge.
Thus, the fridge test is still a necessary, but not sufficient,
test for the legitimacy of your extra virgin olive oil. It’s
really a test for the degree of monounsaturation in the oils. It’s
important (toss any oils that fail the test), but it’s not
the full story.
oil is often bitter, pungent, spicy, and slightly abrasive. It’s
not always smooth and easy going. In fact, the “off-notes,”
the intense flavors that make the uninitiated screw up their face
actually indicate the presence of high
levels of polyphenols, those antioxidant plant compounds which
make olive oil so good for you. If the olive oil you taste burns
the back of your throat and tastes funny to you, chances are you’ve
been using and are used to adulterated (or at least non-virgin)
To my knowledge,
olive oil adulteration hasn’t progressed to the point where
scammers are able to simulate the flavor of true EVOO. If they were
to do it, I’d imagine they’d have to add polyphenols
or olive extracts to the vegetable oils, and that can’t be
cheap. And even if they did add olive extracts and synthetic polyphenols,
it’d be better than having none at all.
Does It Matter?
being cheated out of your money for a disgustingly disappointing
of soybean and canola oils, can any real health issues arise
from consuming adulterated olive oils?
There are allergy
concerns, of course, if the adulterant contains an allergen, like
peanut oil. Owing to the similarity of its fatty acids to olive
oil’s, hazelnut oil is another popular adulterant as well
as a fairly common allergen, and one study even showed that people
with hazelnut allergies could identify olive oil spiked with hazelnut
oil because they suffered
symptoms after eating it.
the rest of the article
to Lew's recent podcast with Mark Sisson
August 17, 2012
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