Several years ago at the Placerville Farmers’ Market Bob Day owner of Mad Dog Mesa (an olive tree ranch in Coloma, California where he and his wife, Amy, make quality extra virgin olive oils) told me that not all extra virgin olive oil was extra virgin olive oil and in fact not all olive oil was olive oil.
I remember thinking “That’s impossible”. I started to follow the olive oil story that day and have continued to follow it ever since.
Olive oil fraud made headlines when testing disclosed that its oils were contaminated with cheaper seed oils and oils labeled as “extra virgin oils” failed to meet designated industry standards. Unfortunately, olive oil has the dubious honor of being “the European Union’s most adulterated agricultural product“.
At the High5Kitchen I advocate first pressed extra virgin olive oil from California for many reasons–one of which is the 2010 test results from UC Davis Olive Oil Chemistry Laboratory in collaboration with the Australian Oils Research Laboratory. They evaluated the quality of extra virgin olive oils sold on retail shelves in California and found that almost 70% of imported olive oils failed extra virgin standards for the following reasons:
- oxidation by exposure to elevated temperatures, light, and/or aging;
- adulteration with cheaper refined oils;
- poor quality oil made from damaged and overripe olives, processing flaws, and/or improper oil storage.
The list of brands that failed may surprise you.
- Whole Foods 365 100% Italian
- Rachel Ray
- Safeway Select
- Newman’s Own Organics
- Filippo Berio
But the good news is that their tests found that nine out of ten California samples were authentic extra virgin olive oils, with only one California sample falling outside the IOC/USDA sensory standard for extra virgin.
For more information visit Organic Authority, read or listen to NPR‘s Losing ‘Virginity’: Olive Oil’s ‘Scandalous’ Fraud or better yet read Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller–it’s a riveting tale filled with twists and turns and an unbelievable cast of characters. Don’t have the time? Read this 2012 interview with Muller from The New Yorker.
of our market favorites for those occasions when we cannot buy directly from an olive mill. At the market we buy freshly produced California first pressed extra virgin olive oils (check harvest and fill dates on bottles) in dark glass bottles or other containers that protect against light in quantities that we will use within a month. To keep the oil as fresh as possible I also use a stainless steel vacuum pump (generally used for wines), which extracts air from opened bottles and slows down the oxidation process.
At the High5Kitchen we like to
- Buy local
- Know our growers
- Keep informed
- Spread the word and
- Use our pocketbook wisely