When Olive Oil Is Not

when is olive oil not olive oil


While most people are aware that olive oil is good for them (heart, brain, gallbladder, etc.), those seeking to improve their health through the use of olive oil may be in for a shock.  Since a typical shopper will read a label and assume it is correct, the title of “extra virgin olive oil” (EVOO as the Food Network as taught us) has always been what it they purchase.  But upon inspection it is not really extra virgin, nor olive oil after all.

Tom Mueller wrote a book entitled “Extra Virginity:  The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.”  In this book we learn several important items.  The underpinning fact is Italy in no way can produce the amount of olive oil attributed to it.  That important item leads to the obvious fact that most olive oil sold is not from Italy.  The bigger surprise is that most olive oil is not even olive oil, but can be up to 80% sunflower oil.

At heart, the actual definition of “extra virgin” is what has been ruined, predominately by the Bertolli brand.  Fortunately the USA and several European countries have modified the definition rules to improve quality, and since 2008 California has also set a new high standard for olive oil sold there.  Mueller says, “Gentle”, “smooth” and “not peppery on the throat” are the sort of words Bertolli and its rivals used in ads promoting their generic extra virgin oil. But true extra virgin oil is peppery – it bites the back of the throat so fiercely it can make you cough. The flavours are vivid. “Peppery” is an official, positive attribute of “extra virgin” whereas smoothness will reliably indicate a low-quality oil.”

In summary, look carefully at the olive oil bottle.  If you read the Italian bottles closely most will now clearly state where the oil comes from, and many only have around 20% true Italian olive oil.  Look for 100% Italian oil, avoid Bertolli, and purchase extra virgin for most food uses.    If what you purchased is not clear in origin, the taste will tell.  If not peppery, then it is not extra virgin olive oil.

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