Until recently I was one of the many Americans who have not tasted the true flavor of 100% pure extra-virgin olive oil. What a difference it makes, drizzled over salad or pasta, in marinades and sauces, on fresh bread! Sautéed onions reach new levels of delight!
(Not to mention its super-food ability to lower inflammation, blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and more.)
Lest you think I’ve gone goofy – the reason it’s new to me is because most of the olive oil sold in the USA is fake. The olive oil in your kitchen might be 85% sunflower oil, canola oil, peanut oil, whatever, and you won’t know it. It says extra-virgin, but -??
I am slow to catch on, but –
Back in 2007 authorities busted 10,000 cases of “olive oil” that were mostly soybean oil (worth $700,000 as “olive oil”).
Welcome to the handiwork of the agro mafia.
Yeah, I laughed when a friend decried “the mafia,” but this is real fraud, not only in Italy but in many countries exporting olive oil to us.
In fact oils have been adulterated for centuries, cheaper oils poured into costly oils to increase volume and sales. Over 70% of our olive oil is cut with cheap oils or low grades of olive oil, outdated or rancid oil.
Like many of us at the supermarket, I had not been buying the $18 bottle of olive oil. I went for mid-range prices. (Now I know lower prices indicate fake oils.)
But no matter which bottle you grab, any or all of them may be adulterated, even the pricey ones.
We’re buying mostly vegetable oil with added coloring and aroma.
One popular brand whose front label claims to be “extra-virgin olive oil” is only 15% olive, under chemical analysis.
You wouldn’t know any of this, because most brands don’t bother to list their ingredients on the label. (How do they get away with this? I don’t know!)
ARG! You can do a taste test, but it doesn’t mean it’s true!
Blind taste tests done by food experts turned out to be unreliable.
It takes a chemist to get the truth.
But we want to try our taste, don’t we?
At my house we experimented. I spent $18 on that fancy oil, which claimed to be made of four olive varieties in Spain. We compared it to my moderately-priced oil.
Poured each into a wine glass and warmed them in our hands.
The cheaper one was pale. The finer one was deep gold.
We swirled each one to look at their viscosity – did they have legs?
The cheaper one was more watery and didn’t smell like anything.
The finer one was thick and viscous. It smelled rich with olives.
It tasted far more robust than the cheaper oil.
We used it to fry onions and peppers, which became luscious with extra flavor. Remarkable full-bodied surprising taste!
Real olive oil matters.
Later I found gourmet hints on how to taste good olive oil:
You should “taste the fruit in the front and the pepper at the back.”
1 – Begin by smelling the oil. Good oil will smell grassy or smell like olives.
2 – Sip the oil and let it coat the inside of your mouth. Inhale a little through your mouth as if you were tasting wine. It may taste leafy, grassy, herb-y, spicy, nutty.
3 – When you swallow the oil, the secondary taste should be somewhat bitter, peppery, maybe catching in your throat.
(It should not be musty, earthy, or like vinegar, too acidic, stale, or rancid.)
How to Buy Olive Oil?
- The industry standard is “extra-virgin,” so stick with that (fake label or not). Extra-virgin means cold-pressed. (Don’t buy “light” oil.)
- Currently the highest-rated pure olive oils come from Australia, Chile, and California. You might still consider oils from Greece, Spain, Italy, Tunisia. (They can’t all be crooked, can they?)
- Look for seals of approval like International Olive Council, EVA Extra Virgin Alliance, NAOOA North American Olive Oil Association (red circle with green olive branch), and COOC California Olive Oil Council.
- Ignore the “Best By” date, and look for the “Harvested” date. Ideally you want to enjoy this oil within one year of the Harvest date.
- Keep your precious oil away from light and heat, to preserve it. Refrigerate it in a dark container.
- Best idea: find olive oil locally produced, and check them out thoroughly.
I’m sorry to say, among the dozens of brands at my local grocery store I found hardly any seals of approval. Only a couple of bottles were labeled NAOOA.
Also I must sheepishly admit (just now saw it) that my cheaper oil is labeled NAOOA, but as we know, it had no spirit, no soul, no real flavor.
Not to be a downer, but many bottles in my local store had only 2 months left until they were a full year beyond the Harvest date. Just saying.
Maybe the finer oils are going bad while we keep grabbing the cheap oils off the shelf.
Hey, I know this is a champagne problem.
But since I tasted the good stuff, I can’t go back.
I’m going to buy the truest extra-virgin olive oil I can find.
I got spoiled on our recent trip to Italy, where the food was vibrant and the oil was real.
Come with me, back to those amazing mouth-watering bites of fresh bread dipped in fine oil, those salads and ripe tomatoes drizzled in oil, those sautéed onions, those unforgettable sauces.
You won’t be sorry.
Tell us, have you found a delicious olive oil?