Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Great Olive Oil Debate

Yesterday, while perusing Facebook, I stumbled across this article that several of my friends have shared:

Fake Olive Oil: What You Need to Know

It kind of freaked me out because we use a ton of olive oil in our every day cooking. I mean, not vats of it, but probably a tablespoon a day depending on what we're cooking. Most days, olive oil is involved.

The article basically says that the suppliers of certain brands are putting things in their olive oils other than strictly the oil from local olives. It could be other oils like sunflower or canola, or even chemicals. Say what?? I do not want chemicals in my olive oil. The suppliers basically dupe the distributors into thinking they're getting high grade, real deal olive oil. While I kind of side eye this, because I believe that distributors should be responsible for knowing what they're selling, I can see it happening. The suppliers spend less with sub-par olive oil and increase their profit margin after selling it to the distributor. Money rules the world, ya know.

The article gave a list of the top offenders based on "independent" testing done at UC-Davis. UC-Davis also happens to have a huge Olive Center where they study and make olive oils. Soooo...their testing may have been biased. I say this because of course, the "better" brands are all mostly Californian olive oil makers. But not all of them.

Based on another article I found from Zester, here are some tips in buying legit olive oil:

1. Read the label to see where the olives are from. The less countries involved, the better. If the olives are from several countries, they had to travel to the bottling center (say in Italy), so there was travel time involved. Read: not vine to bottling plant directly. So maybe not the freshest olives involved.

2. Look for a harvest date. The most recent should be the best. Olive oil can turn over time, which is a good reason to store your oil in a room temperature, dark cabinet.

3. Look for seals of approval. If your olive oil passed quality testing of some sort, it's bound to be better than Joe Schmoe's olive oil with a fancy label slapped on it.

4. Smell it and taste it. This is hard to do in the grocery store, obviously, but the Zester article suggests buying smaller bottles to taste at home. It shouldn't have any off smells, and should taste robust. Also, olive oil shops are becoming quite popular. They sell a variety of oils and you can taste them before you buy them. That's pretty cool!

5. Take it back. If you don't like it, take it back to the grocery store. Did you know you can return things to the grocery store? Many people don't. Even produce! Just tell them it tastes off and they should refund your money.

6. Finally, favor domestic oils. This ensures that you have the freshest, farm-to-table oil possible. It didn't have to travel across the Atlantic, sit on a dock, make it through customs, be distributed to your grocery store, etc. etc.

Because I had to go to the store for some other things anyway, I decided to take a look at our olive oil selection. My options are pretty limited here in small town America, but I did compare our olive oil at home with the new bottle I bought at the store yesterday.

The brand we had at home is Bertolli, one of the top offenders on the "fake" list.

It seems legit with the fancy label. Bertolli is also a pretty trusted name, right? The back of the label clearly shows a harvest date (sorry, hard to read here), and also notes that the olives came from Spain. There is no seal of approval noted though. I guess that's one strike against them.

The other brand I bought was Pompeian, which is on the "good" list in one article. Although I found it on a "fake" list in another article. But it seemed the least offensive out of my other five options. 

Again, the bottle looks fancy with some pretty Italian scenery, and states that it's "Imported". Which to Americans means "ooo la la, this must be so much better!", but we are learning that that is not the case with olive oil. 

The Pompeian label also has a harvest date, but says the olives are from Italy and Spain. However, there is a seal of approval from the North American Olive Oil Association and the USDA. 

Travis and I did a little taste test last night. We both preferred the Pompeian oil over the Bertolli, agreeing that the Bertolli left an aftertaste that wasn't exactly unpleasant, but not exactly pleasant either.

So, how much of this can we really believe? How in depth are we willing to research our olive oil? I guess that depends on the individual. For my family, I'm willing to look locally for more brands, possibly Californian brands, but I think Pompeian will be fine for now. We will probably not use the rest of the Bertolli based on taste alone. 

Sorry Bertolli. 

Are you an olive oil connoisseur? Do you read labels on the food you buy? 

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