Why your extra virgin olive oil may not be so virgin
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Before we get into it, let’s look at what all these olive oil terms actually mean:
Virgin olive oil- made by grinding olives into a paste, then pressing them to extract the oil. There's no heat involved, which is why you see the term "cold-pressed" on labels. Technically speaking, what makes olive oil virgin is if the free acidity level is between 0.8 to 2g per 100g of olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil- Essentially the same as the above but with a free acidity level of less than 0.8g/100g of olive oil (Oliva Lucia found on this website is 0.16g).
Olive oil- aka “refined”, “pure” or “light” olive oil, this is olive oil that is industrially refined (i.e. not cold pressed) and processed to removed unpleasant tastes.
Enforcement of oils meeting the above definitions has never been particularly strict. In fact, since Roman times, vendors have sold olive oil mixed with sunflower oil to cut costs! This practice has been continuing since (with either sunflower or canola oil, typically). Consequently, the consumer definition of what “tastes” like olive oil has been trained incorrectly. Image if, for the last 2,000 years, we all knew that cats and dogs are different animals but people call cats “dogs” anyways. As a result, our standard definition of a “cat” includes “dogs”. That’s the world of olive oil today. Crazy eh?
In 2016, Forbes reported that 80% of the Italian olive oil sold in the US was fraudulent for a variety of reasons:
· Extra virgin olive oil was neither virgin nor extra virgin
· Mixed with other oils (as you read above)
· Not from Italy- in fact, in the EU, olive oil can be defined as “Italian” with only 0.2% Italian olives in it!
Olive oils from Spain and Greece have had similar issues as well.
What’s an easy way to spot a fake? It all comes down to price. NYT writer Tom Mueller mentioned in an interview recently that because of the labour-intensive process involved in making extra virgin olive oil, there is no way a producer could sell a bottle for like $10 a make a profit. No way.
Just like how with fine wine, you want to make sure what you’re buying is the real thing, when you want to make some truly delicious food, make sure you are using real olive oil! You can buy some right here. :-)