Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and its long list of health benefits is constantly growing. It contains Vitamin E, Vitamin K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids including Omega-6 and Omega-4. The antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil have been shown to help fight disease, as well as act as an anti-inflammatory in the body, protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation. Many studies also show that olive oil prevents blood clotting and lowers blood pressure, protecting against cardiovascular disease. Adding true olive oil to your diet can have a tremendous impact on your overall health.
There’s only one large problem with olive oil… not all types are created equal. Lower quality versions can be extracted using chemicals, or even diluted using other, cheaper oils. Buying the right type of olive oil is essential to making sure that you and your family are truly reaping the health benefits that it has to offer.
The Adulteration Process
Nicholas Blechman recently covered the adulteration process of olive oil for The New York Times. Contrary to popular belief, a lot of the oil sold as Italian olive oil does not actually come from Italy. It comes from countries such as Spain, Morocco and Tunisia.
The olives are driven to a mill after being picked, where they are cleaned, crushed and pressed. The oil is then pumped into a tank and shipped to Italy. And shipments of soybean or other cheap oils are labeled as olive oil and smuggled into the same port. Some refineries cut the olive oil with cheaper oil, while others may even mix vegetable oils with beta-carotene to disguise the flavor, and add chlorophyll for coloring to produce fake olive oil. These bottles are then legally labeled “Extra Virgin” and branded with “Packaged in Italy” or “Imported from Italy,” and shipped around the world.
So how do you know if you’re getting the right stuff?
According to tests done by the UC Davis Olive Center, 69% of all store-bought extra virgin olive oils in the United States are most likely fake. The study analyzed a total of 186 extra virgin olive oil samples against the standards established by the International Olive Council.
The brands that failed to meet the extra virgin olive oil standards in this study were:
The best way to ensure that you’re buying real olive oil is to buy oil that’s locally-produced. Buying from a local farmer that you know and trust will help to ensure that you’re getting the good stuff. If that route isn’t an option, look for a third-party certification on the label. Any bottle can claim to be “all natural,” but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
The California Olive Oil Council and the Australian Olive Association both have programs that make their seals trustworthy. If the olive oil you’re considering was packaged in Italy, look for PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) or PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) seals. True olive oils almost always state the specific region they were produced in, so look for that when checking out a bottle “from Italy.”