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How we’ve been duped by olive oil

June 5, 2013
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How we've been duped by olive oilIf there is one food everyone can agree on, it’s gotta be olive oil. I’ve studied just about every dietary theory out there and they all recommend it. Even the medical community swears by it. It’s heart healthy! It’s full of vitamins and minerals!

I grew up in an Italian family. My grandmother was in awe of my many hair serums – she said that during the Depression they used olive oil to keep frizzy hair under control. And when I worried about acne as a teenager, my mother assured me that it would subside and the olive oil in my blood would keep my skin soft and smooth the rest of my life.

It’s true – eating good quality fats is essential for beautiful, glowing skin. As an adult, when I stopped being afraid to eat fat, small lines in my face disappeared. (Ok, that was a few years ago. If you see me now, you’ll see some lines eventually found their way through – but it’s much less than it could be.) Oils like olive oil and coconut oil can even be used directly on the skin as a moisturizer. Natural? Oh yes. Except…

The thing is this. There’s a bit of a scandal going on when it comes to good ol’ EVOO.

Don’t worry. I’m going to tell you what you need to know about it – plus, how to shop for quality oil. Then you’ll get a chance to win some real, pure EVOO of your own!

 

Let’s back up for a sec.

If EVERYONE and their mother is buying something, and willing to spend top dollar…it’s really no surprise that someone else is out there is trying to make an enormous profit. Business is business.

A couple of years ago, I started to read about the fraud that runs rampant in the olive oil industry…but I just wasn’t ready to hear it. I’m Italian! I grew up on olive oil. It runs in my blood! I didn’t want to believe that what was REALLY running through my blood was soybean oil.

Soybean oil? Like, the highly processed, GMO kind? Oh yeah. The food industry never fails to deliver disappointing, unethical practices.

This is one way that some businesses are making money. They cut olive oil with something cheap like soybean or canola oil. And there is no regulation. Hear that? There is NO regulation we can trust. By the time an oil goes through the whole distribution chain, the seller doesn’t even know what they are selling. So you could very well have a bottle of “Italian EVOO” that really isn’t Italian, and really isn’t olive oil. Or a bottle of olive oil that is so old, it’s rancid. Better to sell old oil and make money than waste it – right?

One reason I resisted this information is because it felt so bleak. Tom Mueller’s book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, gave the history of the industry and left me feeling like punching someone in the face. A report from UC-Davis in 2010 claimed with sophisticated testing that nearly 70% of olive oil brands are fakes. But that study, funded by the California Olive Oil Council, is itself somewhat of a scam to sell more California olive oil.

Is this whole industry just bonkers or what?

Have we really been spending our hard earned money on poor quality or even fake EVOO, and thinking we are making a healthy choice the whole time?!

My fangs comes out on topics like this.

If you want to learn more about the problem, I recommend reading Mueller’s book or at least the writeup on NPR.

Unfortunately there is no way of knowing the true quality of your olive oil unless you’re doing spectroscopic studies like UC-Davis (without the bias). No taste test, no foolproof litmus test you can do at home.

But I hate hearing problems without solutions. So here we go.

 

When selecting a quality olive oil, look for the following:

1. Oils from outside Italy, where industry fraud seems most concentrated. Oils from places like Greece or California are a better bet. And even better is if the estate name is on the label and you can do some research.

2. A tinted glass or tin container. Avoid clear glass and plastic, or anything that has been exposed to direct light.

3. Not only an expiration date but a specific harvest or press date.

4. Avoid bargain prices. Real EVOO is expensive to produce. Tony Kasandrinos, who we will talk about in a second, told me that one olive tree only produces about 3 liters per year. That’s crazy! Imagine the farmers trying to make a living off of real EVOO when they’re being undersold by fake stuff.

These tips are a good place to start. But as with so many aspects of eating real food, the trick is to know and buy from the source.

 

In my search for legit, pure EVOO, I found Kasandrinos.

Tony and Effi Kasandrinos’ family has enjoyed fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil for generations from their trees in Niata, Greece. But I found Tony on Instagram. Ha! In fact, we are texting back and forth right now. Here’s what Tony had to say about the olive oil industry:

“The problem is many times some of the larger olive oil companies buy olives and olive oils from all over the world and then blend them together. In some instances, companies will “water down” the olive oil with with other vegetable oils like soy or canola. That’s when fraud occurs and the entire industry gets a black eye because of the actions of a few. An easy way to know if your olive oil is real is to purchase from a reputable small company who takes pride in the quality of their product.”

When I got my hands on a bottle of Kasandrino’s oil, I thought – Hey, for all I know this is the first time I’m tasting real olive oil! Whoa! And it’s delicious. I actually held an informal tasting, comparing it to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods 365. I was curious if any of us would be able to tell the difference! My friends and I agreed Kasandrinos was the best, although Whole Foods was surprisingly close in taste. Another surprise – we had never realized olive oil had a spice to it! See for yourself. It starts fruity and then tastes a little peppery.

Then I went to my mom’s house and compared it to her bottle of Boticelli. That stuff is disgusting. Definitely not olive oil, by a long stretch. I told her to throw it out. (Mom, did you throw it out yet?)

You can get a bottle of Tony and Effi’s family’s oil at Kasandrinos.com.

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