Is your “extra virgin” oil even a “virgin”?
by Dr. Joe W. Frazer III, MD
Imagine how outraged you’d feel if you found out that the expensive extra virgin
olive oil that you’d purchased in your local supermarket, health food store, or
the gourmet shop was stale ... even rancid ... or shamelessly adulterated with cheaper
oil. That’s what many consumers are feeling after learning the results of a recent
independent study at the University of California, Davis.
Scientists at UC Davis went shopping at local supermarkets and brought back 14
of the country’s most popular imported brands to their labs for analysis. Incredibly,
they found that 70% of the imported extra virgin olive oils they tested were fake,
adulterated, stale, or so subpar that they failed to meet international and USDA
standards for being labeled “extra virgin.”
Dan Flynn, executive director of the Olive Center at UC Davis, said, “The oil
was often old... possibly adulterated ... or it was poorly made. But it wasn’t an extra
virgin.” Even more outrageous, this is nothing new. Olive Oil Fraud “Widespread”
Warns New Yorker Magazine
For years, articles in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today,
the New Yorker magazine, and other publications have warned about
adulterated olive oils being shipped to America. A National Public Radio report has
called olive oil fraud “rampant.”
Here’s the problem...
Because of the many scientifically documented health benefits of extra virgin
olive oil, demand for it is soaring worldwide. Olive trees have blossomed into
money trees, attracting a small army of unscrupulous operators.
In a landmark investigative report called “Slippery Business,” the New Yorker
the magazine explains, “Olive oil is far more valuable than most other vegetable oils,
but is costly and time-consuming to produce—and surprisingly easy to doctor.
Adulteration is widespread in Italy, the world’s leading importer, consumer,
and exporter of olive oil.”
To boost profits, for example, some producers have been caught adulterating the
the oil they label as “extra virgin” with much cheaper hazelnut, soy, or sunflower seed
oil, among others, as well as mislabeling its country of origin.
And they keep doing it because, as one investigator explained to the New
Yorker, the profits from adulterating olive oil are “comparable to cocaine trafficking,
with none of the risks.” Often the well-known brand-name olive oil companies
you're familiar with may not even realize that this trick has been pulled on them by
unscrupulous suppliers halfway around the world—but you wind up with adulterated
oil in your kitchen, on your food, and in your body just the same.
According to the New Yorker investigation, in recent years, “olive oil was the
most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.’s
anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force.”
This Is Outrageous!
This is an outrageous shame because authentic extra virgin olive oil—the real
stuff—is so healthy for you. Medical science has determined that it is one of the
most nutritious foods you can consume.
For example, Scientific studies have shown that authentic extra-virgin olive oil
lowers “bad” cholesterol and reduces your heart disease and stroke risk. It helps
protect against cancer, especially breast, prostate, and colon cancer. It’s a
godsend for arthritis sufferers because it can cool inflammation and ease joint pain
without side effects.
It has also been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce your risk of diabetes,
and may even help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. If you want to
avoid osteoporosis, it’s outstanding because it enables the calcium in your
food to be better absorbed into your bones. Finally, it’s loaded with some of
the most potent disease-fighting antioxidants, and polyphenols are known to
science, which fortify your immune system and helps it protect every organ
of your body against disease.
Back in the fourth century BC, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was
way ahead of his time. He loved his Greek olive oil and considered it beneficial for
over 60 therapeutic uses, hailing it as “the great therapeutic.”
So what can you do if you want the purest, healthiest, and best-tasting olive oil? Here are my best consumer tips.
The two most important words to remember when shopping for extra virgin
olive oil are freshness and purity. Let’s consider freshness first...
Experts judge that freshness accounts for more than 80 percent of an olive oil’s
flavor. This is because olive oil, unlike wine, does not improve with age. It’s at its
healthiest and most flavorful the day it is pressed. Fresh-pressed extra virgin olive
oil, squeezed from olives at precisely the right moment at harvest time, is insanely
bright-tasting and flavorful. You can taste the difference immediately. If you’ve ever
traveled the picturesque countryside of Italy, Greece, or Spain and stopped at a local,
family-owned farm to sample fresh, authentic extra virgin olive oil, you know why
connoisseurs hail it as one of Mother Nature’s culinary marvels.
This is why, throughout Mediterranean countries, the locals go crazy for fresh-
pressed extra virgin olive oil at harvest time, throwing parties to celebrate its arrival.
Freshness is critical for another reason—all those excellent health benefits! As
reported in Bottom Line, a study conducted at Italy’s University of Foggia on several
varieties of Italian extra virgin olive oil found that its precious polyphenols are
stable for only six months after pressing, but then decrease by about 40 percent after
six months of storage. In other words, if you want to enjoy the marvelous health
benefits of extra virgin olive oil, you should secure and consume your oil within the
six-month window after it’s pressed.
The big problem for us in America is that only a tiny trickle of fresh-pressed
extra virgin olive oil ever makes it to our shores. Olive oil is a heavy item to ship.
To save on shipping costs, virtually all imported oils are sent here by slow cargo
boats and are already more than six months old before you can even buy them, often
resulting in dull-tasting, substandard oil. This is why almost all bottles on store
shelves do not have a production or harvest date stamped on their labels. Some give
you a “best used by” date but not the harvest date because they don’t want you to
know how old the oil is.
Yet without that harvest date, you have no way of knowing if you’re paying
good money for a substandard, stale oil beyond the critical three-month window of maximum flavor and nutrition.