Thursday, March 28, 2013

Is Your Olive Oil the Real Deal?

One day last week I was happily surfing the net, reading about a variety of food-related topics, when I stumbled across something I found rather dismaying: this article on olive oil fraud. Not only are many brands known to be guilty of this practice (there is a list of offenders here, but it's way out of date), two of the main brands I buy are either convicted or suspect. Both of these brands clearly state on the label "100% Pure Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Cold Pressed". Apparently I'm pretty late to the party on hearing this news, as some of these articles go back a decade, but there's been a resurgence of discussion on this topic in the past year or two.

Why the big concern? Other than the fact that I don't like being duped, two of the oils that olive is often illegally diluted with are soybean and canola, both of which are genetically modified. I also found some reports that hazelnut oil is sometimes used, which is pretty alarming for people who are dealing with nut allergies! And as olive oil is one of the main oils we use, I would really like to make sure I'm getting the real thing.

What's an olive oil lover to do? I found a list by Tom Mueller (an olive oil expert) HERE which is a very good starting point for finding an affordable, authentic oil. Three of the oils that should be easiest to find in Canada are Costco's Kirkland Toscano, Whole Foods' California 365, and O-Live (the latter is supposed to be available in stores across Canada, although I don't think it's available anywhere I regularly shop - Canadian readers, if you find it, let me know where! It's supposed to be available at Winn Dixie, Shop Rite, Big Y and Krogers in the U.S.). The Corto brand is also mentioned as being available at Costco, although it may be harder to find. And, just to add to the confusion, the blog author later states he does NOT like the Whole Foods 365 in this interview! For another opinion, you can check out these ratings for the best tasting olive oils over at the Huffington Post; however most of the oils on their list seem to have been dissed elsewhere in discussions of olive oil quality ::sigh::

As a note for those of you who usually buy organic oil, it appears that even though you're paying more, the oils may not be as good a quality as the brands listed above. The "supermarket picks" post I've linked to above mentions that although the Kirkland Toscano is a good choice, the organic extra virgin olive oil is not good quality. The author also later mentions in the comments that he has found the Spectrum organic olive oil to be poor quality as well: "The Spectrum Organic EVO I've tasted has been rancid, fusty and otherwise highly defective." 

Are you getting a headache yet? I sure am! I am very far from an olive oil connoisseur, so I'm glad to have found a good expert source that can provide sound advice on this topic. I will be checking out Tom Mueller's book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil (yes, that's an Amazon affiliate link) for more information on this issue.

It's enough to make me wish I had a local farmer I could buy olive oil from (and if you're in an olive-oil producing region, I'm sure that's your best option!). For the rest of us, it appears to be a world of frustrating, conflicting information as to which brands are the best choices. I have not yet made up my mind which one of the "recommended" brands I'm going to try first; although the very reasonably priced Kirkland Toscano ($11.99 a litre) may finally sway me to get a Costco membership!

Do you have a particular brand of olive oil you use and know to be high quality? If so, please share it with the rest of us.

Want to know more about the specific food products I use and where I buy them? Check out my new "What's In My Pantry" board on Pinterest.  I will keep this board updated with current information on what products we use, where we're buying them, and how much we're paying. It's a work-in-progress, and you can find it HERE.

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  1. I don't know. It seems to me the hefty fines imposed would discourage repeated offences by the same companies. They've probably shaped up since then.

  2. While I'd like to believe that's true, from the more recent articles I've read about the issue it's still a widespread problem. Personally, I would rather give my money to companies who are committed to operating in a legal and ethical manner, although admittedly it can sometimes be difficult to figure out which companies those are! Which is one reason I prefer to buy direct from farmers when possible - in this case, not an option for me.


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