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What You Should Know Before Buying Olive Oil

What You Should Know Before Buying Olive Oil


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Shopping tips that will help you get the most for your money

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Olive oil fraud is probably one of the most concerning aspects of buying olive oil to consumers today, but armed with the right knowledge, you can make smart purchases.

Most of us probably don't give much thought to buying a bottle of olive oil. It's just like picking up any other cooking oil, isn't it? It's all the same, so the best thing to do, clearly, is just buy from whoever is selling it cheapest.

Click here to see the What You Should Know Before Buying Olive Oil (Slideshow)

Well, not quite. Olive oil comes in different grades — like the popular extra-virgin, for example — and even within a particular grade, quality can vary widely. And there are many factors which influence the level of quality of an oil, including everything from the type of olive (or olives, in the case of blends) used to make the oil and when it was harvested, to how it was handled during processing and shipping, and even the type of bottle in which the oil is contained.

These days, too, with all of the cases of food fraud surfacing, it's understandable to be concerned with the provenance of one's ingredients. It is hurtful to us as consumers not to know whether we are really getting what we pay for. Olive oil, unfortunately, has been one product that has been in the spotlight with respect to food fraud for some time. A widely cited study of supermarket extra-virgin olive oils led by Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center, found that 69 percent of the oils tested were flawed and did not meet the criteria for the extra-virgin grade. And the practice of "watering down" olive oils with cheaper vegetable oils is also a major problem. Disturbing, to be sure, but certainly there must be a way to fight back.

For some simple tips and advice on buying olive oil, read on to the slideshow.

Will Budiaman is the Recipe editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.


How to Buy Olive Oil: Our Test Kitchen's Guide

A cheat sheet to shopping for olive oil, plus our food editors' favorites.

Outside of salt and pepper, olive oil is probably the most ubiquitous ingredient in the American kitchen (a whopping 7,780 recipes call for it on our site alone!). Yet it&aposs often the least understood-with the sheer number of options available at the market these days, plus all the marketing jargon on the bottles, choosing an oil can be tricky business. Here&aposs what you need to know when buying olive oil, plus our test kitchen&aposs top picks.


*This is a guest post from Jonathan Carp, MD, drcarp.com.

Olive Oil is one of the most common oils used by health enthusiasts. I have a friend who is an olive oil judge and he tours the world, going to olive oil competitions in Spain. And he is able to taste the rancidity or the oxidation of an olive oil. He tells me that majority of the oils out there are rancid. We can’t really taste them, but he can.

The fact is most olive oils on the shelf are rancid. Chances are, that olive oil you’ve been putting on your salad or using for cooking is rancid.

Why Your Olive Oil Might Be Rancid

Four factors cause rancidity in olive oil:

Exposure to sun and excessive heat cause rancidity. That’s why you need to look for an amber-colored or a non-transparent bottle. If the bottle is clear, I absolutely wouldn’t buy it. You also need to make sure that it’s a glass container because glass is the most inert chemical and as such, it will not react with the olive oil.

Another thing you need to consider is if it has other oils mixed with it. When you look at the back, it will have a bunch of abbreviations like ES for Spain or GR for Greece. But when you see mixed oils all coming into one vat, that means the product went through so much mixing, exposing it to too much air. Too much air causes rancidity in olive oil.

Time of Harvest Affects Olive Oil Quality and Shelf Life

Some European countries have been growing olives for a long time. When they harvest the olive very, very early in the season, they don’t get that much oil though. But what’s interesting here is the olive in the very beginning of the season has much more polyphenols in it, which prolong the shelf life of the olive oil.

It’s hard to know if the farmer waits until the end of the season where the polyphenols are low, but the yields are high before harvesting olives. One way to check out the quality of your olive oil is through an association in California called the California Olive Oil Council (COOC).

COOC assesses olive oils and certifies if the olive oil “meets both chemical and sensory standards to be sold as extra virgin.” Any olive oil that has the COOC seal is okay to purchase, especially if you are consuming olive oil regularly.

How Much Olive Oil You Consume Matters

When people are on an autoimmune diet that I prescribe to my patients, I have them eat no more than 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil per day. That’s because it has a lot of calories. Olive oil has 120 calories per tablespoon. If you’re pouring olive oil all over your salad, you’re getting a lot of calories. Generally speaking, they’re good calories, but in the beginning of the diet and getting your health in order, we need to pay attention to the amount of calories you take in.

When it comes to cooking, you can cook with olive oil using medium to high heat.

Light Olive Oil vs Regular Olive Oil

Light olive oil goes through a secondary process to make it lighter. Anytime it goes through any form of secondary process, especially with an extra virgin oil, then it’s going to be exposed to more light and there would be an increased risk for rancidity.
There’s no point in getting a light olive oil version. Olive oil is an important part of a healthy diet, but people use too much of it and they’re not getting quality olive oil.

The fact that people might be consuming olive oil that is rancid is a cause for alarm. You have to realize that you’re actually using up antioxidants to counteract the damaging effects of eating oxidized food. When you’re ingesting oxidized food, your body needs antioxidants to counteract that. It would be a waste to let those antioxidants go to counteracting the damaging effects of the rancid oil instead of letting your body use it for improving your health.

I hope I answered your questions about olive oil. If you have more questions or comments, please comment below. You can also post your questions and join the conversation on our Weight Loss Awakening Friendship Facebook Group.


2. It’s Got a Shelf Life

Oil doesn’t tend to be a food we think of as highly perishable, like milk. But it’s probably more fragile than you think. Light, heat, and oxygen can all chip away at its freshness, which is why good oil is sold in opaque bottles, not clear ones. But even under optimum storage conditions, oil will eventually go rancid. Most people aren’t even aware that producers print the harvest date on bottles, or what those numbers signify: namely, when the fruit was harvested and milled into oil. That date should be within the last year otherwise the oil could already be rancid. 𠇊 sealed bottle of extra-virgin olive oil has a shelf life of 18 to 24 months,” says Cole. And an opened bottle should be used within a month or two.


EVOO Health Benefits

There’s a lot of talk about the health benefits of fat, but not all fat is created equal. EVOO is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which studies have found to contain anti-inflammatory properties. EVOO is also rich in antioxidants called polyphenols. Polyphenols can help protect against oxidative stress, which may decrease risk of myriad diseases.

  • Heart Disease: According to the FDA, there is some evidence suggesting that 1.5 tablespoons of EVOO daily may reduce risk of heart disease when used to replace oils higher in saturated fat. This swap may improve levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as potentially lowering blood pressure.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease: Studies suggest that polyphenols in EVOO, such as oleocanthal, may reduce the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Diabetes: A lower-carbohydrate diet that’s rich in healthy fats like EVOO has the potential to help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
  • Osteoporosis: EVOO may help the body absorb calcium into the bones, giving it the potential to help keep osteoporosis at bay among the elderly.
  • Oxidative Stress: Environmental stressors, such as pollution and fried food, can cause free radicals to form, which may increase risk for a number of inflammatory disease states. The MUFAs and vitamin E (also an antioxidant) in EVOO may help combat inflammation and aid in protecting the body from free radical damage.
  • Brain and Nerve Health: Your brain is about 60% fat, which means it needs fat for nourishment. Fat is also an important building block for cell membranes and nerve insulation.

With so many potential benefits, it’s no wonder that countries where EVOO is liberally consumed, such as in the Mediterranean regions, have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.


4. Check the Date

(Will Budiaman/The Daily Meal)

Most extra-virgin olive oils will have a "best by" date and in some cases, the year the olives used to make the oil were harvested. If you see this information on the back of the bottle, pick an oil made using olives from the prior or current year. Olive oil is different from other oils in that it is extracted from the juice of a fruit, and like fruit juice, it is best consumed as soon as possible after it is harvested. If there isn't any information on the harvest, and only a date, try to choose an oil which has a "best by" date that is no sooner than two years from today.


What to look for on olive oil labels

It is imperative to remember to look at labels and even do some research before buying most items at the grocery store. Stores and distributors place the most value on their bottom line, not on the quality of the food.

If it sounds crazy that our FDA or Whole Foods value quantity of dollars overall quality produces, look no further than the 2012 study released by UC Davis which found 69% of olive oil to be rancid or adulterated.

60 Minutes ran an investigative piece in 2016 about the fact that because we don’t have label laws in this country, we import $16 Billion worth of FAKE olive oil from Italy alone!

I know that every day it seems there is a new product you have to watch out for – whether it’s honey, spinach or milk or olive oil or balsamic vinegar – all require a certain knowledge to know how to buy the real thing.

Fortunately, you can find some tips below to help you navigate the shady isles of the grocery store.

Be a SMART CONSUMER

    Olive oil should never be in a clear bottle. Sitting on a grocery store shelf for 72 hours will degrade the oil.


Olive Oil Law Suits

In the U.K., The Telegraph reported that "four out of five" bottles of Italian extra-virgin olive oil were adulterated with lower-quality oil from other countries, while the New York Times published an infographic, "Extra-Virgin Suicide," with facts and figures regarding extra-virgin olive oil fraud.

So with all this mislabeling and fraud, how can you know which oils to buy? Which oils are real?

When possible, try to buy your olive oil from small producers. Look for those who sell oil in bulk, from metal drums, and/or who allow you to taste the oil before buying.

True extra-virgin olive oil can vary considerably in taste, depending on the olives and process used, and whether the olives used are green or ripe, but generally speaking, it will have a fresh, fragrant, somewhat fruity, sometimes grassy or herbal smell and flavor. It should not taste like the canned olive you put in a martini. It can be somewhat peppery or spicy, slightly sweet, and might have a slightly bitter or pungent aftertaste—which is not a sign that it is low-quality or has gone off, but that it is full of the precious antioxidants which give the oil its health-promoting properties. Olive oil made from fresh, green olives will have a more grassy, herbal taste, and a somewhat lighter, greenish color, while olive oil made from riper, more mature olives has a richer, more buttery, milder, darker yellow color and less peppery taste. Which you prefer is more question of personal taste, rather than of quality.


Why do I need to buy extra virgin olive oil?

Technically and truthfully extra virgin olive oil is “the best,” but, depending on what exactly you’re using olive oil for, it’s not always the best option. You can’t think of it the same way think about other cooking oils, like vegetable or canola. Think of it in the same way you think about wine: you want to use an affordable bottle if you’re cooking, but you never want to cook with a wine you wouldn’t also want to drink. If you’re looking for something to dip a warm, crusty piece of bread into, spring for the expensive stuff . If you’re making a vinaigrette or pasta, supermarket extra-virgin will do. For day-to-day cooking, you can get away with using a cheaper oil, but not too cheap. Just because you can buy wine for less than $2 doesn’t mean you should, and that same attitude of self-preservation should guide you when buying olive oil.

Another similarity to wine: people have been making olive oil for at least 4,000 years , which is why the olive oil universe is vast and complex, and can be overwhelming to the average person who did not think buying oil would require research. In the times of the Greeks and Romans, oil was extracted by pressing whole olives between heavy stones, and for the most part, that method worked for everyone for 3,900 years. About 90% of an olive’s oil would be extracted from the first pressing and was labeled virgin the oil was then graded for quality, with the best of the lot labeled extra virgin (or premium extra virgin), and lesser-quality oils labeled as virgin, fine virgin, or semifine virgin. If oil was processed with chemicals or heated above 80 degrees it could no longer be considered virgin. If you’ve ever seen a bottle of extra virgin olive oil with the terms “cold pressed,” “first pressed,” or “first cold pressed” on the bottle, it doesn’t mean they’re extra special, because those terms are true for literally all virgin olive oils.

There are still small manufacturers that make their olive oil the traditional way, but for the most part, since the mid-20th century, olive oil production is not done by pressing, but by crushing. First, olives are loaded into machinery where steel rollers grind them into a paste. Next, water is slowly added to the paste, causing the oil molecules to separate from the olive pulp and clump together. This paste is put into a centrifuge to separate the oil and water from the pulp, after which the water is then removed, and the oil is graded.

Now here’s where the shenanigans of the industrial food system begin: though it isn’t pressed in the traditional sense, the oil is still allowed to be classified as virgin, and as long as it doesn’t get warmer than 80 degrees while being processed, it can still be considered “cold pressed.” If the oil has an acidity level of less than 0.8% it’s allowed to be classified as extra virgin olive oil the oil that doesn’t meet extra-virgin standards is refined to remove any impurities, which also removes much of the characteristic olive flavor. Sometimes a small amount of extra-virgin is blended back in to impart a little bit of flavor and sold as regular or classic olive oils, but while you may be saving a few bucks by buying them, you’re sacrificing nearly everything that makes olive oil worth using in the first place. This is why extra virgin is “the best,” and the only one you should buy if you’re using olive oil for anything beyond greasing a pan.

Even though we’ve already left virgin territory, we’re still not at the bottom of the olive barrel. You may have seen something called olive pomace oil, which is shockingly cheap and might seem like a great value. As always, you’re getting what you pay for: after olives have been processed and most of their oils have been extracted, the leftover pulp is treated with chemicals to extract even more oil, which, as you can imagine, is not good. Another thing to steer clear of when shopping: bottles labeled as light olive oil or olive oil blend,which are made by mixing a small percentage of non-virgin olive oil with even cheaper neutral-tasting oils. There are no redeeming qualities to these oils, which are merely bottles of chicanery and lies. If you simply need an oil for cooking, a gallon of vegetable oil will do you just fine. If you’re looking for flavor, it’s EVOO or GTFO.

Allison Robicelli is a writer, recipe czar, former professional chef, author of four (quite good) books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Tweet me for recipe help: @Robicellis.


*This is a guest post from Jonathan Carp, MD, drcarp.com.

Olive Oil is one of the most common oils used by health enthusiasts. I have a friend who is an olive oil judge and he tours the world, going to olive oil competitions in Spain. And he is able to taste the rancidity or the oxidation of an olive oil. He tells me that majority of the oils out there are rancid. We can’t really taste them, but he can.

The fact is most olive oils on the shelf are rancid. Chances are, that olive oil you’ve been putting on your salad or using for cooking is rancid.

Why Your Olive Oil Might Be Rancid

Four factors cause rancidity in olive oil:

Exposure to sun and excessive heat cause rancidity. That’s why you need to look for an amber-colored or a non-transparent bottle. If the bottle is clear, I absolutely wouldn’t buy it. You also need to make sure that it’s a glass container because glass is the most inert chemical and as such, it will not react with the olive oil.

Another thing you need to consider is if it has other oils mixed with it. When you look at the back, it will have a bunch of abbreviations like ES for Spain or GR for Greece. But when you see mixed oils all coming into one vat, that means the product went through so much mixing, exposing it to too much air. Too much air causes rancidity in olive oil.

Time of Harvest Affects Olive Oil Quality and Shelf Life

Some European countries have been growing olives for a long time. When they harvest the olive very, very early in the season, they don’t get that much oil though. But what’s interesting here is the olive in the very beginning of the season has much more polyphenols in it, which prolong the shelf life of the olive oil.

It’s hard to know if the farmer waits until the end of the season where the polyphenols are low, but the yields are high before harvesting olives. One way to check out the quality of your olive oil is through an association in California called the California Olive Oil Council (COOC).

COOC assesses olive oils and certifies if the olive oil “meets both chemical and sensory standards to be sold as extra virgin.” Any olive oil that has the COOC seal is okay to purchase, especially if you are consuming olive oil regularly.

How Much Olive Oil You Consume Matters

When people are on an autoimmune diet that I prescribe to my patients, I have them eat no more than 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil per day. That’s because it has a lot of calories. Olive oil has 120 calories per tablespoon. If you’re pouring olive oil all over your salad, you’re getting a lot of calories. Generally speaking, they’re good calories, but in the beginning of the diet and getting your health in order, we need to pay attention to the amount of calories you take in.

When it comes to cooking, you can cook with olive oil using medium to high heat.

Light Olive Oil vs Regular Olive Oil

Light olive oil goes through a secondary process to make it lighter. Anytime it goes through any form of secondary process, especially with an extra virgin oil, then it’s going to be exposed to more light and there would be an increased risk for rancidity.
There’s no point in getting a light olive oil version. Olive oil is an important part of a healthy diet, but people use too much of it and they’re not getting quality olive oil.

The fact that people might be consuming olive oil that is rancid is a cause for alarm. You have to realize that you’re actually using up antioxidants to counteract the damaging effects of eating oxidized food. When you’re ingesting oxidized food, your body needs antioxidants to counteract that. It would be a waste to let those antioxidants go to counteracting the damaging effects of the rancid oil instead of letting your body use it for improving your health.

I hope I answered your questions about olive oil. If you have more questions or comments, please comment below. You can also post your questions and join the conversation on our Weight Loss Awakening Friendship Facebook Group.