Are You Using the Right Kind of Olive Oil?

You will find pumpkin seed oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, and even algae oil in my kitchen on any given day of the week, but there is no oil I use as much or enjoy as much as extra virgin olive oil. At home, we have gotten into the hobby of researching and ordering olive oils from all over the world, with some of our favorites being from right here in California. My fiancé and I simply love the peppery and buttery flavors of a high-quality olive oil.

The benefits are abundant

Extra virgin olive oil has long had the reputation of being a superfood. It contains an abundance of antioxidants, notably potent in the cancer-fighting compound oleocan- thal (OC). Researchers tested OC from extra virgin olive oil and found that it can induce rapid death in cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. In addition to anti-inflammatory benefits from high polyphenol count, olive oil is also safe for anyone with gut issues and beneficial for longevity, immune system, weight maintenance, and glowing hair, skin, and nails. Many of the blue zones (areas where people regularly live over 100) consume a ton of olive oil. I, personally, use extra virgin olive oil for about 30% of my marinades and dressings.

What should extra virgin olive oil taste like?

If you think olive oil tastes kind of like canola oil or other manmade toxic oils (rapeseed, vegetable oil, soybean, etc.) – then it is highly likely you have not tasted real olive oil. Real olive oil is fruity, sometimes bitter (in a balanced way), peppery (more peppery flavors signify certain antioxidants are present), and it can be pungent. The shades of color can range from golden to green.

What makes the oil “Extra Virgin Olive Oil”?

  • The oil must come from fresh olives that were milled within 24 hours of their harvest.
  • The oil must be extracted by mechanical means, not from heat or chemicals.
  • Extra virgin oil is fresh olive juice, olives are fruits that contain natural antioxidants that protect the plant during its lifetime. When the olive tree is very old it contains more of these antioxidants. This is one of the reasons that olive trees are often hundreds of years old and create antioxidant-rich products.

Why does the quality and purity of olive oil matter?

Olive oil goes rancid quickly and loses its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, adding to your body’s burden of free radicals and impurities. When researchers tested extra virgin olive oil on supermarket shelves, they found that 31 percent were oxidized or had poor chemical quality.

In addition, shady producers are now adding cheap oils like soybean and canola oil to bottles labeled “extra-virgin olive oil”, taking away from the nutritional benefit and flavor profile.

The concerns

  • The results from a Consumer Report’s found that only 9 of the 23 olive oils from Italy, Spain and California tested, passed as being extra virgin olive oil even though all of them claimed so on the label.
  • A study performed by UC-Davis discovered that approximately 69% of olive oil labeled “extra virgin” on supermarket shelves was fraudulent.
  • International standards for extra virgin olive oil are mostly unenforced. Although the term ‘extra virgin’ is generally understood to denote the highest quality of olive oil, industry representatives report that the current standards are easily met by producers and allow olive oil marketed as ‘extra virgin’ to represent a wide range of qualities.

How to find real, pure extra virgin olive oil

A trip to your local market will usually turn up with you standing in front of an intimidatingly large selection of olive oils. If you look online, those options only multiply. Couple that with ever-changing information and you can become paralyzed by indecision and choices. It takes some time, but once you figure it out the work is so worth it.

The BEST olive oil, in my opinion, is Koroneiki olive oil made with Greek Koroneiki olives. It is potent in hydroxytyrosol, a bioactive polyphenol compound, which is highly immune-boosting and helps protect your DNA from damage. Monovarietals such as Morailo from Italy and Picual from Spain have similarly potent polyphenol content. When grocery shopping, examine the bottle’s label to see if it identifies one of these kinds of olives.

How can you choose the most nutritious olive oil and avoid being cheated out of health benefit and money?

  • Above all, the most important factor for extra virgin olive oil is freshness and a peppery or bitter-tasting oil is one of the biggest indicators of freshness. You cannot always try before you by, so I look for the harvest date on the label, most high-quality extra virgin olive oil have the harvest date in place of a “best by” or “use by” date. Olive oil does not improve with age, so throw out the wine rules and don’t consume any oil over one year from the harvest date.2. Bottom line: avoid store brands. Many adulterated olive oils are sold under familiar brand names, and I can bet that your local market is full of them. Buying direct from the producer or from certified distributor is half the battle. Only buy olive oil certified as “extra virgin”. A high-quality extra virgin olive oil will not say things like “light” or “pure” on the label. Labels like cold pressed and first pressed do not mean anything, so do not be fooled by those claims. Winners of international olive oil competitions will almost always feature these honors prominently on their labels. Gold and silver medals are mean the oils’ producers have been recognized for their excellence by trained palates.
  • Look for extra virgin olive oil in tin, dark glass or opaque bottles. Clear glass bottles do not protect the oil from light (which deteriorates the oil faster). A high-quality producer will want their oil bottled in a container that will maintain product integrity.
  • Olives are seasonal just like other produce. Rotate your country of origins. Oils harvested in January in the Northern Hemisphere are the freshest available! In September, that would switch to Southern Hemisphere. You may be tempted to want to purchase oils from Italy, Greece, and Spain because we associate those countries with olive oil consumption, but many high-quality extra virgin olive oils are produced in the US, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, and even New Zealand.
  • Your new olive oil should taste peppery and maybe even make you cough! This is a common reaction to fresh extra virgin olive oil (due to the high polyphenol content). If your oil tastes bland, your oil is most likely old, rancid, or an imposter.

Best way to consume

Many people do not realize that olive oil has a relatively low smoke point – only around 410 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, it is best to consume olive oil raw because some of its beneficial compounds are lost in the cooking process. Rather than using it to cook, I choose to drizzle extra virgin olive oil on my salads and soups and include it in dressings and marinades. For cooking, I opt for higher smoke point oils such as avocado oil. Erewhon Market recently started making their own olive oil and I cannot wait to try it!