Last week, I wrote about how easy it is to do the single most important thing to improve your nutrition at home — throw away your “vegetable” oils and start cooking with, butter, olive oil, or coconut oil. I also promised to talk this week about why olive oil is not as healthy as you think.
Olive oil is almost universally regarded as the healthiest oil to cook with. Studies of the “Mediterranean Diet” love to talk about how healthy olive oil is, and why you should switch from, say, corn oil to olive oil, or butter to olive oil.
So why would I argue that olive oil really isn’t that healthy?
The answer has to do with money, corruption, bribery, and legislative loopholes.
Olive oil is easily counterfeited by mixing soybean oil, sunflower oil, and other cheap (and extremely unhealthy) seed oils together, then mixing in some beta-carotene for flavor, and adding in some industrial chlorophyll for color. The vast majority of consumers can’t tell the difference — I’m sure I probably couldn’t.
Those fancy-looking bottles that you think are “Made in Italy” may simply be oil that was produced elsewhere, then stored just long enough in Italy to earn the designation. It’s legal, but it’s deceptive.
Profit margins are insane
The profit margins from this fraud are “comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks,” according to an investigator from the European Union anti-fraud office. Keep in mind that the American market alone is worth around $1.5 billion!
With a risk-reward ratio like that, in a market that big, it’s no wonder that organized crime is in the game. It sounds like a made-for-TV movie, doesn’t it?
It’s not clear what percentage of olive oil found in grocery stores is adulterated with seed oils, but 40% is one estimate.
But it’s even worse than that.
One UC Davis study tested a bunch of different oils and found that almost 70% of its samples did not meet strict taste and quality requirements for extra virgin olive oil.
One possible reason for this high number is that some of their samples may have contained oxidized olive oil.
Olive oils are fairly fragile, and they can easily be oxidized by exposure to air, heat, or light. This means that the fat molecules have been damaged. Basically, oxidized olive oil is rancid. You do not want to put that stuff into your body!
So olive oil is not really that healthy, unless you buy 1) genuine olive oil and 2) it isn’t oxidized.
I’ve got some good news and bad news for you.
The good news is that it’s relatively easy to find high-quality olive oils in Indianapolis.
The easiest way to do so is to go to Meijer or Whole Foods and buy the California Olive Ranch brand. This is a brand that is tested and certified to be pure extra virgin olive oil. I’ve personally bought a bottle, and I love the rich, fruity flavor of this oil.
The Whole Foods 365 brand also has a genuine olive oil, but be careful if you buy this because only ONE of their varieties meets the test for extra virgin olive oil! It’s the “California 365.” I do not recommend that you buy any of their other 365-branded olive oils.
Costco also carries one called the Toscano. Again, be careful because they carry several different brands. I don’t really recommend buying olive oil from Costco because it will come in a big bottle, and you probably won’t be able to consume it all before it goes rancid. But it is (apparently) a reasonably high-quality product.
Make sure you look for a bottle with a recent harvest date, as olive oil will go rancid if it sits on the shelf for a long time, even if it’s never been opened. Note: if it doesn’t have a harvest date, it is not a good olive oil. (Although having a harvest date doesn’t guarantee it’s a good one.)
Another option is to visit Artisano’s, which is an awesome little shop that sells high-end olive oils. It’s located off of 86th street near
Whole Paycheck Whole Foods.
What’s the bad news?
Good olive oil is expensive.
The stuff you get for $6 at Kroger or Marsh just isn’t going to be high-quality olive oil. If you want to buy the good stuff, it’s going to cost you at least 3 times that much!
So here are my final tips for getting and using high-quality olive oil:
- Buy quality brands that have been certified by the California Olive Oil Council, or do your research to make sure your favorite brand isn’t on this list of adulterated olive oils.
- Make sure it has a recent harvest date!
- Make sure the olive oil comes in a dark bottle, to reduce oxidization from light. If it comes in a clear bottle, it’s not a high-quality olive oil! (But just because it’s in a dark bottle doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good brand.)
- Get it in a small bottle and use it relatively quickly (within 3-6 months).
- Keep the bottle in a cool, dark location (like a cupboard), not sitting out on your counter where it will be exposed to light.
- Use it at relatively low temperatures — not for deep frying or for high-heat searing.
- Be willing to pay for quality. If you don’t want to pay that much for olive oil, I’d recommend sticking to coconut oil!