Book Review: Extra Virginity
"Yup, I read a whole book on Olive Oil" I answered as my 17 year old son scoffed in disgust at my taste in literature, "But the subtitle is the "sublime and scandalous world of olive oil!", I answered back. Still not interested. But you might be...I hope you are because your health could depend on it! I won't bore you with the history of olive oil and it's uses (which is expanded upon in the book), but to say that the industry has been dominated by "oil tycoons" throughout history and many current companies are being indicted currently in Europe for olive oil infractions definitely surprised me!
Scandal, corruption and fraud are real problems in an extremely high demand industry in which science has continually been proving the health benefits of olive oil and the Mediterranean diet. Did you ever wonder the difference between Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)? I sure did and never had a clear answer outside of "it is less processed"...well, true, but how so? According to Tom Mueller, the author of Extra Virginity, olive oil has always had different designations all the way back into ancient roman times. It has also always been manipulated by people trying to make a buck. Most olive oil is, in fact, low grade "lampete'" oil or lamp oil and believe it or not this is what is being passed off as high grade EVOO in the US today! Lampete' oil is usually olives that are past their prime, fallen onto the ground and have been chemically processed into something edible by adding deodorizers and extreme heat to get rid of the bitter taste. Possibly, they even add a little EVOO back in to fool the consumer! This is happening on a huge scale! Unfortunately, this olive oil not only is void of any healthy benefits that olive oil is known for, but also can be destructive to your health!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a special designation in the industry because it is supposed to be olives picked at the peak of ripeness, quickly pressed and bottled so that it is not exposed to light, heat, or air: the death of good olive oil (from a taste and a health perspective). Unfortunately, true EVOO is extremely labor intensive and expensive. Essentially, the real stuff is just a juice made of olives and nothing more but it takes effort to pick and quickly press a lot of olives into essentially what is a "juice". Large corporations' in Europe have found nefarious ways around regulatory laws and downright unscrupulous practices such as paying off 3rd party chemists that certify oil as pure EVOO. The fact is that 50-70% of olive oil on supermarket shelves is likely not EVOO and possibly even cut with oil that can be bad for your health!
So...what is a consumer to do? First of all, never buy olive oil in a clear or plastic bottle...even good olive oil will not survive these conditions. Secondly, olive oil should smell like nature, not rancid. Taste should be bitter on the tongue and have a pepper punch down the throat! These are the actual anti-oxidants! Finally, olive oil should NOT BE CHEAP! Of course, you can still be wrong, just by doing your own observation so consider buying straight from the olive oil producers themselves who can tell you the "crush date" (expiration dates mean nothing) or from a reputable health food store that knows the brands. Lastly, olive oil is like fine wine and varies year to year based on growing conditions. Check out olive oil competitions and pick some winners from the current year! Tasting olive oil is a real thing so personally I can't wait to do this in person some day! Also of note...olive trees are grown on many continents so don't think that Italy, Spain and Greece corner the market on olive oil. Olive trees can grow in the US and Australia just as well, so don't forget to branch out!
Lastly, I want to share an interesting fact I read in this book...have you ever wondered why the olive branch is a sign of peace across the world? Well, because olive trees take a lot of care to produce the best fruit, they only thrive when people are there to care for them...during times of peace! Wow!
Olive oil at Inergy Market on Oak Island