Choosing the best Olive Oil is important if you want to maximize its health benefits or sometimes even avoid the detrimental effects of bad oil. Bad olive oils lack those valuable antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that are responsible for its touted health benefits.
According to Wikipedia, the U.S. categorizes olive oils as such
- U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil for oil with excellent flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of not more than 0.8g per 100g (0.8%);
- U.S. Virgin Olive Oil for oil with reasonably good flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of not more than 2g per 100g (2%);
- U.S. Virgin Olive Oil Not Fit For Human Consumption Without Further Processing is a virgin (mechanically-extracted) olive oil of poor flavor and odor, equivalent to the IOC’s lampante oil;
- U.S. Olive Oil is an oil mix of both virgin and refined oils;
- U.S. Refined Olive Oil is an oil made from refined oils with some restrictions on the processing.
However we know that the U.S. regulatory system is far from perfect. Tom Mueller, a New Yorker contributor wrote a definitive book entitled “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil“. In it he describes how over 50 percent of olive oil sold in the U.S. is adulterated.
Bad or rancid olive oil loses the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil, says Mueller. “What [good olive oil] gets you from a health perspective is a cocktail of 200+ highly beneficial ingredients that explain why olive oil has been the heart of the Mediterranean diet,” he says. “Bad olives have free radicals and impurities, and then you’ve lost that wonderful cocktail … that you get from fresh fruit, from real extra-virgin olive oil.”
“A lot of those oils have been packed in Italy or have been transited through Italy just long enough to get the Italian flag on them. That’s not, strictly speaking, illegal — but I find it a legal fraud, if you will.”
An often quoted study by UC Davis researchers on olive oil said:
Of the ﬁve top-selling imported “extra virgin” olive oil brands in the United States, 73 percent of the samples failed the IOC sensory standards for extra virgin olive oils analyzed by two IOC-accredited sensory panels. The failure rate ranged from a high of 94 percent to a low of 56 percent depending on the brand and the panel. None of the Australian and California samples failed both sensory panels, while 11 percent of the top-selling premium Italian brand samples failed the two panels. Sensory defects are indicators that these samples are oxidized, of poor quality, and/or adulterated with cheaper reﬁned oils.
Olive Oil Tasting
Elena Paravantes RD over at Olive Tomato describes how REAL virgin olive oil should taste like:
Good CharacteristicsFruityLet’s not forget that olives are fruit so a good olive oil needs to have some degree of fruitiness. This can come from ripe olives or unripe (green) olives. Olive oil should taste fresh, not heavy and “oily”.BitterYes, bitter is good. Bitterness is a characteristic of fresh olive oil. Olives are bitter. The degree of bitterness depends on how ripe the olive is. So a bitter olive oil is a positive thing. However, depending on your taste you may want to find an olive oil that has a balance of fruity and bitter that you can tolerate.PungentThis is a peppery characteristic that you will feel at the back of your throat when you swallow the oil. You may even cough. Many people think this is bad (like my friend) but it is not, it is actually of olive oil from unripe olives and of fresh olive oil. It also signifies the presence of certain antioxidants. And remember this peppery sensation should go away fairly quickly, it should not linger.Bad CharacteristicsFustyThis is common defect that appears when the olives are gathered in piles and may cause advanced fermentation. According to Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne, an olive oil cosultant, fusty smells like or tastes like sweaty socks or swampy vegetation.MustyBasically a moldy flavor that appears when the olives were stored for several days in a humid environment and developed yeast and fungi.Winey-VinegaryExactly as it is described, no your olive oil should not taste or smell like wine. Again this is due to fermentation of the olives.MetallicA taste that reminds of metal. Usually it is a result of prolonged contact with metallic surface during production but also storage.RancidThis is the most common defect, it is basically olive oil gone bad and you may have come across this taste when you eat old nuts or stale crackers that are made with fat.
How to Differentiate Good from Bad
Dr. Axe and Nicholas Coleman has some tips on how to recognize genuine extra virgin olive oil:
- Look for the cultivars, or what olives the oil is composed of in the label.
- Be suspicious of any extra virgin olive oil that costs less than $10 a liter.
- Look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council (IOC).
- Oils that are certified by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC).
- Winners of the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition.
- Look for a harvesting date on the label
- Anything labeled light, pure, or a blend isn’t virgin quality.
- Shop for oils in dark bottles. This protects the oil from oxidation.
- Extra virgin olive oil solidifies when it’s cold. You can put it in the refrigerator and it should become cloudy and thicken. If it’s doesn’t then it’s not pure extra virgin.
Tom Mueller leaves a good surprise about what you can pair great olive oil with. “Get a bottle of really, really powerful, bitter and pungent oil, and pour it over some really good ice cream. And it is like an injection of liquid sunshine. It’s quite a treat.”
What kinds of olive oils do you use?