Olive trees themselves have been around for many thousands of years. With a long history dating back to ancient civilizations, olive oil is said to be one of the most important and healthiest Bible foods. It’s a staple of the Mediterranean Diet and has been included in the diets of some of the world’s healthiest, longest-living people for centuries — like those living in the blue zones. Why? Because olive oil benefits are extensive and amazing.
Real, high-quality extra virgin olive oil has well-researched anti-inflammatory compounds, antioxidants and numerous heart-healthy macronutrients, which explains why there are so many olive oil benefits. Extra virgin olive oil benefits include lowering rates of inflammation, heart disease, depression, dementia and obesity. But with all of that in mind, unfortunately, not all olive oil is created equally — not even all of the “extra virgin” kinds have the requisite olive oil benefits!
Olive oil is made from the fruit of the olive tree, which is naturally high in healthy fatty acids. There are several types of olive oil on the market today, including extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and regular olive oil — but research shows that extra virgin olive oil benefits are more abundant than the other varieties.
Something that many people don’t realize is that it’s common for “extra virgin olive oil” purchased in most major grocery stores to be laced with GMO canola oil and herb flavors. Many store shelves are lined with fake olive oil options. A CBS report found that up to 70 percent of the extra virgin olive oil sold worldwide is watered down with other oils and enhancers, thanks to the Mafia corruption involved in the production process. (1) (Yes, you read that correctly.)
Manufacturers do this in order to make the fake oils taste more like real olive oil, but in fact, they’re far inferior products with way fewer health benefits than the real thing. In fact, consuming this type of modified olive oil can actually pose some real risks to your health, so you’ve got to know which kind is the best to buy in order to get the most olive oil benefits you can.
Price pointsA quart or a liter of EVOO should cost you between $8 and $40. I personally have found that the truly good oils hover in the $25 per bottle range and higher.
2. Smell and taste (not color)This is what triggered Tom Mueller to investigate – the taste and smell of the supposed high-quality olive oils. Many people think that a good olive oil needs to be buttery and sweet – this is not correct. In fact, olive oil tastes this way when it has been diluted with tasteless vegetable oils.
A true extra virgin olive oil is pungent (from the presence of grasses, tomatoes, and artichokes) and bitter (from the polyphenol content). That can be off-putting – many people think it’s due to rancidity – it’s not.
A good EVOO is supposed to make your throat scratch a little.
Tom Mueller says: “Seek out freshness, choosing oils that smell and taste vibrant and lively, and avoid tastes or odors such as moldy, rancid, cooked, greasy, meaty, metallic and cardboard. Also, pay attention to mouthfeel: prefer crisp and clean to flabby, coarse or greasy.”
Want to conduct olive oil tasting in your own kitchen? Sebastian shows us how. This was my first time – it’s so simple, yet revealing!
Color is a non-factor – many crooked and fake olive oil makers add green colorant to the oil to make it look fresh. Furthermore, olive oil goes through a natural maturation process from bright green when freshly pressed to golden and then brownish with a green tint when it reaches maturity.
3. Freshness = High polyphenolsTom Muller writes: “So real extra virgin olive oil is fresh-squeezed fruit juice – seasonal, perishable, and never better than the first few weeks it was made.”
Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age – it gets worse – both in taste and medicinal properties. The best practice is to consume it within the first year of pressing.
This is why you may find the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club as interesting as I did – they deliver freshly pressed oils every quarter, rotating suppliers. For example, an Italian EVOO would be at its prime quality when sold in January-March timeframe. But, in other calendar quarters, the freshest oils would come from Chile or Australia.
In this video, Sebastiano Salafia of Frantoi Cutrera explains how freshness of the olive fruit and the processing time and method impacts the level of polyphenols (potent antioxidants) in olive oil.
4. Labeling“Extra Virgin Olive Oil” – For starters, the bottle must state “Extra Virgin Olive Oil.” That in itself is not enough as many crooks and fakers use it on their labels too.
Harvest date and “best by” date – you now know that freshness matters a lot. Scrupulous EVOO makers would display both dates. Harvest date is very telling because it’s best practice to consume the oil within 12 months from the harvest date.
Certification – if buying oils from Europe, look for PDO and PGI certification. In Italy, PDO is labeled as DOP (see the bottle) – this means that specific protocols are overseen by a quality control committee. In California, the COOC (California Olive Oil Council) exercises rigid standards as well.
Organic (not that meaningful here) – to my big surprise it’s not a guarantee of quality. It just means the fruit was grown organically but it does not tell us other quality-impacting details such as: When the olives were picked (Sebastiano explained in the video that less ripe olives generate a lower yield but are higher in polyphenols), the time from tree-to-pressing, heat used during mastication, what else has been added to the oil – are just some of the factors that “organic” label does not guarantee.
Meaningless descriptors – Words that don’t mean anything and are used as marketing gimmicks are “Olive Oil”,“Light” Oil, “Made in Italy”, “Freshly Pressed”, “Bottled in Italy.” Also, pay attention to your own unconscious bias – just because a label shows enchanting rolling hills of a Tuscan estate, it does not mean the product is legit.
5. Bottle colorPick a dark bottle. Olive oil gets oxidized quickly with the oxygen that is left in a half-empty bottle. Light penetration speeds up that process.
6. Filtered or unfiltered?I used to think that unfiltered olive oil (due to its rustic, authentic look) was automatically superior to its filtered counterpart. This isn’t entirely true. UC Davis Olive Center says that the studies are inconclusive and that you need to evaluate additional factors including fruit maturity, type of filters used and shelf life stability.
According to Sebastiano Salafia from Frantoi Cutrera whom I interviewed, they use large filters as they found that unfiltered olive oil can deteriorate quickly if it contains too many unfiltered particles. This is clearly a large-scale manufacturer’s preventative decision. If you can get an unfiltered EVOO and use it within 6 to 12 months, you should be good.
7. Your intuitionUse your intuition to distinguish hype from the real deal.
Pear Cranberry Salad Recipe
with Olive Oil Dressing
TIME: 5 minutes SERVINGS: 1–2
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 large pinch of sea salt
Black pepper to taste
5 cups mixed lettuces
2 pears, thinly sliced vertically
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup raw goat cheese
Put vinegar, olive oil, mustard, honey, salt and pepper in a jar with a lid, and shake well.
Gently toss lettuce with sliced pears in a large salad bowl (optional: grill pear slices briefly). Add enough dressing to just coat. Top with dried
cranberries and goat cheese.