Olive Oil

Bobs Olive Oils

Quality olive oils, By Dr Bob Tech Blog

Extra Virgin Olive Oil has been handed down to us from our ancestors for millennia. Long believed to have curative powers, we now know factually that there is much truth to this centuries old belief, but as with so much in life, there is a gotcha. Only Extra Virgin Olive Oil has enough health benefits to make it worthwhile, and not all bottles labeled Extra Virgin Olive Oil actually meets the definition of “Extra Virgin” quality. What can we do to ensure that we are receiving the desired health benefits that we paid good money for and enjoy its delightful and well sought after flavors. Do you think that the first press of the olive is all that it takes to actually be “extra virgin grade”? Then you’d be surprised to find that there is more to the story that you were aware of.

Health Benefits

There are 101 Health Benefits of Olive Oil that are known to us so far, including protecting your heart and arteries, reducing stroke, reducing cholesterol, reduce hunger, improve memory, plus the other 96 currently known benefits.12 Every TV doctor, including Dr Oz, has raved about how wonderful this natural product is for us, we’ve also been bombarded with articles in our newspapers and magazines.18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Olive oil is the only oil that can be made by simply squeezing the source, all other vegetable oils require chemical processing, leading us to desire extra virgin olive oil even more. In this day of synthetics, its so rare that the consumer can actually enjoy a natural, pure product and have it benefit them so much.

Its certainly clear by now that we really do want the extraordinary benefits of extra virgin olive oil, so it warrants deeper examination. Lets begin with a little background information.

History

Olive oil is made by squeezing, milling centrifuging or grinding olives (the fruit of Olea europaea; family Oleaceae), in a press. A simple enough process that its been with us at least since the time of the Caesars, 2,000 years ago, the first human cultivation of olives is currently believed to have began as far back as 6,000 years ago.

Dynastic Egyptians before 2000 BC imported olive oil from Crete, Syria and Canaan and oil was an important item of commerce and wealth. Remains of olive oil have been found in jugs over 4,000 years old in a tomb on the island of Naxos in the Aegean SeaSinuhe, the Egyptian exile who lived in northern Canaan about 1960 BC, wrote of abundant olive trees.2

Olive Press in Pompeji circa 79 A.D.

Olive Oil Press Circa 79 A.D.  Attribution: Foto: Heinz-Josef Lücking, Lizenz: Creative Commons by-sa-3.0 de

“The wild olive tree originated in Asia Minor where it is extremely abundant and grows in thick forests. It appears to have spread from Syria to Greece via Anatolia (De Candolle, 1883) although other hypotheses point to lower Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, the Atlas Mountains or certain areas of Europe as its source area. Caruso for that reason believed it to be indigenous to the entire Mediterranean Basin and considers Asia Minor to have been the birthplace of the cultivated olive some six millennia ago.”28

Olive Oil Fraud

Its been reported by well known media outlets that majority of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, in the United States is not authentic.

Olive oil is a booming business in America:  sales top $1.5 billion and are growing at 10% a year, making the U.S. the world’s third-largest consumer of olive oil.

There are two basic frauds being perpetuated on the American public. First is selling rancid oil, secondly there is the outright adulteration of olive oil, by the inclusion of inferior oils, both of which negate the health benefit that we paid a premium for.
Olive oil is expensive to manufacture, other vegetable oils are relatively inexpensive, by comparison, so with such a large market the temptation to mix cheap oils into expensive extra virgin olive oil is irresistible to unscrupulous types.
Its currently thought that 70 to 80% of extra virgin olive oils sold in the U.S. are fraudulent oils.1

Tests indicate that imported “extra virgin”olive oil often fails international and USDA standards – UC Davis Olive Center, July 20101

In 2008 more than 400 Italian police officers executed “Operation Golden Oil” leading to the arrest of 23 people and confiscation of 85 farms. Subsequently, more than 40 additional people were arrested. Their crime? Creating and selling fake extra virgin olive oil by adding chlorophyll to sunflower and soybean oil.10

The news Mr. Mueller [New York Times] brings about extra virgin olive oil — E.V.O.O., as Rachael Ray likes to put it — is alarming. The liquid that gets passed off as such in supermarkets and restaurants is often anything but. Shady dealers along the supply chain frequently adulterate olive oil with low-grade vegetable oils and add artificial coloring.11

The tradition of olive oil fraud goes bar further than any of us had imagined:13

“Is there any foodstuff as dodgy as olive oil? Human beings have been defrauding and occasionally poisoning one another with the stuff – or simulacra of it – since the beginning of cooking. You may fairly picture a Sumerian house-spouse 5,000 years ago frowning at an amphora and saying: “The guy said he actually cold-presses extra virgin olives in his own kitchen. Funny taste, though…” Luckily, according to the cuneiform tablets discovered at Ebla, the Sumerians had a royally appointed olive oil fraud brigade.”

Processed Oil

Although the label may say extra virgin, and the oil may be from the first pressing, the manufacturer may still apply techniques that may surprise you. Our expectation of the term “Extra Virgin” can vary greatly from what a manufacturer actually delivers into the bottle you are holding in your hand.

Bleaching—Eliminates any pigments in the crude oil.

Degumming—Delivers the “high smoke point” that cooks need for sauteing and frying. Degumming works by removes the free fatty acids and small quantities of proteins and other substances that contribute to the instability of the oil during high-temperature cooking.

Deodorizing—Eliminates substances that causes oil to go rancid, and thus prolong its shelf life.

Hydrogenation—Adding hydrogen prevents oxidation or aging of the oil.

Refining—An alkaline substance (often caustic soda) is added to transform the oil’s fatty acids into soap, which is then extracted from the oil via centrifugation.

Anti-oxidation—Synthetic vitamin E is added to further prolong shelf life.

To give the oil a green appearance, as well as some taste and aroma, the processor will often add chemicals and artifical flavors, such as chlorophyll and beta carotene.17

Technical Analysis

University Of California at UC Davis performed a scientific analysis of Extra Virgin Olive Oil1 they found that 70% of the oils they tested failed!1

“Extra virgin” is the top grade of olive oil according to standards established by the International Olive Council (IOC) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In addition to establishing chemistry standards for extra virgin, the IOC/USDA have established a sensory standard — the oil must have zero defects and greater than zero fruitiness. Over the past several years, trained olive oil tasters who have served on IOC-recognized sensory panels have reported to the UC Davis Olive Center that much of the olive oil sold in the United States as “extra virgin” does not meet this modest sensory standard.

Tasting Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A common urban legend is that you can taste olive oil and know that its authentic or not. Fine quality, pure, olive oil can be bitter, pungent, spicy, and peppery. Its not unusual for beginners to mistake these sometimes intense flavors as a sign of rancidity when in reality its a mark of quality. Its believed that that high levels of polyphenols are what cause these intense, confusing flavors. Polyphenols are antioxidants that naturally occur in olives and are what gives us the amazing health benefits. Furthermore, experts have been often fooled, as counterfeiters get better. Its often a point of pride with olive oil enthusiasts that they “can tell” with one sip. No, they can’t. The modern counterfeiter have fooled everyone. We need a non-subjective test to authoritatively test and prove that what we buy is what we are expecting.
Taste olive oil when your palate is in top shape, not when you have a cold or even the slightest bit of allergies (both will diminish your ability to detect the subtle tones and nuances in extra virgin olive oil). Its common to use bits of freshly baked bread (California Sourdough is my favorite), but to truly and fully experience everything that the precious oil has to offer, it is suggested that you sip a small amount, swish it around your palate suck in a bit of air and notice the various flavors that bloom in your mouth.

Is there a grassy, herbaceous bite at first taste? Subtle olive flavor then rolling off to a black pepper finish? Or are the notes of fruit or something else?

All these items comprise the flavor profile of the oil. Each olive variation, brand, as well as each harvest and environmental conditions each year can have profound effects on the flavor experience.

Fragrance

One of my favorite joys is not just the taste of a good extra virgin olive oil, its the fragrance when heated in a cooking pan. Yes, I know that heating Olive Oil will destroy many of the good health benefits, but we don’t deep fry in our household, its not a problem. We do however put some olive oil in a pan and gently heat our meals so the wonderful aroma fills our home with fond memories of family events, exotic caribbean foods being prepared continuously in the kitchen that is filled with the sounds of happy people joyously creating heartfelt memories for the rest of us.

Having tried every olive oil I could get my hands on, and putting them in the pan to enjoy its aromatic goodness, I was quite surprised today when I smelled this incredible bouquet wafting through our home. The fragrance permeated me completely, reaching deep inside and filling me with flashes from previous wonderful meals, throughout my life.

This amazing fragrance was familiar yet somehow better than anything I could remember, so I had to ask my wife what she was cooking. It turned out to be that she got a hold of the bottle of Goya brand extra virgin olive oil, that I had purchased for testing. I had completely forgotten just how wonderful Goya was, and I highly recommend that you find a bottle (in the Hispanic isle of your better supermarkets, Goya is the biggest, most well known hispanic food brand) and heat it gently in a wide pan and see how your family reacts. Adding minced garlic and shallots to the Goya will only send them into ecstasy, at least that is what happens in my household.

I’m convinced that Goya has a master blender working for them, not only to make their extra virgin olive oil consistently good from year to year, I suspect that the blender pays as careful attention to the amazing bouquet that is released when heated, as they do to the taste of their marvelous oil, when its cold.

Imports

In the U.S., its believed that imported olive oil, from Spain, is far less likely to be adulterated, because the olive oils from Greece and Italy are well know to be mostly fraudulent in one way or another. Although there is no guarantee that Spanish olive oil will always be pure, there have been two documented cases of arrests due to fraud, the Spanish government and University system take it very seriously and work very hard to produce a superior product. So ultimately, the odds are in your favor if you buy extra virgin olive oil from either California or Spain.

There is more fraudulent extra virgin olive oil in the U.S. than anywhere else, because we are so far away from the producers that they feel they can’t get caught. They purposely focus the majority of their sales to the U.S. to avoid prosecution and for the high profit margin that they can get.

Spain has twice the acreage of second place Italy and third place Greece, so their economy is highly dependent on this revenue, resulting in a far more serious attitude towards the quality of their product. Spain also produces more oil per acre than any other region, making t the top producer of olive oil in the world.14

Tips and Traps

“Harvest Date” or “Crop Date”

Is a good thing to find on the label. While there are many fine quality olive oils that aren’t dated, it really helps the consumer when they are. Best results are when the oil is consumed within 24 moths of harvest. Its possible to get oil that is barely a few months old and those are the ones that I actively seek out.

Don’t be fooled by “Bottled Date”, it really means nothing to me, unless the producer clearly states that the olive oil was bottled the same day that it was harvested, otherwise its just sitting around absorbing oxygen, which is definitely not a good thing.

Olive oil that is labeled with a “best if used by” date, are the same to me as oils that have no date. Its meaningless. Don’t rely on it.

Olive Oil from Portugal has traditionally been made from olives that have been put into a storage system (silo, etc.) after picking. This aging process causes the oil to extract easier but it also greatly increases the level of acidity in the olive oil, which is undesirable. Avoid these oils and try to get olive oil that is certified or tested to have acidity that is 0.4% or lower. There are countries and organizations that claim that acidity in olive oil up to 0.8% is acceptable, but personally I side with Spain, where I trust their olive oil (and have personally used their olive oil for over 50 years) and because the Spaniards cutoff for extra virgin olive oil is 0.4%, as it should be.

Expensive olive oil isn’t always better

The one “rule” I found that seemed to actually work, when selecting olive oil, is that the closer the farm is to you, the easier it is to get a great oil. Its simple math, if the tree is closer to you then its takes less time and fewer middlemen to put it into your hands.

That doesn’t mean that you can enjoy imported oil, you can. And it also does not mean that all expensive oil is a rip off, they can have characteristics that are worth the cost, if you can appreciate it.

In the US, we have great, world class, olive oil from California, but they are produced by hand in small batches so its easy to buy much cheaper oil fro overseas, its up to yo to figure out if your getting a good deal or if you’re buying garbage

Certifying Seals

There are certifying seals, mostly in European olive oil, that are supposed to verify that the olive oil came from a specific region. My take on it is that I have not seen any international police organization shut down a company and seize its assets for fraud, yet we know tat olive oil fraud has been rampant for at least 2,000 years.

If these fraudsters are bold enough to sell you rancid products or olive oil that has been watered down with cheap oils, what makes you think that they wouldn’t stamp a fake seal on the bottle?

Keep in mind that Certifying Seals only work inside the country that supplied the seal, and even in that case, it only works if their police departments aggressively manage the situation.

Since we are so far away, in the US of A, the country of origin might never know if a counterfeit seal was being used here. How would they? What could they do about it, since its outside their borders. Don’t rely on certifying seals verify what you are buying then find a way to double check that verification.

California Olive Oil Council seal for Extra Virgin Olive Oil

California Olive Oil Council seal for Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

Label information is often used to confuse and defraud the consumer. Bottles of extra virgin olive oil labeled “Imported From Italy” means that the oil was shipped to Italy and bottled there, its means nothing else. Typically that means that oil was shipped in bulk from another country processed indifferently, bottled in Italy and then shipped to the consumer. Occasionally the label will note the country of origin for the olives, so its clear that its not Italy. This is not generally a good practice since olives are very delicate and will likely be bruised, split, damaged, rancid and otherwise not the product that we pay a premium for.

Acidity

Extra virgin olive oil must have low acidity by definition. Since its not water soluble it cannot be tested by pH but rather by percentage. This is unfortunate because we cannot use pH test strips and must rely on label certification to determine acidity levels. Since there is such an excessive amount of fraud in the extra virgin olive oil industry, I just don’t trust what is stamped on a bottle, know who you are buying from, do your research and maintain wariness. Different organizations set different standards for acidity, the International Oil Council4 and the United States’ FDA sets it at 0.8%15, the California Olive Oil Council sets it at 0.5%16 and the very highest quality standard is found in Spain at 0.4% maximum acidity.
Free acidity in extra virgin olive oil is an indicator of ripeness at the time of harvest, so we can use this level to determine if an olive was overripe at the time of picking. The goal is to not pick overripe olives so we can get higher quality oil.
There is one way to get even lower acidity in extra virgin olive oil, and that is to not crush or grind it but rather to allow the freshly picked olives to yield their oil by simply allowing it to drip out by gravity after a course grinding (no pressing). This is called Flor de Aceite (Flower of the Oil) and is extremely rare, requiring at least double the amount of olives to produce the same amount of oil.
Flor de Aceite can yield extra virgin olive oil with an acidity of only 0.2%, delivering superior flavor and bouquet. It seems to me that this may be how olive oil was originally collected before profit motive became important enough to implement modern extraction methods.

Restaurant Fraud

Its not unusual for a restaurant to refill empty extra virgin olive oil bottles with inferior oils (sometimes they are not even olive oil at all, which is an absolute and complete rip off for their clients, so in Italy they have started to try to combat the rampant problem there with olive oil bottle closures that cannot be refilled, in compliance with Italian Law.8

Discount Olive Oil

If a olive oil is cheap, its probably gone bad or isn’t really olive oil. You get what you pay for and if you don’t pay much, you won’t get any value. News stories of arrests in Europe, related to millions of Euros worth of otherwise fraudulent olive oil should serve as a warning to you, this is not a product that yo can go cheap with, your health is worth so much more.

Home Testing Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The “Fridge Test”

is no longer a valid test to see if you have authentic oil or not. The concept that olive oil thickens and clouds up in the refrigerator, used to work, to detect fraud, but is just no longer a valid test.

(All oil will freeze solid in the freezer, so that is not and never was a valid test. Don’t do it.)
What the Fridge Test was supposed to do was to prove that an olive oil had been adulterated because olive oil will thicken up into a sludge (and typically turn cloudy) at approximately 39 degrees. Oils that used to be used for creating counterfeit olive oil (safflower oil, canola oil, soy oil and others) would lower the thickening point of the oil mix so if that oil did not thicken up then it could be detected as a fake.

Unfortunately, this does not work today. High oleic acid versions of safflower and other oils, now exist and render the test useless because they thicken up at the same temperature as true olive oil. To make things more complex, expensive, pure olive oil is sometimes filtered (to keep its clear, pristine appearance), knowing that American consumers will often put the oil in the fridge to attempt to extend its life. This changes the temperature at which it thickens up so a perfectly healthy, pure olive oil will appear to be a fraud. We need a better test, one that is simple, easy and consistently reliable.

The Burn Test

Its often said that olive oil will burn in an oil burning lamp, while others won’t. I’ve not seen a true evidence to back this up and just don’t believe that this could be real. Oils and fats burn, it seems unlikely that every possible cheap won’t burn, it just makes no sense.
My suspicion is that in the ancient days, counterfeit lamp oil was also being sold to the unsuspecting public. The lowest grade of olive oil in Italy has been known as Lampare (for lamp use) so it seems logical to assume that olive oil based lamp oil would be tested simply by checking to see if it burned. Olive oil also has a wonderful aroma when heated so I suspect that the presence of the fragrance could have also been used as an indicator that this oil was olive based, so its obvious that the ability for an oil to burn is not an indicator that its pure olive oil.
This test was valid for testing lamp fuel but it in no way proves that its extra virgin olive oil.
I’m passing on this one and do not plan to burn any of my previous extra virgin olive oils.

Serious Testing Equipment

Olive oil can be tested scientifically for adulteration25 26 27. The only method I found, so far, to be able to test Olive Oil authenticity yourself, at home, reliably, is to use a microlab like the Oxitester.
Oxitester for testing Olive Oil

Oxitester for testing Olive Oil

Oxitester enables the user to monitor the quality of … vegetable oils. It can be used for olive oil, avocado oil, palm oil, essential oils etc. CDR’s proprietary technology enables one to determine in real time changes in acidity, amounts of peroxides and polyphenols”.

Yes, this unit will test Polyphenols in olive oil. I bet you’re thinking the same thing that I’m thinking. It would be great if your local store would test their oils and post the Polyphenol count for consumers. They don’t need to certify its accuracy to NASA standards, they just need to show the relative difference between the oils. As a by product, fake oils would rapidly avoided by the stores and everyone would benefit.

This unit is more expensive than the average consumer would be willing to spend, but if I get enough stores willing to pay me for testing their products, I would be happy to use mine and perform the tests for you. This way you’ll know if there was an anomalous product being delivered to you and you could reject it the same day. I’ll even offer a rapid response service to those interested and get you an analysis within an hour, plus travel time to you. Let me know your interest.

There is also a new product in development called the Tellspec Scanner. Its a laser spectrometer thats intended for use in analyzing for for allergens and toxic chemicals. Its proposed advantage is its potentially low cost, estimated at #320 in December 2013. No production units have been manufactured yet but this could be a good way to sort out obvious frauds. I don’t know if this unit will be sensitive enough to perform polyphenol counts but it might be able to detect if an oil has been adulterated with anything other than olives. Only time will tell what the Tellspec Scanner will do for us.

Storage

The simplest things you can do to hold on to as much life as your olive oil has to offer is to:
  • Store it in a Cool location
  • Ensure its a dark place, without light and certainly no sunlight, ever
  • Cap the bottle tightly after each use

Dark Bottle Fable

Another “test” is that the best olive oils come in opaque bottles. The truth is that many premium quality, fresh, 100% pure extra virgin olive oils comes in clear bottles. Yes, it would make sense if they all came in dark bottles, since exposure to light spoils olive oil, but its up to you to store it correctly. Store them somewhere that light will not affect them and you’ll be fine.
Half of the bottles I tested this week had clear bottles, all of them were good, and only two that were top rated by others had opaque bottles. Its time to let this myth go.
Bobs Olive Oils

Quality olive oils, By Dr Bob Tech Blog

Olive Oil Color Counts

Actually, no, it doesn’t. In all my testing I have never found a correlation between color, flavor and quality. Its nice to read about the various colors, as described by flowery writers, but the truth is that other than enjoying its esthetics, you can find pale yellow, crystal clear olive oils that have amazing flavor, and you can find deep green, nearly opaque unfiltered olive oil that is not very interesting at all.
Often, manufacturers will process olive oil in a way to change its color, without changing the inherent goodness of the product. Olive oils that are filtered gently or mechanically will look crystal clear and not thicken or freeze at refrigerator temperatures. This is done to offer the consumer a product that is consistent pretty and does not look to have clogged up or failed in ay way. These filtered oils are no better or worse than unfiltered oils and freezing extra virgin olive oil does extend its shelf life so there is no problem to storing it the refrigerator.

You also cannot use color to detect any kind of fake olive oil because counterfeiters have learned how to add colorants to cheap vegetable oils and create colors that lay in the olive oil spectrum. Enjoy the color for esthetics sake, but nothing else.

The Smoke Point Debate

Its long been argued that you cannot use olive oil because it has a low smoke point, that it burns. That is not quite true. What is true is that you can find olive oils that smoke at a lower temperature, because they are unfiltered in amy way and the solid particulates (the tiny chunks of olive that survived the crushing process) are prone to burning.

However, that does not mean that all olive oils are prone to premature burning, they aren’t. First, don’t overheat your pan. Second, don’t use cloudy oils for cooking. They have so many particles (which we like for its flavor and for the hand crafted appearance) that they will burn easily. This is I have personally experienced and can attest to.

In ancient times, olive oil was crushed then used, which meant that it always smoked when overheated or burned. Contemporary olive oils are typically clear because they filtered in one way or another. These oils are used for cooking without smoking, as long as you don’t overheat it. All oils will overheat and burn, at the smoke point, we are just talking a matter of a few degrees here.

Chemistry also plays a role in the smoke point. A cooking oil’s smoke point depends on the amount of “free fatty acids” in the oil. High-quality EVOO, by the way, has low levels of the acids.

“The lower the free fatty acid content, the more stable the fat, and the higher the smoke point,” food expert Harold McGee writes in his book, On Food and Cooking (Scribner, 2004).

To be certified as genuine EVOO, the International Olive Council’s guidelines require that an olive oil must have a free fatty acid content of less than 0.8%. The California Olive Oil Council’s standards are stricter, saying a true EVOO must have an acidity level of less than 0.5%.

“So pay more for a well made extra virgin olive oil with a lower acidity and it’ll reward you with significantly more degrees of heating potential,” says Australian olive oil expert Richard Gawel.  “In fact, the natural preservatives called polyphenols you find in EVOO protect it from heat degradation.” 14 

Personally I would not use my very best gourmet extra virgin olive oils for anything but dipping, but I have several very nice oils that I believe to honestly be extra virgin that I use for cooking, I just make sure that I don’t turn the heat up  too high, just to preserve the wonderful bouquet that only heated olive oil can fill my home with.
If you really want to be able to taste fresh high quality oil, head to your supermarket’s Latin foods section and pick up a bottle of Goya olive oil (as always, be sure to check the date to make sure that the store didn’t have some forgotten cases in the warehouse for more than 12 months). I’ve personally used this oil for over 30 years and its never let me down.

Copyright © 2013, 2014 Robert Lopez ® All rights reserved. May not be copied, duplicated or distributed without the author’s explicit written permission.

Additional Material

Olive Oil Grades4

Retail grades in IOC member nations

In countries that adhere to the standards of the International Olive Council (IOC) the labels in stores show an oil’s grade.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil Comes from virgin oil production only, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. Extra Virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries; the percentage is far higher in the Mediterranean countries (Greece: 80%, Italy: 45%, Spain 30%). It is used on salads, added at the table to soups and stews and for dipping.
  • Virgin olive oil Comes from virgin oil production only, has an acidity less than 1.5%, and is judged to have a good taste.
  • Pure olive oil. Oils labeled as Pure olive oil or Olive oil are usually a blend of refined and virgin production oil.
  • Olive oil is a blend of virgin and refined production oil, of no more than 2% acidity. It commonly lacks a strong flavor.
  • Olive pomace oil is refined pomace olive oil often blended with some virgin oil. It is fit for consumption, but may not be described simply as olive oil. It has a more neutral flavor than pure or virgin olive oil, making it unfashionable among connoisseurs; however, it has the same fat composition as regular olive oil, giving it the same health benefits. It also has a high smoke point, and thus is widely used in restaurants as well as home cooking in some countries.
  • Lampante oil is olive oil not suitable as food; lampante comes from olive oil’s long-standing use in oil-burning lamps. Lampante oil is mostly used in the industrial market.
  • Refined olive oil is the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods that do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure. It has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams (0.3%) and its other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category in this standard. This is obtained by refining virgin olive oils with a high acidity level and/or organoleptic defects that are eliminated after refining. Note that no solvents have been used to extract the oil, but it has been refined with the use of charcoal and other chemical and physical filters.

Retail grades in the United States from the USDA

As the United States is not a member, the IOC retail grades have no legal meaning in that country; terms such as “extra virgin” may be used without legal restrictions but as of October 25, 2010, the U.S. Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil went into effect. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently has a four-part grading of olive oil based on acidity, absence of defects, odor and flavor4:

  • 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 oil of poor flavor and odor;
  • 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;

These grades are voluntary. Certification is available from the USDA on a fee-for-service basis.

Composition of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil is composed mainly of the mixed triglyceride esters of oleic acid and palmitic acid and of other fatty acids, along with traces of squalene (up to 0.7%) and sterols (about 0.2% phytosterol and tocosterols). The composition varies by cultivar, region, altitude, time of harvest, and extraction process3:

  • Saturated fats Palmitic acid: 7.5–20.0%
  • Stearic acid: 0.5–5.0%
  • Arachidic acid: <0.6%
  • Behenic acid: <0.3%
  • Myristic acid: <0.05%
  • Lignoceric acid: <0.2%
  • Unsaturated fats yes
  • Monounsaturated fats Oleic acid: 55.0–83.0%
  • Palmitoleic acid: 0.3–3.5%
  • Polyunsaturated fats Linoleic acid: 3.5–21.0 %
  • α-Linolenic acid: <1.0%

Olive Oil References for Scientists5

In searching for a simple home test to verify and validate that the extra virgin olive oil we buy is the real deal that we expected, I started thinking that the only way to reliably determine the authenticity of our olive oils is to have a lab perform a DNA test on the sample. It turns out that engineers in Spain agree with me and have come up with a method to do precisely that.

Their advances in the art of DNA fingerprinting mean they now need‭ ‬only relatively small samples‭ ‬-‭ ‬typically‭ ‬100-200ml‭ ‬-‭ ‬to verify if virgin olive oil is really of the variety and origin claimed.  And unlike chemical and sensory tests‭ ‬-‭ ‬the results of which can at most strongly indicate the oil has been cut with another vegetable oil‭ ‬-‭ ‬finding the DNA of say hazelnut or sunflower oil in olive oil is‭ ‬unequivocal proof of its presence,‭ ‬they say.

Although this is not something we can do at home, nor is it something that the average person is likely to be willing to pay for, its an enormous leap for al of us, once we enact a mechanism for applying this test on a shared basis and reliably publish the test results.
Once we have verified that the product is truly olive oil and nothing else, then we might be able to rely on taste tests to determine if an oil is worthy of our hard earned money.

Techniques involved in analyzing olive oil, via mass spectrometer, available from Amazon:

Authentication of Virgin Olive Oil Using NMR and Isotopic Fingerprinting (Food Science and Technology) [Paperback] M. Rosa Alonso-salces (Author), Jose M. Moreno-rojas (Author), Margaret V. Holland (Author), Claude Guillou (Author)

While the average family does not have access to a mass spectrometer, we can all help by spreading the word and illuminating the demand so that those with laboratory equipment will be encouraged to perform these tests for us.

An Overview of the Authentication of Olive Tree and Oil7

Adulteration of virgin olive oil with less expensive oils is a serious problem for the public and quality control evaluators of olive oil. That is why olive oil authenticity has become a major issue for producers, consumers, and policy makers. In order to avoid fraud to consumers, it is crucial to study the traceability of olive oil. This review covers 2 important techniques, analytical, and molecular methods, used to characterize olive oil and detect possible adulteration. Several analytical techniques are discussed for the detection of olive oil adulteration by analyzing minor and major compounds of olive oil. However, the chemical composition of olive oil can dramatically change due to the environmental and processing conditions. For this reason, the DNA-based technologies are gaining greater attention now because they are not influenced by environmental conditions and provide an opportunity for direct comparison of different genetic materials. In this review, we emphasize the great potential of different authenticity methods and discuss their practical implementation in olive oil traceability.

Space Lasers vs. Olive Oil Fraud

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory6 has using a space laser, originally invented to detect carbon on Mars, detected the carbon signature of olive oil, helping to create another technique to determine olive oil fraud.
The laser, known as an ‘isotope radio-meter’, was created by the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK and is used to scan for very small quantities of gas to identify isotopes in space. Different molecules have a ‘unique fingerprint spectrum’, allowing easy identification … To detect fraudulent food using the device, a few milligrams of the product is burnt. During the burning, carbon dioxide is released which can be tested with the laser. This produces the unique carbon fingerprint for the product which can then be compared to a sample that is known to be a true product from the same geographical location. In this way it is possible to tell if an olive oil genuinely comes from a specific location or if it is a fake.
  • Look for oil that has 0.4% acidity or less for best flavor and as a secondary indicator of high quality.
  • The best oil is the freshest oil. That is why you cannot rely on oil tasting competitions, because the pattern appears to be that the winners are always the producers that are closest to the competition’s venue, regardless of where in the world the competition is held.
  • Get the smallest bottle possible. You can’t economize when it comes to olive oil, getting too large a bottle ensures that the oil will go rancid before you finish it because every time you pour some oil out, you are letting a lot of oxygen in, which quickly damages the oil, reducing its delicate flavor then ultimately spoiling it. Don’t try to economize, you’re only hurting yourself.
  • Polyphenol Count is what we look for to receive the health benefits that we read about in the medical studies. Higher is better. Its said that Polyphenols offer a biting sensation at the back of he tongue, sort of like black pepper. I can detect this rather easily but not everyone senses it this way, some people detect it as bitter and many people are not conscious of it at all. In some cases, I noticed that oils that were tested to have very high Polyphenol Counts were not always very peppery to me, so this seems to be an unreliable test.
  • Just because a judge in an olive oil competition likes an oil, it does not mean that you will like it. Only you can be your own final judge, find a store that offers free samples and taste it yourself.
  • What do I want to see oil producers do is to label every bottle with the date of harvest, date the olives were processed into oil and date it was bottled. This is good for the consumer and therefore good for the producer. Its not too much to ask for, this very process was done 2,000 years ago in the time of the Caesars, apparently it was a big problem in the Roman empire, and it still is today.
  • General Tips: buy locally, from a producer that you have tasted the batch you are buying, look for the harvest dates on the label, and hope that you can find an independent assay that includes the Polyphenol count (more is better). You can try an detect the peppery bite at the back of your throat but I found that most people need training to actually notice it. If not then look for the producer’s claim, on the bottle, this is rare now but if we demand it then more will do it.
  • Tasting and smelling the extra virgin olive oil yourself is important. Not only will you find that a judge’s palate will be different from your own, so will that of your friends and family.

Quality assessment and authentication of virgin olive oil by NMR spectroscopy: A critical review

Photis Daisa, , , Emmanuel Hatzakisb
a NMR Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, University of Crete, Voutes Campus, 71003 Heraklion, Crete, Greece
b Penn State Department of Chemistry, 104 Chemistry Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy has been extensively used for the analysis of olive oil and it has been established as a valuable tool for its quality assessment and authenticity. To date, a large number of research and review articles have been published with regards to the analysis of olive oil reflecting the potential of the NMR technique in these studies. In this critical review, we cover recent results in the field and discuss deficiencies and precautions of the three NMR techniques (1H, 13C, 31P) used for the analysis of olive oil.

Footnotes

UC Davis Report DRAFT: TESTS INDICATE OLIVE OIL LABELED AS “EXTRA VIRGIN” OFTEN FAILS INTERNATIONAL AND U.S. STANDARDS  Tests indicate that imported “extra virgin”olive oil often fails international and USDA standards Frankel, E. N.; Mailer, R. J.; Shoemaker, C. F.; Wang, S. C.; Flynn, J. D.-UCDavis Olive Center 2010Gardiner, Alan H. (1916). Notes on the Story of Sinuhe. Paris: Librairie Honoré Champion.

Fat content in Olive OilOlive Oil Grades, Regulation

4 International Olive Oil Council standards

Technique developed to detect potential olive oil fraud. (Press release in Spanish from of the Spain’s National Research Council’s Zaidín Experimental Station.)

 ‘Space Laser’ Can Detect Fraudulent Olive Oil

7 An Overview of the Authentication of Olive Tree and Oil – Rayda Ben-Ayed1,2, Naziha Kamoun-Grati3, Ahmed Rebai4,* – Article first published online: 11 MAR 2013 – DOI: 10.1111/1541-4337.12003

8 Italian Regulation nr. 2 dated 10th January 2006 that does not allow the topping up of the olive bottles present in the distribution channel HO.RE.CA.

 Guardia Civil: La Guardia Civil desarticula una organización que mezclaba aceites de baja calidad para comercializarlo como si fuera de oliva

10 Your Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Is Fake from the book: Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

11 Olive Oil’s Growers, Chemists, Cooks and Crooks By DWIGHT GARNER Published: December 7, 2011 The New York Times

12 101 Health Benefits of Olive Oil by EthnicHealth

13 Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller – review by The Guardian

14 Economic analysis of the olive sector – European Commission, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development Latest update: July 2012

14 The “Smoke Point” by Claude S. Weiller California Olive Ranch March 02 2010

15 United States Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil United States Federal Register October 24 2010

16 California Olive Oil Council standards

17  “Extra Virgin”  .   .   .  What’s It Mean? All Things Olive 

18  The effect of olive oil polyphenols on antibodies against oxidized LDL. A randomized clinical trial Science Direct

19 Olive oil consumption, plasma oleic acid, and stroke incidence The Three-City Study Neurology.org

20 Fruit, vegetables, and olive oil and risk of coronary heart disease in Italian women: the EPICOR Study The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

21 Source of major health benefits in olive oil revealed Eurekalert Press Release

22 Phytochemicals Make Olive Oil Even More Awesome Than Previously Believed Science 2.0

23 The Mediterranean diet: The reasons for a success Bonaccio, Marialaura; Iacoviello, Licia; de Gaetano, Giovanni; on behalf of the Moli-sani Investigators, Giovanni

24 Beneficial Properties of Olive Oil Helen M Roche et. al.

25 Detecting and Quantifying Sunflower Oil Adulteration in Extra Virgin Olive Oils from the Eastern Mediterranean by Visible and Near-Infrared Spectroscopy GERARD DOWNEY, PETER MCINTYRE, AND ANTONY N. DAVIES 

26 Identification of adulterants in olive oils I., Wesley; F., Pacheco; A., McGill

27 Quality Evaluation of Olives, Olive Pomace and Olive Oil by Infrared Spectroscopy  Ivonne Delgadillo, António Barros and Alexandra Nunes Department of Chemistry, QOPNA Research Unit, University of Aveiro Portugal

28 The Olive Tree: The Origin and Expsnion of the Olive Tree International Olive Oil

29 Can American Virginity Be Saved? By TOM MUELLER The Wall Street Journal

 

 

 

 

 

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