Olive Oil Comparison and the Olive Oil Mafia
What I'm going to tell you about today is not pleasant, and the reasons behind it are as old as time: plain old greed; but I won't leave you hanging, there IS a simple solution to the whole dilemma. It's the same as the solution to many of the problems brought up around here: know what you're buying and research those who grow your food.
Click here for the kind of organic extra virgin olive oil that we use (and learn about a 10% off discount there, too). Or keep reading for more information.
Here's how I found out about all of this…
If you're a real foodie even a little, you'll love this book: Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil
There's so much in here that I want to share, you really need to know this stuff, so here are a few excerpts:
The enormous popularity of the “Made in Italy” label worldwide makes it an appetizing target for food fraudsters, who earn an estimated €60 billion a year selling counterfeit or adulterated faux-Italian foods. In some of these crimes, mafia syndicates and other criminal networks sell substandard or unsafe products at huge profits.”
Olive oil is one of the most frequently adulterated food products in the EU; within Europe, the problem is particularly acute in Italy, the leading importer, consumer, and exporter of olive oil and the hub of the world olive oil trade.”
“Many olive oil scams involve straightforward mixing of low-grade vegetable oils, flavored and colored with plant extracts and sold in tins and bottles emblazoned with the Italian flags or paintings of Mount Vesuvius, together with the folksy names of imaginary producers. More sophisticated scams, like Domenico Ribatti's (that whole story is explained elsewhere in the book), typically take place in high-tech laboratories, where cheaper oils of various kinds, made from olives, but also from seeds and nuts, are processed and blended in ways that are extremely difficult to detect with chemical tests.”
“Before this oil can be sold as food, it's piped into a refinery in an adjoining building for desolventization, deacidification, deodorization, degumming, and other chemical processes. The resulting clear, odorless, tasteless fat is blended with a small quantity of extra virgin olive oil to give it flavor, and is sold as “olive pomace oil. This substance is a poor cousin to extra virgin olive oil, with a dubious past. From time to time, Italian and EU health inspectors have detected toxins, mineral oil, and carcinogenic material in pomace oil; there have been Europe-wide health alerts for contaminated pomace oil, leading to product recalls and confiscations. In Italy, pomace extraction plants don't even need to be certified as food production facilities. Yet the pomace oil industry is widely subsidized by the EU, as well as by the national governments of Spain, Italy, and other oil-producing countries. Pomace oil is used extensively in the food service industry and in many restaurants, as well as as an ingredient in foods such as pizza, pasta sauces, and snack foods, where it is typically marketed as healthy-sounding “olive oil”.”
Think the olive oil in America must be labeled correctly? (Hopefully you know by now that we can't trust the government to keep our food safe, but anyway, keep reading…)
Some of the oil was bought by Italian companies, but the bulk was shipped to distributors in the United States, who sold it as Italian olive oil. According to Guardia di Finanza investigators, AgriAmerica customers included some of the largest olive oil distributors in America, including East Coast Olive Oil (now part of the Portuguese food giant Sovena), America's leading olive oil importer and private label bottler; the supermarket group Wakefern Food; and Sysco, the biggest food service distributor in North America. (There is no evidence that these companies knew the origin of the oil they bought from Marseglia — a grower accused of multiple olive oil crimes.) The fact that most people don't associate these names with olive oil shows how completely the business is in the hands of intermediaries, and how many middlemen stand between the consumer and the groves.”
Hopefully this gives you an idea of the corruption involved, and I've only shared a tiny bit of what I learned in the book.
Traditional real extra virgin olive oil is like any other real food: not only is it not BAD for you, like its cheap counterparts are, but it's actually GOOD for you. Many believe that it is a healing food, because it contains powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which help to prevent degenerative conditions, such as cancer.
What about the cost?
And also as with anything else, you get what you pay for. While this oil is affordable, it's not going to be as cheap as the junk you see in your grocery store, because most likely that's not real olive oil!
How I learned about my favorite organic extra virgin olive oil…
A couple of years ago at a Weston Price conference I met and have since become friends with Karl Burgart. He sells olive oil in the U.S. for the Chronis family, who have owned this olive farm in the valley of Sparta, Greece since 1856. Karl's passion for real olive oil is contagious, and learning about the Chronis family who control the whole process of growing, hand-picking and cold-pressing the olives – and that the oil is kept under lock and key, literally, until it gets to the U.S., reassures me that their oil hasn't been tampered with.
The best part…
The TASTE. I love this stuff!!! I love it on my salads, or often use it half and half with pastured butter or grass-fed ghee for roasting my potatoes and veggies (read this about cooking with olive oil – what about heating it/the smoke point, etc.), and it's positively dreamy.
Watch at least part of this video!
Nicholas Chronis is a retired cardiologist and is interviewed here by Karl Burgart. Starting at about 11:20 they talk about how olives and olive oil from the Chronis farm is different compared to the oils that are blended and mixed with cheaper nut or seed oils and with chemicals…