Have We Been Sold The Olive Oil Dream?

Commercial olive oil, the kind you find lining your local supermarket shelves, is probably not what you think it is. It’s not as pure as it should be and is probably mixed with other cheaper oils, like sunflower seed oil, as well as colorants and preservatives.

The olive oil industry, like so many other foods, is largely unregulated, and can therefore lead to corrupt or unethical practices, which leads to confusion for us, the consumer. If we want to enjoy this healthy kind of fat, we are often misled with factually incorrect labels and marketing hype.

With the US being the 3rd largest global market for olive oil sales ($2b worth in 2015!!), it’s no wonder so many food companies want to jump on board this big business!

Have We Been Sold The Olive Oil Dream?

When you think of olive oil, you probably picture the lush green fields and azure blue waters of Spain, Greece or Italy – somewhere in the Mediterranean where everyone has beautiful skin and hair, and enjoys a healthy diet and an enviable lifestyle.

Thanks to clever marketing, this is the ‘olive oil dream’ we are sold.

And don’t get me wrong, I love using olive oil on my veggies (in tiny amounts) but I want to know where mine has come from. And I’m certainly not going to just take the word of a multi million-dollar food company without doing my own research.

Think about it – if all the olive oil that is marketed as ‘Italian’ was actually grown and bottled there, how much do you think it would actually cost? And do they even have enough space to grow that many olives??!

You might be surprised to learn that Italy actually imports most of its olive oil so you can’t always trust a food label. But you knew that anyway right?!

How Can You Ensure You Get The Best Olive Oil?

  • Read the label. The expiry date should be somewhere around 2 years from the harvest date. And yes, there should be a harvest date for good quality olive oil!
  • Try to buy from this year’s harvest to ensure freshness. Many supermarkets stock olive oil that is misleading because the oil has been stored long before it has been bottled so the two-year gap between harvest and best before date is incorrect.
  • Find authentic olive oil sold in drums and taste it first.
  • Smaller, independent producers are better than big chain names (no surprise there!)
  • Beware of cheap olive oil – a little oil goes a long way so buy the best you can afford and use it sparingly.
  • The taste of real olive oil should give a strong peppery hit and might taste different to most of the commercial oil you’ve had so far.
  • Olives have stones in them (like plums), so real ‘extra virgin olive oil’ is the oil squeezed from olives; it is seasonal and will go off – bear that in mind for long lasting oils as they probably have lots of preservatives in them.
  • As extra virgin olive oil is perishable, it will deteriorate within a few months of milling. This is made worse by bottling (and then opening up the bottle to consume). Another reason to buy as close to the mill as possible, or at least know where the mill is. They are obviously most common in Mediterranean countries but are now becoming much more common in California, Texas and Georgia. Go and visit a local producer to try before you buy.
  • If you buy bottled oil, go for a darker colored glass or container that keeps as much of the light out as possible. Buy smaller containers so you will use it up quicker and it will remain fresher.
  • Keep the container in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and hot areas of the kitchen – I know it’s tempting to keep olive oil next to the stove but it’s not helping the quality at all.
  • Avoid ‘pure’, ‘light’ or ‘pomace’ olive oil labels and always stick with extra virgin olive oil. This ensures it has gone through as little refinement as possible.

Lots more delis and smaller supermarkets are stocking independent olive oils these days so it’s worth checking them out. It can also be fun going to local farmers markets and producers to check out their fresh produce – I guarantee it will always taste nicer and be so much better for you!


Extra Virginity