After all the news about adulterated olive oil in the media, it comes as no surprise that many of us worry if the olive oil we are buying IS actually olive oil or extra virgin olive oil and not a blend of cheaper oils.
Well, I went to the expert with this question. Vasilis Kamvisis, Chemist and official taster for the Greek Ministry of Agriculture for Olive Oil, explained to me that even if an olive oil has that good burning-peppery sensation (presence of polyphenols), it is not a guarantee that the olive oil is extra virgin. First of all, it is important to note that there are good, milder tasting extra virgin olive oils that do not have that burning sensation as they may be from more mature olives or certain olive varieties that generally give a more buttery flavor. But basically he said that if you have a very intense oil in regards to the burning sensation (high polyphenols), and mix it with another oil (vegetable, seed), to the extent that the burning is still quite noticeable, an ordinary consumer would not be able to tell if it is adulterated. He mentions that detection of adulteration in olive oil is difficult even for the experts, if not impossible. According to Kamvisis detection of adulteration would have to be approached through a series of costly tests.
So there you have it, however there are few things one can look for when buying olive oil:
- Minimally it should have an expiration date which is usually about 1 ½ -2 years from harvest date, but even better look for a harvest date. Olive oil should be used ideally within one year of harvest.
- Obviously you want to make sure that it is labeled Extra Virgin Olive Oil as all other olive oils are a blend or made from refined olive oils, which means that it is processed physically and chemically to remove undesirable qualities such a free fatty acids and unpleasant flavor and odor.
- Choose olive oils that show where the olive oil was produced rather than bottled. Good olive oils will also specify the area from where the olive oil was produced as well as the variety of olives.
- Certifications such as PDO and PGI can provide an added degree of security. Also the USDA is in the process of inspecting olive oils based on certain standards.
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