The switch to olive oil is good for heart health, but not all bottles are the same. In order to not plunk down dollars on a disappointing dip, it is important for the consumer to be aware of the differences.
The labeling “extra-virgin” is earned primarily on taste. The United States Department of Agriculture says the U.S. extra virgin olive oil label is earned with an “excellent flavor and odor and a free fatty acid content, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams.”
The International Olive Council adds that virgin olive oils have to be taken from the fruit of an olive tree, “solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions that do not lead to alterations in the oil.”
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While these global standards are very specific, there are generally problems with enforcement. The United States International Trade Commission recognizes that there are problems with regulatory oversight for the industry. A 2013 report found, “Current standards for extra virgin olive oil are widely unenforced and allow a wide range of olive oil qualities to be marketed as extra virgin.”
While some countries like Canada and the EU do testing on imports labeled extra-virgin olive oil, the United States does not, and while there are standards for the labeling in the U.S. there are no penalties for manufacturers who break the rules.
What that means is that just pulling a bottle labeled olive oil off the shelf at the supermarket does not mean you are getting the health-enhancing product you were hoping to purchase.
To be safe, turn the bottle around and look at the actual ingredients listed in the nutritional information. Make sure that the olive oil is not just labeled extra-virgin on the front. Some will have added refined olive oils, or even a mix of sunflower or canola oils, which will be listed on the label. Both of these additives will lower the health benefit and change the taste of the product. Often there may be a mix of virgin olive oils and refined olive oils.
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For the best health benefits, it is important to find the olive oil that is not refined.
The other issue will be taste. While the extra virgin label is supposed to be added to only the best tasting oils, Consumer Reports
advises that many extra virgin olive oils on the market do not live up to the good taste they are supposed to have. They may taste fermented or stale once you get them home, and not very good for dipping or dribbling.
says that California makes a great product, so it is not always necessary to look to Mediterranean countries to find a good product. Check the harvest date on the label and make sure it is less than two years old.
For the consumer who is really dedicated to finding a good product, try the Flos Olei guide
. This international guide to Extra Virgin Olive Oil can help consumers sort through the frauds and find a healthful olive oil. Just be prepared to pay for it. The less expensive oils are more likely to be the fakes, because they add less expensive products.
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