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olive oil


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Today's Answer (Published 04/18/2006)


Unfortunately, it appears to be true. I've been doing some research lately on the untold olive oil story, which is a scandal in need of widespread exposure and corrective measures. I'll be reporting on what I've learned this week in response to questions that I've been asked on the subject. As you know, I recommend olive oil as the best all purpose oil, not only for salads but for most cooking needs as well. The monounsaturated fat in olive oil appears to be protective against heart disease, some cancers, and other chronic diseases while saturated fats such as butter and other animal fats and polyunsaturated vegetable oils are associated with increased health risks. (Omega-3 fatty acids from wild salmon and other types of cold water fish also are beneficial to health.)


The highest quality olive oil (the extra-virgin form extracted from fresh olives with gentle pressing) also has a high fraction of antioxidant polyphenols that are very good for you. To qualify as extra-virgin, olive oil must have an acidity of less than one percent. (A few good brands state their acidity on the labels.) In Europe, olive oil must pass rigid taste and chemical tests to be ranked as extra-virgin and must be less than two years old. The age of extra-virgin olive oil is rarely stated on the labels of olive oil sold in the United States.


Most of the olive oil sold in the United States is imported from Italy or Spain. While some Italian and Spanish olive oils are of very high quality, many products sold in the United States as "extra-virgin" may be a lesser grade of olive oil and some may be primarily canola or hazelnut oil to which a small amount of olive oil has been added for color and taste. Some olive oil we get here may come from pomace, the olive pulp left after pressing out the oil. Additional oil can be extracted from pomace by treating it with hexane, a chemical solvent not a good practice. Even when the bottle contains genuine olive oil, it may not be from Italy or Spain as the labels suggest - both countries import huge quantities of cheaper olive oils from Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco or Libya, bottle them and label them "imported from" Italy or Spain. This is deceptive marketing.


Tomorrow, I'll discuss the loopholes in U.S. laws that allow the sale of substandard olive oils here.


Andrew Weil, M.D.


Mention the humble hazelnut to an olive oil fraud expert, and you'll get an earful. The chemical structure of hazelnut oil is remarkably similar to extra virgin olive oil, making it the perfect additive for unethical producers. So much so that at levels of 10 percent or less adulteration, even the best scientists are unable to detect hazelnut oil's presence.

"We really don't have any good chemical handles yet. It's difficult to tell," says Wayne Emmons, Laboratory Director of ITS Caleb Brett in Metairie, Louisiana. "Hazelnut oil and olive oil have high oleie levels," Emmons says, "which makes it difficult to detect the difference. But if you added just 1 percent canola oil to olive oil, I could tell right away."


Ultimately, it's up to consumers to vote with their wallets and to show unethical producers that they won't pay for falsely advertised products. That's the case for professional olive oil buyers, as well. One distributor that the NAOOA caught for selling adulterated oil to a restaurant said in his defense, "I'm a crook, but not in a wrongful way. My customers knew from the lower price that I wasn't selling them 100 percent olive oil."


Here's Dr. Weil's follow-up to the story. (I didn't include the entire article)



The problem has to do with antiquated labeling requirements in this country, which date back to 1948 and use terminology not recognized elsewhere in the world, such as "fancy", "choice" or "standard". Furthermore, the U.S. hasn't established standards for olive oil quality comparable to those existing in Europe. There, extra-virgin olive oil must measure up to strict criteria in order to gain certification from the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) or certifying bodies in individual countries, particularly Italy, Spain, Greece and France, where much of the olive oil in the European market is produced….


As things now stand, only the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) certifies olive oils in this country. It's a great group, worthy of support, but it deals only with olive oils produced in California. The COOC is a member of the IOOC and adheres to the European standards in certifying California-produced oils. Both the COOC and the NAOOA want the U.S. to modernize its regulations governing imported olive oil….


In the meantime, here's a tip: To find out if your olive oil is the real thing, put it in the refrigerator. If it clouds up, it really is olive oil. It will clear up when it returns to room temperature.


Tomorrow, I'll discuss how to find and choose high quality olive oil.


Andrew Weil, M.D.


Choosing Olive Oil?


Here is some additional information that may help:


Be suspicious of low prices. You're not likely to find true extra-virgin olive oil for less than $12 for a 500-ml bottle. The best quality olive oils command very hefty prices. One brand, Manni, a Tuscan olive oil used in the finest restaurants in the U.S. and Europe, sells for about $260 for 30 ounces (that's extreme).

Look for imported oils certified by the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) or by olive oil certifying bodies in Italy (DOP), Spain (DO) or Greece (HEPO). Be wary of any imported oils not marked with the logos of these certifying agencies, and do not be fooled by the term "imported from" these countries, which merely means it has passed through the region on its way to market. Instead, look for "made in" or "manufactured in" to confirm the country of origin.

Look for California olive oils certified by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC). Most of these olive oils come from small producers and are sold locally and via the internet. You can link to individual producers whose oils have been certified via the COOC website http://www.cooc.com . These olive oils tend to be expensive compared to supermarket brands, but at least you can be sure you're getting what you pay for. Be skeptical of any California olive oil lacking the logo of the COOC on the label.

Make sure the oils you buy are no more than one year old. If stored properly, olive oil has a shelf life of about two years so the older the oil, the more likely it is to turn rancid. Good oils will be stamped with a packaging date.

Don't focus on the color of the oil. Good olive oil can range in color from light yellow to green depending on the variety of olives used. Color is no indication of the quality of the oil.

Choose oils contained in dark-colored or opaque containers. Light damages oils. At home, store the oil in a cool, dark place.

If you're buying olive oil in a store that is offering tastings, avoid any with a chemical flavor or odor (the oil is no good if the taste reminds you of nail polish, rubber or PLAY-DOH). You should note the flavor of olives. Good oils also taste fruity, peppery, or may remind you of grass. A little bitterness is okay as long as the taste doesn't overwhelm the oil's flavor.


Andrew Weil, M.D.


Here are links for more info








I really hope that this helps others

Edited by zmanzzzz
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