The Heartbreak of Global Olive Oil Fraud—and What to Do About It?
~ NOT TO MENTION ~ WITH ITS ‘LOW SMOKING POINT’ ~ USING IT FOR HEAT APPLICATIONS ~ TURNS IT TO A ‘MOTOR-LIKE’ OI~ IT IS BEST USED FOR SALADS & WARMING ONLY~
~The Same Seems to go for Over-milled flour ~ Type OO milled from Italy ~ ‘disease-causing’ Refined Carbs ~ Plant protein reduce by Over-Milling
Type 1 or 2 ~ IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND the PLANT PROTEIN CONTENT HIGHER THAN 6 GRAMS OF PROTEIN~
In the New York Times bestselling Extra Virginity, Tom Mueller writes both a love letter to ages-old, family-run, small-batch olive oil purveyors and a scathing survey of the widespread global oil fraud that threatens to destroy the entire industry. If you didn’t think a common kitchen ingredient could be fascinating, you would be wrong, as the book is as compelling as any crime novel—it’s also a must-read for anyone who is interested in food health.
As ancient as civilization itself, olive groves have a magical ability to endure—through frost, through fire, through drought—and in turn, their sacred fruit carries some of that power. Rife with polyphenols (powerful antioxidants that ravage free radicals and are believed to prevent numerous cancers, including breast and prostate), oleocanthal (thought to help prevent Alzheimer’s), and other anti-inflammatory compounds, many believe that the health of Mediterraneans is due in large part to their intense consumption of high-quality olive oil. In fact, many shoot it straight down.
This is why it’s so concerning that what lines supermarket shelves—emblazoned with the moniker of extra virgin olive oil—is essentially just deodorized, corrupted, and processed liquid fat, full of the free radicals it purports to attack. In fact, in Extra Virginity, one character Mueller meets, Leonardo Marseglia, the managing director of a big oil conglomerate, suggests that only 2 percent of the world’s olive oil qualifies as extra virgin, that 8 percent is “good,” while 9 percent is “decent.” Much of that 90 percent is referred to as lampante, aka lamp oil, and not suitable for human consumption until refined. On the more tepid end, this “lampante” is made from rotten olives; on the more disturbing end, it might be olive oil, mixed with anything from cheap soy or peanut oil (terrifying for anyone with an allergy) to industrial rapeseed oil, which killed more than a thousand people north of Madrid in the ’80s. The real stuff, the very good stuff, is much like wine: Every harvest carries with it the imprimatur of its trees, of the season, of the environment—and you can taste this sense of place, marked by the important hallmarks of fruitiness, pepperiness, and bitterness. The very fact that what most of us consume in the United States is homogeneous in taste indicates the extreme extent to which it has been doctored, blended, and deodorized.
One potential upside in this global, widespread fraud endemic is that the industry is beginning to boom in the United States, where artisanal companies, particularly in California, are starting to produce very good oil. Meanwhile, the University of California, Davis recently opened an Olive Center, where they are pushing the olive oil agenda, testing supermarket oils (they conducted a test with the Australian Oils Research Laboratory and found that 6 percent of oils were not extra virgin at all), and establishing new standards. This gives Mueller and others hope, because as American consumers become more adept at distinguishing good oil, and as market share increases (the US is in third place in consumption at just under 1 liter per person—hilariously, just 4 percent of the amount that the average Greek consumes), they can demand reform.
Below, Mueller—a freelance journalist based in Italy who writes for The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, et al., explains a bit more—along with how to find good oils. (He also maintains a comprehensive database on his own site, Truth in Olive Oil.)
A Q&A with Tom Mueller
Much of the book revolves around the degradation of olive oil and pervasive olive oil fraud—what are companies doing to trick the public, and what are the implications?
There are a range of different ways that fraud manifests, though it comes down to the basic principle of buying low and selling high. It’s the key to good business and the key to profitable crime. You can do this in a number of ways with olive oil. The most common is to blend in low-grade olive oil, or other vegetable oils like soybean oil or sunflower oil, which are much cheaper, then sell the resulting mix as “extra virgin olive oil.” I sympathize with the FDA here in the states: It is an extremely important organization that is systemically understaffed and underfunded, meaning that it can’t achieve its mission. And its mission is to ensure that the food and drugs in America are safe for consumers. They don’t have the bandwidth to look into olive oil because it’s too far down the list of priorities when it comes to health risks.
That said, there have been instances in the world where it hasn’t just been an innocuous mix of cheaper vegetable oils. In an extreme case in 1981: 1,200 people died almost instantly and 25,000 people were hospitalized with neurological damage north of Madrid. It was from consuming olive oil that was in large part industrial rapeseed oil. It had an additive in it called aniline, which is a severe neurotoxin. It was one of the worst food catastrophes and food poisoning events in world history. And nobody talks about it.
Here’s the thing: It could happen again because people are playing really fast and loose with olive oil—think about the number of people with a soybean or peanut allergy who have been exposed to adulterated oil that’s been mixed with peanut or soy oil. This is all ironic, because real olive oil is one of the healthiest foods that we know of.
“So when companies refine this really rotten, horrible olive oil, you get something flavorless, odorless—it’s like deodorizing a corpse—it’s still dead, but it doesn’t stink.”
Besides mixing with cheaper oils (for example, soybean costs one tenth of what EVOO costs), you’ll also find companies engaging in the illegal processing of really bad olive oil. It might be from olives that have been sitting on the ground for months, olives that are essentially rotten. They make an ugly, inedible oil that you can’t imagine putting in your mouth, but then it’s refined at a very low temperature, which takes the taste of rancidity out.
Olives are stone fruits like cherries or plums. And much like fruit juice, extra virgin olive oil should be made from freshly squeezed olives. It’s literally fresh juice—sure, olive oil keeps better than citrus, but you don’t squeeze your oranges on July 1, and drink the juice on August 27.
So when companies refine this really rotten, horrible olive oil, you get something flavorless, odorless—it’s like deodorizing a corpse—it’s still dead, but it doesn’t stink. For the time being, it doesn’t offend your senses because you’ve knocked out the sensory characteristics. The really messed up thing is that you’re selling it NOT ONLY as something edible, but as something that is super healthy.
These are the illegal dodges.
But then there are the legal frauds—things like labeling olive oil “extra light.” I lurk around supermarkets sometimes—the scenes of most of these crimes—and cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen women, in particular, gravitate to those bottles. It has the same 120 calories per tablespoon as any other olive oil—it just happens to have all the goodness refined out of it. This is illegal in Europe, but still legal in the States.