Today, I hope you’re keeping an eye on your turkey, basting it frequently with good, quality olive oil.
As I often report, olive oil offers many health benefits. Perhaps most notably, it prevents metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke.
Of course, people often opt for “virgin” or “extra virgin” olive oil in cooking and dressing their salads, thinking it’s a lighter oil. But the terms “virgin” and “extra virgin” actually refer to the “grade” or quality/purity of the oil. Extra virgin is the highest grade. Virgin is the second highest grade. And regular olive oil is the lowest grade.
Unfortunately, several recent investigations show that many olive oil manufacturers get away with putting the term “extra virgin” on their label, but the oil is actually inferior in quality.
In a moment, I’ll give you some helpful hints for spotting imposters and finding the “real deal.” First, though, let’s take a closer look at this scandal sweeping supermarkets all across the country.
Bloodshed over olive oil
They take olive oil very seriously in Italy. And in America, organized crime used olive oil imports as a “front” to launder money from illegal activities. In fact, this illicit operation served as the basis for one of the most famous movies of all time, The Godfather.
Remember the young Antonio Andolini from Corleone, Sicily, who became Don Corleone in New York? He set up Genco Olive Oil Company as his front. Of course, he also really grew, produced and imported olive oil from Sicily. He used a can of Genco olive oil as a prop to get close enough to Don Ciccio to deliver long-delayed justice, exclaiming e quest’ e per te! (Translation: And this is for you.)
But the olive oil scandal goes far beyond the big screen…
Cheap, diluted products flood U.S. market
Today, all kinds of companies, not just the mob, commit crimes involving olive oil. Turns out, many companies that make extra virgin olive oil dilute their products with cheaper, lower-grade oils like canola, safflower, or sunflower oils.
In 2008, more than 400 Italian police officers conducted a sting operation called “Operation Golden Oil.” (It sounded better in Italian, Operazione Olio di Oliva d’Oro.) The sting netted 23 arrests and confiscation of 85 farms and olive orchards. Of course, there may have been more to this law enforcement campaign than the oil, floating on the surface.
Because of the Italian raids, Australia made their home-grown olive oil companies submit samples of their brands for lab testing to use “extra virgin olive oil” label. Every single company failed. Researchers at University of California then tested 124 different samples from eight major brands of olive oil. Seventy percent of the imported oils failed.
Popular brands that failed to meet the extra virgin testing were: Antica Badi, Bertolli, Carpelli, Colavita, Coricelli, Pompeian, Santa Sabina, Sasso, Star, and even Trader Joe’s extra virgin olive oil. In addition, Filippo Berio, Mazola, Mazzetta, Newman’s Own, Safeway, and, of course, Whole Foods, all sell fake, marked up olive oil.
So, chances are, the bottle of extra virgin or virgin olive oil in your kitchen cabinet isn’t genuine.
Fortunately, you can test for fake oils yourself. Simply refrigerate the oil. It should become more solid as it gets colder. That means it contains mostly monounsatured fat.
If your oil doesn’t become thick and cloudy in the refrigerator, you know it’s probably a fake or a lower grade oil.
Of course, the ancients knew that olive oil should be pure enough to keep a flame burning in an oil lamp. If the oil doesn’t keep the wick of a lamp burning, you know it contains mostly adulterated oils.
But there are easier ways to get genuine, quality extra virgin olive oil.
First of all, brands that passed the University of California test were: Bariani, California Olive Ranch, Corto, Kirkland Organic, Lucero (Ascolano), Lucini, McEvoy Ranch Organic, Olea Estates and Ottavio were all 100 percent extra virgin olive oil.
In addition, you can look for the seal denoting approval by the California Olive Oil Council, labeled as “COOC Certified Extra Virgin.” Seals of approval from the Italian Olive Growers’ Association, the Extra Virgin Alliance (EVA), and UNAPROL also signal a good, pure product.
My advice is to stick with trusted brands. And you can also save yourself a few bucks by avoiding “virgin” and “extra virgin” varieties. You will get the same health benefits from ANY grade of olive oil, as long as it is a high-quality brand.
“Your extra-virgin olive oil is fake,” Food Renegade (www.foodrenegade.com) 10/20/2016