Olive oil is undoubtedly one of nature’s greatest products. As well as being a major provider of those precious omega 3 oils we hear so much about, they also pack a lot of other health benefits, such as monosaturated fats and antioxidants; being able to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and reducing inflammation in the body. It can also be used as a fantastic moisturiser for skin! A key player in most cookery dishes, it’s probably one of the most common kitchen cupboard staples. Especially for those living in Mediterranean countries, and they’re renowned for being very healthy.
In the past I’d never thought twice about swiping a bottle of Tesco’s own brand olive oil off the shelf for my own student kitchen. I only really ever saw it as a cooking tool; a necessity, as opposed to something that can be enjoyed in itself. Then one day, when I decided I wanted to try making my own olive oil spread in an attempt to banish pesky trans-fats from my diet, I became curious as to what brand of olive oil would be the best to do this with. In my online search for the highest-quality olive oil, I got a shock.
As it turns out, many brands of ‘olive oil’ are in fact, not. In addition, I learned that the olive oil industry is actually a rather corrupt business. Oils are usually ‘refined’, meaning that they have been messed with and blended with other types of oil during the manufacturing process. Alternatively, some olive oils are made from olives found on forest floors which are unfit to eat, or taken from the worst part of the plant – usually what becomes known to us as ‘light’ olive oil. That’s why according to olive oil experts, purchasing light olive oil is a huge no-no.
In 2007, a University of California at Davis study revealed that more than two thirds of common brands of extra-virgin olive oil found in California grocery stores aren’t what they claim to be. The oils were either spoiled, unfit to be labelled ‘extra-virgin’, or actually made from soy, nut and fish oils instead. Guilty brands even included the famous Bertolli, Filippo Berio, Whole Foods and Carapelli, all of which are widely circulated olive oil brands, claiming to bring excellent quality and taste. Millions of people were buying these brands every day, believing them to contain the same health benefits as pure olive oil, when in fact, this was far from being the case.
All over the world, various oils are imported and exported; refined and repackaged, before being sold onwards as pure olive oil, apparently suitable for culinary use. There have even been countless reports of harmful substances such as aniline, which is a compound used in producing plastics, finding their way into batches of olive oil before passed from supplier to trader. Although such stories may now be limited to only certain parts of the world since new legislation laws have been passed regarding the olive oil trade, that’s still not to say that what we consume on an everyday basis is necessarily the real deal. The chances are, it’s not.
The packaging and storage of olive oil is also a massive contributor to its quality. According to several online articles, olive oil should be kept in a glass bottle, preferably dark, and stored in a dark cupboard away from heat and natural light. If we think of all those bottles of supermarket olive oil that are made from clear plastic and must spend hours standing under bright electric lights, it isn’t surprising if those common olive oil brands we once bought regularly are suddenly looking rather unattractive.
It can all seem rather disorientating when we’re told that something we believe to be good for us is actually not what we thought it was, or when our faithful food outlets let us down. But searching for high-quality olive oil needn’t be difficult. What we need to be looking for is glass-bottled, UN-refined olive oil, which has been obtained from solely mechanical means (meaning the olives haven’t been subjected to intense temperatures and/or chemicals in order to save time when producing the oil). This is all usually stated on the bottle. As mentioned earlier, avoid ‘light’ olive oil at all costs, and if you can find oils with the International Olive Oil Council certification, even better.
Remember that extra-virgin olive oil (the best kind) does not come cheap, so if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Apparently we should be looking to spend around £6 a litre at least. Real extra-virgin olive oil is also flammable and will thicken/solidify in the fridge (making it perfect for olive oil spread!). With all of this in mind, there shouldn’t be any real reason why we can’t all seek out and enjoy the true health benefits of one of nature’s biggest treasures.
If you’re in the Liverpool area, then a great place to find high-quality extra-virgin olive oil is Matta’s, a wonderful little world foods shop on Bold Street. There are a few different prices to suit your pocket, the cheapest being £5 or so, and they claim to have been imported from Greece and Palestine.