Extra virgin olive oil – Are you getting what you’re paying for?

Why do you choose extra virgin olive oil?

Is it for the flavour, the health benefits or both?

Many extra virgin olive oils are NOT what they claim to be.

Unfortunately, recent investigations have revealed that what you are buying may not meet the standards set for classifying these oils as being the superior extra virgin quality you expect.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has recently fined The Big Olive Company from South Australia for misleading labelling of it’s extra virgin olive oil product, “Oz Olio”. 

International Olive Council (IOC) standards state that the oil must meet both organoleptic (sensory) and chemical requirements to comply with the classification.  Similarly although there are no mandatory standards in Australia, there is a voluntary standard states as of July 2011, that states an extra virgin olive oil

“Must be free of smell and taste defects”

“Have a free fatty acid level of <0.8%.”

These tests give an indication of the freshness and quality of the oil.

The Australian Olive Association (AOA) has also filed reports that a number of imported European extra virgin olive oils failed to meet the standards and were adulterated with sunflower or canola oil.

Unfortunately, the actual brands are not able to be published at this date.

Why is quality important?

Apart from buying extra virgin olive oil for it’s fruity flavour to enhance meals, it is the other compounds found in these oils that are not present in refined oils that offer many of the health benefits attributed to extra virgin olive oil and the Meditteranean diet.

How to tell the quality of an oil?

Taste is the best way to ascertain the quality.

An extra virgin oil should NOT be greasy in the mouth and should have a fresh taste.  It should NOT smell of “dairy, salami or walnut”

Like wine the flavour of an oil can vary depending on regions and processing.  Bitterness and pungency is a good sign and can  be an indicator of  but there are milder oils as they can have range in strength. Different flavours are appropriate for different purposes and dependent on what your palate prefers.

Like any product you get what you pay for. Generally the more you pay, the better the quality.

These five oils were the top five ranked by Choice based on the IOC standards

  • Coles Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fresh & Fruity *
  • Woolworths Select Australian Virgin Olive Oil
  • Maggie Beer Extra Virgin Olive Oil *
  • Olive Grove Extra Virgin Olive Oil *

* Meet standards set by AOA.

Health Benefits

Switching from a high saturated fat diet to a primarily unsaturated fat diet reduced LDL cholesterol.  Olive oil is primarily comprised of monounsaturated fats, healthier.  Although other polyunsaturated fats also have health benefits, extra virgin olive oil contains over 30 compounds that further contribute to improving health.

The higher the quality, the greater the health benefits including the following.  It may

lower blood pressure

lowers LDL cholesterol

protect against some cancers

reduce heart disease risk

natural antinflammatory compounds (oleocanthal)

Increases resistance to oxidation of  LDL cholesterol (oxidised LDL increases heart disease risk) due to antioxidants (phenolic compounds).

Protect both liver cells and the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, both directly and indirectly through enzymatic activity.

How is it produced?

Olives used for extra virgin olive oil should be picked and processed using mechanical extraction processes that minimize damage to the composition, within 4 to12 hours of harvesting.  Free Fatty Acids stop being produced at time of processing.  However, olives that are collected after falling from the tree, stock piled prior to processing or how it is stored can adversely affect the oil quality.  The phenolic content decreases with exposure to oxygen, light and high temperatures.   It is a fresh product and therefore will deteriorate with age, particularly if exposed to the conditions mentioned.  This is why the AOA have been recommended the introduction of Best Before Guidelines .

Unfortunately inferior quality oils can be produced to comply with the IOC standards by deodorisation and manipulation of the oil.

Still not sure?

Look for oils that bear the “Australian certified extra virgin” stamp on the label.

If you are interested in learning more about extra virgin olive oil listen to this podcast between Dr Norman Swann from the ABC Health Report and Tom Muller who wrote the book “Extra Virginity: The sublime and scandalous world of Olive Oil.”  Fake Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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