During this uncertain fire season here in California, we are often asked the question, “Will the smoke from the fires affect the olive oil?” Most of the studies regarding the effects of smoke have been done on wine grapes, and have found evidence that it can affect wines. However, olives and their processing are different from wine grapes and their processing. The skins of olives are much thicker and more waxy than grapes, so the inner pulp is well protected from damage. Furthermore, unlike wine grapes, olives are washed before crushing, which removes any residues on the skins. Finally, ashes don’t dissolve in oil, but can dissolve in the water of grape juice. The smoke related components of concern are naturally occurring and generally widespread. They can be found at very small concentrations in most foods, even when there have been no fire incidents. A study from Greece after major files in 2007 found no more evidence of smoke related compounds than during years with little to no fire incidents. The biggest reasons appear to be that olives have tough skins and are thoroughly washed before processing.
The California Olive Oil Council is an independent organization that promotes extra virgin olive oil made in California. Their COOC Seal on the bottle certifies that the olive oil inside has been professionally tasted, is fresh, California-grown, and meets true extra virgin standards. The COOC has also recently developed a website, “Why California EVOO” to inform the public of the real benefits of purchasing California olive oil. Only the five Mediterranean climate zones (shown below) can support olive production, and then only in agriculturally suitable areas. That means that of the 3% of the world’s land area that has a Mediterranean climate, only about half can support olive orchards. Fortunately, California has a huge area in which olive groves thrive, and that’s local to all of us in North America.
Most COOC certified olive farms are small and run by people dedicated to creating great artisan olive oil. By contrast, imported olive oil generally comes from large production facilities ruled by different considerations.
By the way, the COOC just added Apollo Olive Oil’s bio to their Meet the Makers section. Their main site, COOC.com also has a lot of good information on many topics from health and nutrition, recipes and kitchen tips, to orchard FAQs.
Here are excerpts from an interview done with Dr. Simon Poole from a recent COOC newsletter that we found very interesting.
When I first read your keynote title, I thought it would make a good title for a movie! Tell us why you have named the title of your talk simply; “Of all the Gifts of Heaven”?
One of your Presidents,
Thomas Jefferson said; “Of all the gifts of Heaven to man, the olive is
next to the most precious, if it be not the most precious,” He was a man
ahead of his time, a farmer, a connoisseur, a lover of olive oil and an
advocate of healthy eating. I suspect that if he were running for
president he would campaign to “Make America Well Again”, and I wanted
to make the message of health and sustainability of the Mediterranean
Diet and extra virgin olive oil the theme of my talk.
When and how did you first become interested in extra virgin olive oil?
As a working physician
with a great interest in lifestyle medicine, I saw great changes in my
patients who adopted the Mediterranean Diet with regular enjoyment of
extra virgin olive oil. I have become a passionate ambassador for extra
virgin olive oil and now travel to lecture to the public, health
professionals, producers, importers and retailers to educate and
advocate the extraordinary benefits of this most wonderful food.
Would you kindly share one of your favorite olive oil recipes with our members?
Extra virgin olive oil is so versatile and is so wonderful to cook with and also to “anoint” on any dish to add flavor and texture. It can be combined with any food and even pairs really well with deserts and ice cream. I particularly love this simple recipe from the co-author of our book The Olive Oil Diet, Judy Ridgway which mixes fruit, cheese and extra virgin olive oil;
PECORINO SALAD WITH FRUIT AND OLIVES
This really is an all-the-year round salad. Choose fruit in season and any kind of good green olives. Serve as a first course or as a good lunchtime snack with plenty of wholemeal bread.
3 tender lettuce hearts, washed and drained
1 pink grapefruit, peeled and segmented
1 sweet apple. Cored and cut into dice
200g Pecorino cheese, crumbled or diced
100g green table olives
6cm cucumber, diced
2 small spring onions, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Tear the lettuce leaves into pieces by hand and use to line a salad bowl.
Cut the grapefruit segments into small pieces and mix with the apples, cheese, olives, cucumber and spring onion. Spoon this mixture onto the lettuce leaves.
Beat the lemon juice with olive oil to taste and pour over the salad. Mix carefully and serve at once.
Dr Simon Poole is a Cambridge based medical doctor, author, broadcaster and commentator and an internationally renowned authority on the science and application of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. He is an expert scientific consultant on extra virgin olive oil and a member of the Advisory Board of the Olive Wellness Institute, Australia and an advisor to the Yale Olive Institute, Yale University. His award-winning book, The Olive Oil Diet, takes a fresh and exciting look at diet, foods, cooking and health, on a gastronomic journey which tells the story of ingredients from around the Mediterranean with a focus on the delivery of health through olive oil.
California consumers filed a false advertising claim against Filippo Berio because their label had “Imported from Italy” but much of the oil actually comes from Spain, Greece, and Tunisia. The defense said there was a disclaimer on the back of the bottle that stated not all the oil actually comes from Italy. The judge found the lawyer’s defense unconvincing and awarded the class certification, so consumers who bought Filippo Berio olive oil from May 2010 to June 2015 can make a claim.
This is another example of the games large producers play to sell their product. If they were proud of their product, you’d think they would just state clearly what it actually is.
The US is not the only country dealing with fraud found in imported olive oil. In a February publication, Germany’s watchdog group, Stiftung Warentest, found that half of the 26 extra virgin olive oils they tested were not actually extra virgin. In 5 of the olive oils coming from Greece and Portugal they found high levels of oil hydrocarbons possibly coming from motor fumes. They recommended that the sales of these olive oils cease immediately. The rest of the defective oils came from Spain and Italy. They also found that 4 out of the 6 organic oils they tested were deficient..
Apparently these brands are not sold in the US, but it points to the greater systemic problem of large olive oil producers unscrupulously cutting costs and exporting the oil. Wherever fraudulent oil is priced below the cost of producing authentic olive oil, honest producers suffer. Fortunately, more and more consumers are becoming aware of these practices and are beginning to recognize the difference between fraudulent products and real extra virgin olive oil.
On January 2nd and 3rd, 60 Minutes ran three segments, The “FBI of food”, Don’t fall victim to olive oil scam, and AgroMafia, exposing Mafia involvement and the fight against it, in the entire Italian food chain, including olive oil fraud of course. Exports are certainly no exception. Estimates run as high as 80% that what is labeled as Italian extra virgin olive oil here in the U.S., simply aren’t. An easy way fake olive oil is made from colorless, flavorless seed oil is shown, using chlorophyll and beta-carotene. Americans are also deceived by another practice – doctoring a defective olive oil, and calling it ‘Extra Virgin’. Watch the segment here.
Thankfully, the short answer is no. GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. These are plants and animals that have been genetically modified by scientists to produce favorable traits. They have many people concerned because the most common trait that is engineered into these plants is to resist pesticides so that more pesticides can be used to control weeds and pests.
The only known GMO experiment for olive trees was started at the University of Tuscia near Rome. It was an experiment to develop trees that could resist infections. In 2012 the Italian government ordered all the trees destroyed to comply with a 2002 law that banned field experiments involving GMO plants.
Olive trees have escaped the GMO craze because they do not lend themselves to intensive agricultural methods. Also, they have a tremendous biodiversity consisting of hundreds of cultivars so desirable traits can be found with traditional methods of cross breeding and grafting.
The absence of GMO’s and its highly unlikely development in the future is another reason to love olive oil. Almost all other vegetable oils, including corn oil, soy oil, cotton seed oil and many others, contain some GMO’s.
Below are two links of fun, entertaining, and informative interviews with Tom Mueller on his new book, Extra Virginity – The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.
Market Place’s piece:
Fresh Air’s piece:
Extra Virginity – The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil
Tom Mueller’s new book was just released on December 5 and is available at Amazon.com. It is an engrossing book with a simple and direct style that is so fun to read it took just a few sittings to finish. It weaves the history of olive oil among wonderful anecdotes of the fascinating people and places he has visited through the years. You will learn countless surprising facts, like the tradition of olive oil fraud is over 5000 years old, documented by cuneiform tablets found near modern day Aleppo in Syria that describe combating olive oil fraud by naming an “olive oil surveillance team at Nuzar.” He tells the 19th-20th century tale of butter vs the newly invented margarine that illustrates that food fraud in the US is old and common place.
He also tells many personal stories of deeply committed small producers struggling to make high quality olive oil. You join Mr. Mueller in his own journey in going from knowing little about olive oil to appreciating its many nuances and in doing so you learn a great deal along the way. And of course, along the way, you learn the essential healthful benefits of real extra virgin olive oil’s bitterness and pungency that at first are hard to understand but then become your friend and you look for them in every olive oil you taste. In the end you are left with a renewed appreciation of the producers of real extra virgin olive oil and the individuals who can appreciate its deep gifts.
The link below details a second study made by UC Davis confirming their earlier study that the most popular national brands of olive oil fail sensory testing and the IOOC standards while at the same time passing the three traditional chemical tests for determining high quality olive oil. The earlier study was criticized by some large producers as being biased so for this study they took larger samples and had two labs accredited by the IOOC to do the analysis. The results were essentially the same as the results in the earlier study.
It is interesting that a human taste panel can still detect more defects caused by oxidation than the established chemical tests. This is why new tests are being developed, primarily by Australia and Germany, to be able to better detect oxidation in olive oil. The study also details the findings using these new methods of chemical anaysis. It is worth reading the entire study.