If you’ve been a part of the great oil debate, you’ll know there are so many opinions about which oil is the healthiest to cook with. In the Mediterranean, it’s no: Olive Oil trumps all, and there’s good reason, too! But there’s a few things you need to know about buying olive oil in the USA, before you race off to your grocery store.
Olive Oil Health Benefits
- Heart-healthy fat. Olive oil belongs to a category of fats called monounsaturated fats. These have been proven to keep your arteries healthy, even as you and your heart age.
- Prevent strokes. Scientists have discovered that olive oil alone can reduce the risk of stroke caused by a clogged artery by over 70%!
- Keep your bones healthy. Research has found that olive oil helps fight against osteoporosis. This is especially important for menopausal and post-menopausal women who have the greatest risk for losing bone density. That’s why women in their 40’s and 50’s should start cooking with olive oil (if they’re not already), to help prevent bone loss when their hormones change.
- Reduce risk of. Eating lots of olive oil is better at preventing diabetes than a low-fat diet! How? Olive oil can help control blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance.
- Promote mental health! A high consumption of olive oil is associated with a lower risk of depression. (This isn’t the only example of how your diet directly affects mental health).
But what if the oil you bought wasn’t giving you all of these amazing health benefits? What if you thought you were cooking with olive oil, but you were filling your body with something else entirely?
Fake Olive Oil?
If you think you know better, you might be surprised that 70% of olive oils sold are actually not pure (and that includes oils labelled “extra virgin”)! Instead, most olive oils that are sold have been either mixed with canola or colza oil, or are blended with a cruder version of olive oil and then chemically colored and flavored.
Wondering how this could have happened? Check out Tom Mueller’s book, “Extra Virginity”.
How to Spot the Difference
The Taste Test
There are a couple at-home tests some people suggest for finding out if your olive oil is real. One of them involves simply tasting it. The problem is, fake olive oil has been sold so long, that even food experts can’t tell the difference anymore.
One experiment was done with several different food experts. They tasted a wide range of olive oils (from discount stores to premium versions), and ended up approving of the cheapest, least pure oil, while thinking the real ones were fake! If experts in olive oil can’t use the sense of taste as a reliable tool for finding real olive oil, no one can.
The Fridge Test
Another suggestion some people make is to put olive oil in the fridge. This is because monounsaturated fats become cloudy in cold temperatures (even to the point of becoming solid, after a long time). So, if your oil looks exactly the same after being refrigerated for 2 hours, it’s not real!
The problem is, olive oils that have been mixed with non-pure olive oil will still appear cloudy. Not to mention, some companies mix just enough of canola oil to pass this cold test. Ultimately, it’s just not good enough to weed out most store-bought versions.
The Fool-Proof Test
But, the main problem with these at-home tests, is that they have to be done at home! You have to buy them first before finding out if they’re the real deal. So what’s the only way to tell if your olive oil is real? Buy it from the right place.
You can purchase 100% pure olive oil, not mixed with anything else, from a trusted, local source. Get to know the farmers at your local farmer’s market! You can also find a single producer of home-grown oil, and resist the urge to make a quick purchase at the supermarket for convenience’s sake.
More Olive Oil Tips
If you don’t have direct access to locally produced olive oil, here’s what you need to look out for when buying olive oil at a grocery store.
- Dark bottles keep oil from oxidizing, so avoid transparent containers (especially plastic!)
- Look for a seal of approval from The International Olive Oil Council
- Avoid “light” olive oil completely
- Try to find a harvesting date on the bottle (most fake oils won’t include this)
- Only buy cold-pressed olive oil (others are treated with chemicals and heat)
- If it’s cheaper than $10/ 1 liter… it’s mixed with vegetable oil