I had the good fortune recently to attend a seminar on olive oil at San Diego’s Seaport Oil & Vinegars. I was aware of the health benefits of olive oil. However, after listening to Veronica Foods‘ Corporate Chef, Rachel Bradley, I came to realize that what I knew only scratched the surface.
As a holistic health practitioner, I need to be aware of more than just the what. I need to understand the why, along with any extraneous conditions that affect, either cooperatively or adversely, the entirety of the situation. In this regard, the presenter did not disappoint.
Before tasting a variety of oils, we were given an overview of the chemistry involved and how it affects both the taste and the health benefits of olive oil.
Oleic Acid is a monosaturated omega-9 fatty acid found in olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil high in oleic acid has greater resistance to oxidation.
FFA (Free fatty acid). A low FFA is desirable. Free fatty acid speaks to the condition of the fruit at the time of crush. High FFA indicates poor quality fruit such as damaged, overripe, insect infestation, overheating, or too much of a delay between harvest and crush.
Peroxide Value. A very low peroxide value is desirable. Unsaturated free fatty acids react with oxygen to form peroxides, which can generate volatile substances responsible for a musty or rancid oil smell. They are accelerated by high temperature, light, and oxygen exposure.
Polyphenol Count. A class of antioxidants found in a variety of foods including tea, coffee, and high quality extra virgin olive oil.
Polyphenols such as Oleuropein, Oleocanthal, and hydroxytyrosol are responsible for many of the health benefits associated with consuming fresh, high quality extra virgin olive oil.
The polyphenols are also responsible for the taste intensity connected with pepper, bitterness and other desirable flavor characteristics.
Basically, the higher the polyphenol count, the more health benefits and stronger taste.
The science behind why olive oil is so beneficial isn’t the only holistic tidbit I picked up. I learned a couple of disturbing facts that definitely impact the bigger picture when it comes to the health benefits of olive oil.
What’s in that bottle you just bought? The chances are, if you bought olive oil in a grocery and/or a health food store, it isn’t what it says on the label. To qualify as extra virgin, a strict set of guidelines must be followed, but apparently often aren’t, even by supposedly reputable brands.
To me, the worst offense is the fact that some of the oil in the bottle is not olive oil but rather some other oil, such as soy, that has been colored to look like olive oil. Unfortunately, in the interest of economics, that appears to be the future of certain olive oil brands.
According to a recent Denver Post article, olive oil producers in Greece are being pressured by the Greek government to blend their olive oil with cheaper oils.
If proposals from a government funded study are adopted, olive oil blended with cheaper vegetable oils will soon go on sale as part of an effort to modernize Greece’s economy, which was rescued from bankruptcy four years ago.
Health benefits and taste reduce over time. By the time it hits your grocery store shelves, the bottles have been sitting for months if not years in inventory.
Not to mention, you have no idea how long its been sitting on that shelf.
The net of it is that without buying fresh olive oil from a reputable company such as Seaport Oil & Vinegars, Stonehouse California Olive Oil in San Francisco, Rocky Mountain Olive Oil in Fort Collins, CO, or Outrageous Olive Oils and Vinegars in Old Town Scottsdale, you stand a good chance of ending up with something that not only isn’t extra virgin olive oil, it won’t have the taste or health benefits you should expect.
The stuff found in health food stores is often the same as what you would find in a regular grocery outlet. In other words, it still isn’t necessarily what it says on the bottle.
As part of the seminar we were allowed to taste several oils, including a reputable store brand. After this experience I will never buy olive oil from a retail outlet again. If I don’t live near a store where I can purchase the real deal, I will order it from a location such as Seaport, which ships for a very reasonable fee.
Veronica Foods is working with researchers at UC Davis to try to bring positive impact to the olive oil industry, including training government workers to identify the sham oil being sold as something it isn’t.
I wish them luck going up against the bureaucracy of a multi-million dollar industry that will seek to protect its financial interests.
As a bonus, we were also taught about and invited to sample balsmic vinegars. I was delighted to learn that they have probiotics which are good for gut health. However, I was disheartened to learn that the stuff I bought in the grocery store didn’t qualify as a true balsamic vinegar. It was also blended with a variety of ingredients not even listed on the label that disqualified it. Once again, the result is a significant reduction of any health benefits.
Just as sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne Region of France, balsamic vinegar is only the real deal if it comes from Modena, Italy, and is harvested and processed in a very specific way, as you can learn about here.
Several studies have shown the numerous health benefits of olive oil, including treating and/or preventing cancer, heart disease, oxidative stress, diabetes, high blood pressure obesity, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
I can personally attest to the last. My rheumatoid symptoms ceased after a small sample of the olive oils. This is due to the anti-inflammatory nature of olive oil. I have since come to find that the two tablespoons/day recommended to reap the health benefits are as effective as a 5 ounce glass of red wine.
Holistically, speaking, to capitalize on the numerous health benefits to be obtained from olive oil (and balsamic vinegar), it is best to skip what you find on the store shelves and order the real deal.
UPDATE: Apparently, there is a way to test for adulterated (fake) olive oil. See the following article.