It’s one of the healthiest oils you can use for sautéing and making salad dressings. Extra-virgin olive oil is a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and natural antioxidants. In fact, olive oil contains a compound called hydroxytyrosol, an antioxidant that’s ten times more powerful than the antioxidants in green tea.
Diets that are olive-oil based like the Mediterranean diet have been linked with a lower risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Here’s something to be aware of. All olive oil isn’t created equal. Extra-virgin olive oil is the most expensive. It also has the highest concentration of beneficial antioxidants. Before dropping a bottle of olive oil in your cart at the grocery store, consider this. Some of those bottles of golden elixir on store shelves are actually fake olive oil. It’s one more example of how important it is to be an informed shopper.
Fake Olive Oil: Is Your Extra-Virgin Olive Oil an Imposter?
When you want the best in terms of taste and health benefits, you buy extra-virgin olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olive. This makes it more flavorful, aromatic and less acidic. Extra-virgin olive oil also contains the highest level of vitamins and antioxidants.
Virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing too but it’s made from olives that are riper. It’s usually more acidic and doesn’t taste as good. Both virgin and extra-virgin olive are produced mechanically without heat or chemicals to destroy their integrity.
There’s also garden variety olive oil. This form of olive oil is inferior in quality and is extracted using heat or chemicals. This destroys some of its antioxidant benefits, not to mention its taste.
The advantage of regular olive oil is it has a higher smoke point so you can use it for higher temperature cooking but it’s not ideal for making salad dressings due to its inferior taste. Plus, it isn’t the best choice from a health standpoint because it’s processed with heat or chemicals. Most manufacturers mix olive oil with virgin olive oil to make 100% olive oil.
Here’s the real problem. You can’t be sure you’re getting extra-virgin olive oil even if you buy a bottle imported from Italy. Even though almost half of the olive oil out there is labeled as extra-virgin, only about 10% of olive oil meets the criteria for actually being extra-virgin. That’s a lot of fake olive oil!
How do olive oil makers get by with this charade? They dilute it with oil from spoiled olive or other inexpensive vegetable oils. So some of those bottles of “extra-virgin olive oil” are actually a mixture of olive and other cheap vegetable oils.
Why Fake Olive Shouldn’t Be in Your Cabinet
Not only does counterfeit olive oil not taste as good as the real thing, it has fewer antioxidants, fewer healthy fats and more oxidized fats. Oxidized fats can theoretically damage blood vessels and increase your risk for heart disease rather than decrease it like real extra-virgin olive oil does. The vegetable oils they add to fill the container may be high in omega-6s, fats believed to be pro-inflammatory.
Adding polyunsaturated fats that you find in some vegetable oils also decreases the shelf-life of the oil and contributes to rancidity. Just as concerning is the fact that they could use nut oils like peanut oil to dilute it.
That’s a problem if you have an allergy to nuts.
Here’s a link to a study carried out at the University of California at Davis showing their analysis of different extra-virgin olive oils and which ones failed their test.
A Way to Tell if Your Extra-Virgin Olive Oil is Fake?
Dr. Oz hosted a segment on fake olive oil. On the show, he demonstrated the refrigerator test for testing a bottle of olive oil to see if it’s legit. Here’s how it works:
If you put a bottle of real extra-virgin olive oil in the refrigerator, it should theoretically solidify. Blended oils that aren’t true extra-virgin olive oil will remain a liquid under refrigeration. According to Olive Oil Times, this test is far from foolproof so don’t take it as gospel.
How can you increase the odds of buying real extra-virgin olive oil?
- The fake stuff tastes different but not all of us have the taste buds of an olive oil connoisseur. Paying more for a bottle of oil isn’t a guarantee. One tip is to buy domestic olive oil. Olive oils produced in California have a better track record than imported ones.
- Look for ones in a dark glass bottle to keep light from breaking down the heart-healthy antioxidants. Don’t forget to store it in a cool place.
- Resist the temptation to buy the cheapest product on the shelf. Even though a high price is no guarantee of authenticity, cheap oil should raise red flags.
- The California Olive Oil Council also certifies certain oils as extra-virgin based on taste and chemical analysis. Look for extra-virgin olive oil that has their certification seal. Here’s a link to some of the winners:
The Bottom Line?
Extra-virgin olive oil has health benefits but there are lots of imposters out there. Use these tips to avoid being deceived.
Nutr. June 2008 vol. 138 no. 6 1074-1078
The Advertiser. May 12, 2012, pages 11-14.
Olive Oil Times. “Olive Oil Fridge Test? Don’t Count On It”