In part 1 I explained that according to our biochemistry we need to consume monounsaturated fats like olive oil and saturated animal and tropical fats – coconut and palm oils rather than polyunsaturated oils and that, in fact, as demonstrated by the “Israeli Paradox, the polyunsaturated vegetable oils we are told to use are actually detrimental to our health. I also discussed the health benefits inherent in extra virgin olive oil including why olive oil and/or saturated fat is necessary in order to obtain the full nutritional value of your salads.
Olive Oil fraud – health and kashrut concerns
Just as harvesting quality grapes and producing wine is a complex operation, so too is the harvesting of olives and production of good quality olive oil to ensure that the oil tastes good and contains optimal nutritional components. Unfortunately the olive oil industry is fraught with deception and fraud. Often times soy oil or nut oils are substituted for olive oil with coloring and a small amount of olive oil added for taste or low quality olive oil is deodorized and mixed with a bit of extra virgin olive oil for taste. Even thousands of years ago, olive oil fraud was a problem! In fact, the Romans clearly labeled each bottle of olive oil, noting the quality of the oil and origin and sealing it as a guarantee of authenticity and quality when it reached its destination.
An article by Ariel Zilber featured in the December 7, 2012 issue of the Jerusalem Post Metro section, entitled “A slippery slope”, discusses the Israeli olive oil industry and notes that some producers/bottlers in Israel may include foreign oil in what is labeled as Israeli oil to remain competitive given the glut of low-quality oils that flood the market at cheap prices. Like producers of high quality extra virgin olive oils in other countries, Israeli producers are having a hard time staying in business and making ends meets due to what is deemed unfair competition from companies selling substandard oils as extra virgin. The Israeli Health Ministry has warned (here and here) about problems in Israel with companies attempting to sell sub-par olive oil or substituting with seed oils and selling them as olive oil. The Israeli Rabbinate has issued notices about fraudulent kosher certification on olive oils and as recently as November 2012, Jerusalem Kosher News published a Chanuka Olive Oil Alert.
Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff of Yeshiva Beit El wrote a very interesting article two years ago, entitled Olive Oil Concerns, in which he reviews the use of olive oil in the Beit Hamikdash, methods of pressing the olives, health benefits of olive oil, and concerns about olive oil adulteration not only today, but also as discussed in the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 36a) and by the Rama over a thousand years later (Shu”t HaRama # 53, 54). In his article, Rabbi Kaganoff discusses the important differences in standards that kashrut agencies employ today to guard against the possibility of olive oil adulteration. And he very astutely concludes that “this information is highly useful not only from a kashrus perspective, but also from the perspective of someone purchasing extra virgin or virgin olive oil who wants a guarantee that they are getting the health benefits they are paying for.”
A few tips for buying quality olive oil:
You do not have to remain at the mercy of the bottlers; if you know what to look for when purchasing olive oil you can be pretty sure that what you are getting is the real thing. If you would like to become a real olive oil aficionado, you can learn to sip different olive oils to detect their qualities in a manner very similarly to how one tastes wine. Since this is not practical for most of us, here is what to look for:
- Oil should come in dark glass bottles to protect against light.
- Don’t worry about color. Good oils come in all shades, from green to gold to pale straw.
- Buy oil labelled “extra virgin,” since other categories have undergone chemical refinement, lost many of their health benefits, and may contain traces of chemicals and other contaminants.
- If you see olive oil labeled as pomace oil, it is basically (to put it bluntly) re-purposed waste from the olive oil refining process. It may sound fancy, but it is not.
- The acidity content on the label is also an indication of quality – the lower the better. Anything over 0.8% is lacking in quality; however, even that percentage is considered too high.
- Try to buy oils only from this year’s harvest – look for bottles with a date of harvest. Otherwise, look at the “best by” date which should be not more than two years after an oil was bottled (but even that may be too long since there is no way of knowing how long the oil sat till it was bottled).
- Buy a quantity that you’ll use up quickly.
- The flavor and aroma of extra virgin oils have a marked fruitiness reminiscent of fresh olives and some level of bitterness and pepperiness. Good quality oil will have a pleasant taste and clean sensation and you should feel a “burn” at the back of your throat when you’ve swallowed the oil plain (neat).Tom Mueller, in his book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil (an enjoyable and enlightening read) explains that “… the oil’s healthful properties are directly proportional to the strength of its flavors, aromas, and other sensory characteristics. If an oil doesn’t sting at the back of the throat, it contains little or no oleocanthal (an anti-inflammatory). If it isn’t bitter, it’s low in tocopherol (vitamin E – which would also help prevent the bottled oil from oxidizing) and squalene. If it isn’t velvety in texture then it’s missing hydroxtyrosol.” (p104).
- If you put some olive oil on your skin and the smell does not go away after a few minutes then it is not olive oil.
Quality olive oil is not inexpensive, but you are buying a product with significant health benefits that has been carefully harvested and processed. Beware of oils that are too cheap because they are probably not the real thing. We make sure to buy organic olive oil as it is an additional guarantee that what it says on the label is actually what is in the bottle.
There are many award-winning Israeli olive oils and the bottle of extra virgin olive oil that I have at home now, from Live Organic, according to the label (note the round seal with the pitcher in the middle), received an award from the TERRAOLIVO 2012 International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition. It also has a seal of quality and authenticity as an Israeli olive oil from the Moetzet Hazetim that includes a unique number. I also purchased the Meshek Achiya brand of olive oil which has the same uniquely numbered seal but without the Terraolivo award. Live brand has an acidity of 0.4% and Meshek Achiya of up to 0.5%. I purchased both on sale (at different times) at the Organic Market, which is owned by Shufersal. They are both kosher for Pesach, certified kosher by the Chug Chatam Sofer and each has a local certification as well. Meshek Achiya also has OK-P kosher certification. (My understanding is that only one certifying agency is present and assures the other agencies that the product is reflective of their standards as well.) To find out more about Israeli producers of quality olive oil the Israeli Olive Oil Club (in Hebrew) is a good site to go to. I haven’t opened and tried the Meshak Achiya olive oil yet, but I did feel that “burn” at the back of my throat with the Live brand.
All in all, I think it’s best to buy domestic olive oils when possible to be more assured that it is an authentic and quality oil. (In the U.S. one can find quality olive oils from California.) Unlike wine that improves with age, olive oil starts degrading after it’s produced so quality oil produced and bottled in your own country will most likely be fresher and retain more of its health/nutritional components than oil that sat in a tanker as it made its way from foreign shores.
One caveat: Olive oil should not be the only oil or fat used since we also need the nutrients found exclusively in animal fats; too much monounsaturated fat without a balance of saturated fats can cause health problems.
Interested in becoming an “Olive Oil Expert”? If so, the New Olive Oil Certification course at Hebrew University may be for you.
Try out this great recipe for coleslaw that I found at pbs.org. It was prepared by food blogger Marc Matsumoto who explains why he prefers his coleslaw without mayo in a full blog post on the Fresh Tastes blog.
He uses olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice instead of mayonnaise. You can substitute white wine vinegar or fresh lime juice for the lemon juice, if you prefer. I buy organic limes when in season, squeeze the juice, freeze in an ice-cube tray, and then store in a baggy. If using vinegar I would recommend adjusting the proportions to start, so that you have about 1/4 the amount of vinegar as oil. Not only is this healthier than using mayo made from soy oil, it tastes great, and you avoid the risk of spoilage that coleslaw with mayonnaise has. You can also use this as a starting point and get creative. We enjoy it so much that it actually disappears very quickly.
- 1/4 small red cabbage
- 1/2 small green cabbage
- 1/2 carrot, shredded
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Remove any tough outer leaves from the cabbage.
- Trim the core and any tough stems from the cabbage and thinly slice.
- Add to a bowl with the shredded carrot, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, salt and black pepper. Toss to combine.
- Serve this right away for more of a salad, or store it in the fridge overnight for a slaw that’s more pickled.
Yield: 6-8 servings
I would also like to thank our dear friends Shoshana and Scott for introducing us to Garlic Oil at their Shabbos table. Since then we have been enjoying olive oil with chopped garlic in it on our challah. Very often it’s actually olive oil in our chopped garlic! (Of course, it’s enjoyable during the week, too.) Much better and healthier than the garlic bread I used to make or buy (many years ago) with powdered garlic.
To your health!
Additional Sources and For More Information:
How to tell if your olive oil is the real thing
Buyer’s Guide to Olive Oil in North America (contains a lot of general information about buying olive oil – not just for North Americans)
Olive Oil Times
Truth in Olive Oil
Israelis warned about fake ‘festive’ olive oil
Israeli Olive Oil Club (in Hebrew)