Consumer Alert: “Extra Virgin” Claims on Olive Oils May Be Deceptive
Research shows extra virgin olive oil is linked to various health benefits — including everything from fighting diabetes and obesity to potentially helping inhibit brain cancer — but according to consumer watchdog group CHOICE, the “extra virgin” label can’t always be trusted. In a study that tested 23 brands, five failed to meet international standards.
The extra virgin label denotes olive oil of the purest grade, produced without any added ingredients. It must pass sensory, chemical and taste tests before it’s deemed worthy of the designation.
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To determine the reliability of the extra virgin labels, CHOICE tested 23 brands of olive oil that are typically found in Australian supermarkets. They used sensory and chemical testing methods approved by the International Olive Council (IOC), which are designed to detect poor storage of the fruit before processing, signs of fruit damage, deterioration before aging, and refining methods such as bleaching. Eighteen of the 23 brands passed.
Next, the oils went through a taste test to assess balance, aroma and flavor. The highest rated brands were all Australian grown. Five oils failed to meet the criteria: these included two Australian brands, in addition to the Italian and Greek brands of Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil Organic, Minos Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Minerva Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Greek oils Minos and Minerva had a rancid taste, a problem the IOC describes as “flavour of oils which have undergone an intense process of oxidation,” said CHOICE. Minerva provided evidence that their oil met extra virgin criteria at the time of production and after having been stored in a cool dark facility. This indicated substandard storage conditions were responsible for the degraded condition of the oil.
In one of the chemical tests, Bertolli Organic and Pukara Estate oils deviated slightly from the standard range, which suggested the oils may have deteriorated during storage despite the fact that the analysis occurred before the best-before dates. However, samples from another batch of both oils met the required chemical criteria.
Why Some Brands Failed
Italian and Greek oils are known for their high quality, so the reason they weren’t rated as highly as some of the Australian oils may stem from the fact that a longer period of time was involved in getting them from the European farms to the supermarkets in Australia, explained CHOICE.
“Unlike wine, extra virgin olive oil doesn’t improve with age. It instead starts to deteriorate from the moment it’s pressed from the fruit, affecting both taste and nutritional value, so freshness is essential to oil’s quality. The closer to its production you use it, the better. For this reason, local oils often have the edge over imported as they’re able to reach the supermarket shelf faster.”
“Pressed on” or “harvested on” are better indicators of oil freshness than best-before dates, but few products provide this information on their labels, CHOICE added. They would like to see producers place these dates on their oils, along with more realistic best-before dates.
CHOICE’s Tips for Buying and Using Olive Oil
The watchdog group offered the following guidelines:
- To get the freshest oil, look for “harvested on” dates, since best-before dates are an unreliable predictor of freshness.
- Don’t purchase oils from stores where they are displayed near a heat source or exposed to sunlight near a window.
- Avoid storing oils by the oven or next to a window in your home. Keep them in a cool dark place.
- Don’t buy a size of oil that is larger than what you can consume within a month.
- Refrain from cooking with olive oil using very high temperatures.
Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at http://www.alternativemedicinetruth.com. Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.