Olive Oil: 5 Myths & Facts

Olives for olive oilI plan to write a much longer piece about olive oil for The Seattle Times in a few months, but I was so excited by what I learned about this healthful oil when I was at the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) a few weeks back that I decided to offer a “highlight reel,” so to speak.

One of the presentations was a blind olive oil tasting hosted by Dan Flynn, executive director of the University of California Davis Olive Center, and sensory scientist Hoby Wedler*. Here are a few of the more interesting things I learned:

  1. Olive oil is essentially fruit juice (the fruit being the olive). Other plant-based oils are produced by adding solvents, then removing the solvents, then bleaching, deodorizing, and so on. (I know…yuck.)
  2. Most olive oil on the market is extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) and you really don’t see just virgin olive oil. (I can vouch for that, because about a year ago I looked high and low for virgin olive oil, for reasons I don’t quite remember.) Light olive oil is a refined version of what was initially a bad-quality olive oil. (i.e., it has been subjected to bleaching and deodorizing to make it sellable.)
  3. Quality EVOO can handle temperatures up to 375-400, whereas low-quality EVOO (i.e., olive oil that is labeled EVOO but really shouldn’t be because it doesn’t meet the standards) can only handle about 325 degrees before it starts to degrade (break down). We do not want degraded oil!
  4. What is quality olive oil? First, it must have a fruitiness to it (olives are fruit, after all). Second, it can’t have any defects. The three defects are rancidity, fustiness (this is what happens if some of the olives have started to ferment before they were crushed for oil) and mustiness (when some of the olives have become moldy before they are crushed). I know…yuck.
  5. It’s somewhat of a myth that a lot of olive oil on the market has been adulterated. The biggest problem is that not all olive oil labeled as EVOO actually meets the standards I mentioned above.

olive oil

* Wedler’s palate is a-mazing! When he described one olive oil as having “notes of Elmer’s glue,” I about fell over, because that was exactly what I was tasting (although I never would have identified it on my own). Ditto when he said another olive oil had notes that reminded him of the smell when you are carving a pumpkin and you lift the top off. Blew my mind! He’s an amazing wine-taster, too. And apparently an amazing espresso and paella-taster, as I learned from the article¬†The Sacramento Bee wrote about him earlier this year. An amazing story.