Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil


As usual, when doing my walk today, I had my iPod with me, loaded with great 
podcasts. One of them was an episode of WBUR-FM: On Point with Tom Ashbrook 
dealing with olive oil; author Tom Mueller was interviewed about his new book 
called "Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil". The book 
appears, according to the broadcast, to expose the mistruths peddled by 
commercial olive oil sellers in the Unites States (I would think we're in somewhat 
better place here in Australia for our fresh food and less prevalent industrial type 
food production, such as factory farms).

Here's something Tom Mueller had to say about most of the so called Extra Virgin 
Oils on supermarket shelves in the States:

"If you go to a supermarket, the chances are, that you're going to be getting an oil, that is, it's 
probably made of olives, but it's probably made of very low grade olives, sometimes picked off 
the ground after two three months of sitting in an orchard in southern Spain. It's been taken to the 
mill, washed of dirt and impurities, the oil is made, and the resulting oil is pretty awful, smelly, 
and tastes bad, so they do what they call deodorising, which is low temperature refining process, 
which is illegal, if you're going to sell it as extra virgin.

Refining, it must be remembered, is a pretty aggressive chemical and thermal process that does 
change the chemical nature of the oil, so when you say refined, it's not, like, you know, raising 
your pinkie when you're drinking tea, it's like heavy duty industrial intervention.

Anyway, so the deodorised oil then gets blended, because it's completely odourless and colourless 
and tasteless, it gets back blended with a little bit of extra virgin to sold as extra virgin, and 
needless to say when you say when you use gravity to pick your olives, it's pretty cheap - you can 
use a street sweeper to collect them, and the oil has lost, in the meantime, a lot or its health 
benefits, and obviously its taste, but if you're selling it with, you know, behind extra virgin label, 
which isn't being checked for accuracy, you can get your price way way down, and seventy 
percent according to UC Davis Olive Center study, seventy percent of supermarket oils are 
defective in some way or another, and therefore not eligible for the extra virgin label. One defect 
is enough to bump you out of extra virginity."


I decided to test the two olive oil brands that we have in the pantry. The first one 
is the one I use for most of my cooking, a Spanish brand called Moro, from Coles 
(I think they sell it also at the Woollies, the other major supermarket chain in 
Australia). When I say I use it in most of my cooking, I mean I the exception is 
my Asian dishes, which call for milder vegetable oils, or for the occasional 
instances where butter is the way to go. The other one is the Australian Jingilli oil 
brand, which I currently treat as the 'better one' (since it comes in a small bottle, 
thus making the price higher I guess). I use it for drizzling over finished dishes, 
or in salads.

Anyway, here are the two:

And the conclusion: Frankly, they both failed to impress me.


  1. Yes he did, Dana, but it would be worth your while listening the podcast at ; I didn't really listen to this part too closely, since I'm in Australia, and they were talking about the States. He did mention, as a reply to a listener call that yes, Bertolli used to be good, then it was taken over by Unilever I remember correctly, and now this company is trying to offload the brand because of unprofitability, which would mean the inevitable decline in quality in their case as well.


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