The Spanish multinational company, Deoleo—a world leader in sales of bottled olive oil—has agreed to pay $7 million to settle a class action lawsuit that alleged their Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Classico Olive Oil brands were marketed misleadingly as “Extra Virgin” and/or “Imported from Italy” (when most of the oil was made from olives and/or extracted in countries other than Italy.)
Worse, the lawsuit states that the company’s bottling and distribution practices did not adequately ensure that the oil would meet the “extra virgin” standard through the date of retail sale or the “best by” date on the bottles.
Why does this matter? According to Tom Mueller, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil—an explosive story of oil fraud as well as an inspiring story of the account of artisanal producers—consumers should know the when, who, and where of your oil: When it was made (harvest date); who made it (specific producer); and exactly where in the world it was made. If your olive oil is labeled something other than “extra virgin—such as “pure,” “light,” “pomace olive oil,” or simply “olive oil,” this means it has undergone chemical refinement which strips away not only flavor, but also vital health benefits.
Olives are stone fruits, like cherries and plums. Real, extra virgin olive oil is the fresh-squeezed juice from pressed olives—seasonal, perishable, and never better than the first few weeks it was made. It’s best to choose bottled oil in dark glass or other containers that protect against light degradation, and buy a quantity you’ll use up in a relatively short period of time. According to Deoleo’s legal settlement, the company agreed to change it’s bottling of extra virgin olive oil to dark green bottles; to employ stricter testing protocols at the time of bottling; and to shorten the “best by” period and disclose the date of harvest on every bottle.
As there are over 700 different varieties of olives, good oils range in color from vivid green to gold to pale straw. Seek out oils that smell and taste vibrant and lively, and avoid those with rancid, cooked, or greasy odors. You can also look for a certification seal on the label from the USDA, North American Olive Oil Association, California Olive Oil Council, or Extra Virgin Alliance
Consumer Lab (that provides independent tests results and information to help consumers and health professionals identify the best quality health and nutrition products) lists their top picks of extra virgin olive oils that have passed both chemical and sensory testing: Kirkland Signature (Costco) Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Trader Joe’s Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil (available in many grocery stores nationwide.)
Both Kirkland and Trader Joe’s extra virgin oils are considerably less expensive than many other good oils (11 and 13 cents per tablespoon respectively.) California Olive Ranch is priced slightly higher at 18 cents per tablespoon, yet the olives are in fact, grown and pressed in California.
So much to consider for this delicious and nutritious source of fat in our diets!
Bon appetit and good health!