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C:\fakepath\Chilled-olive-oil-Feb14.jpg EXTRA VIRGIN - How to check for good quality Olive Oil
By: Tom Brown   (2014-02-14)

Firstly; why bother about whether olive oil is "extra virgin" or not - surely all olive oil is good for you? So any one will do, right?

Actually, no! The quality is important for a whole raft of health-related reasons (see separate blog about fats). But the simple fact is that you also pay a premium price for Extra Virgin Olive Oil (because it genuinely is more expensive to produce at that high quality level). Therefore it really is worth the time and trouble to try and ensure that what you are buying and consuming is genuine good quality olive oil. 

The problem is that oils can be mixed, so it is technically possible to adulterate good olive oil with other far cheaper oils that have no worthwhile health qualities at all. This obviously greatly reduces costs and increases the supplier's profits but seriously reduces the quality of the oil. In fact the result may even be downright unhealthy. So, not unsurprisingly, the adulteration and false labelling of olive oil - it is rumoured that certain Italian suppliers seem to be serial culprits - is big global business; some commentators describe it as being bigger than the cocaine trade but far easier and safer.

And why is that possible? Well, the truth is that while most consumers can distinguish olive oil from seed oils, few can organoleptically (i.e. by taste) identify fresh extra virgin oil from old deteriorated or adulterated oil. Don't feel bad about this because the adulteration process is very sophisticated; so it is relatively easy to be taken in. 

The question then is "how can I ensure I am not being ripped off". 

One answer would be to have the oil laboratory tested. Expensive and impractical!

An easier way to do it is to exploit a natural good characteristic of olive oil. Just put it in the fridge (don't freeze it) and see if it congeals (a waxy semi-solid consistency per photo herewith) - if it does then it is likely to be good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. If it doesn't or congeals only slightly, then it is of questionable quality and/or is possibly adulterated with seed oils. [Note, the oil will return to its normal state when it is taken out of the fridge and its temperature returns to normal].

How does this work? Well, Extra Virgin Olive Oil comprises 65%-75%  (depending upon olive type, when harvested, etc) mono-unsaturated fats. 
- Fully saturated fats (such as the fat on meat) are solid at room temperature and only melt when heated substantially. 
- Mono-unsaturated fats (such as olive oil and avocado oil) are liquid at room temperature and only congeal at about 6degC or lower.
- Poly-unsaturated fats (such as sunflower and other refined seed oils) remain runny down to below freezer temperatures (-20degC).

Is this test fool-proof? Unfortunately not fully, as there are other mono-unsaturated fats such as peanut or avocado oil that have similar mono-unsaturated characteristics. They also congeal in a fridge. However, as they are also relatively expensive oils, olive oil adulterers will seldom use them, preferring cheaper refined seed oils, rice oils and the like.

Why not give it a try with whatever olive oil you may have in your kitchen cupboard right now - put some in a transparent bottle or a glass, place it in the fridge for a few hours and see what happens. Let us know by commenting on our facebook post at

How to avoid this problem? Buying locally produced Extra Virgin Olive Oils (such as that from JackyBird Farms) will likely get you a good quality oil - it may be a little more expensive but that is because its more costly to produce and you will be repaid by the health benefits. And do try a few different oils until you find one that suits your taste; most oils are anyway blends of a few different cultivars so, like wines, the tastes vary whereas single olive oil cultivars like Frantoio or Coratina have very specific flavours and strengths. The fresher the oil the better.

Tom Brown.

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