CLEANUP ON AISLE 5
There is a mess on aisle 5 of the supermarket, I want to clean up some of the confusion that is happening there.
First thing we should declare, is that we're super distrustful of products that are blended, mixed, made into powder, etc. Corporate greed, unethical business people, and fancy marketing are a great recipe for deception. We don’t trust the contents of hotdogs, we're not sure what they put in supplements, and our buying behavior reflects that. For example, we'd rather buy ginger raw, in its natural state, and add it to our smoothie, than to buy ginger powder. There is just too much opportunity for companies to add "stuff" that can go undetected, in order to maximize profits. And the olive oil industry is no exception. Don't get us started… don't even get us started.
"Your mileage will vary" applies to what is classified as "extra virgin" olive oil. Extra virgin olive oils in the United States (and much of the world) can be classified into three distinct tiers with different goals and outcomes. To give you an idea of placement, OLIVE OIL GROVE is considered a "boutique".
Supermarkets & Blends
The olive oils in the aisle are mass produced. The goal of a box store or supermarket is to “move” product. And the goal of any distributor, manufacturer, or producer of olive oil that works with supermarkets is to sell, sell, sell, and never have the shelves empty. Their goal is QUANTITY, with as much quality as they can support. In order to achieve this, and ensure the shelves are not empty, the olive oil company can’t risk having a single source. This market strategy requires them to have a steady supply of olive oil, leading them to source olive oil from multiple countries. The bottle may look like it comes from Italy (cute flag, fancy colors, nice marketing), but if you look at the country of origin, they often list up to eight different countries!!
Some chefs will claim that blending different oils is like blending different flowers to make a bouquet. Well, if that’s the case, I’ll do the blending myself, and I rather not have anyone do it for me.
This sourcing strategy has a greater chance of being adulterated, and has almost no chance of having uniform and consistent quality control processes. For example, how in the world can these companies credibly list a single harvest date on the bottle, when it was harvested from up to eight different places of the world. Would you ever buy a Merlot sourced from multiple countries and estates? It's the unique terroir (unique natural environment) of the grapes that makes that wine so special. Single estate means it comes from a single grove. We find this yields the best outcomes with olive oil (and wine :)).
I prefer not to have seasonings or other things added to the oil, because it will unbalance the natural composition of the olive oil. Like unfiltered olive oil, any material left in the oil could break down and spoil quicker than the oil.
I've made my own infused (i.e. rosemary) olive oils, and they taste delicious. But I'm skeptical of buying them because of the potential for fraud: it's easier to blend lesser grades of oil in the mixture since the infusion will alter the taste and composition of the oil. In fact, since infusing usually involves boiling the oil for 10-20 minutes, the oil can no longer really be called extra virgin (no longer free of defects and in its natural state). There is some degradation of the health benefits and taste whenever extra virgin olive oil is cooked. The only way I will consume infused olive oil is if I make it myself starting with a really good extra virgin olive oil as the base.
For any cooking, I don’t recommend any lesser grade than extra virgin olive oil. These refined olive oils have been stripped of any goodness through chemical means.
If you want to learn more about how to select an olive oil from the supermarket or box store, check out the question on How do I select olive oil at the supermarket?
in our FAQs.