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December 7
1921 - William S. Hart marries actress Winifred Westover [story]
Bill and Winifred Hart

Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Jan 18, 2015

DianneErskineHellrigelHave you ever given any thought to your olive oil purchase? Is your sole criteria price? Do you think all olive oil is the same? Well, it’s not.

Olive oil comes in different grades. Some of them, you just might be familiar with, but do you know what that grade means? And even if you do know what the grade means, olive oils within each grade can vary greatly. Things that factor into the quality can be the type of olives used, when it was harvested, and the handling both during process and shipping. Even the bottle that the oil is in can be a factor.

Another thing to consider is food fraud. Olive oil is one of those products that has become victim to food fraud. According to Dan Flynn of the UC Davis Olive Center, 69 percent of the olive oils tested were flawed and did not meet the requirements for the extra virgin grade.

Another problem is companies that blend other oils with olive oil to contain the price.

oliveoil2What can one do? First of all, read labels closely. Know the different grades of olive oil, and buy from reputable companies with a track record.

Here’s a few things you should know when buying olive oil:

Pure: This is not an official grade of olive oil. It is only a term that is used for marketing purposes. It is a refined olive oil with just a splash of extra-virgin olive oil for taste. Refined olive oil has no flavor, no taste and no aroma. It’s fine for cooking where you don’t want any flavor imparted to your food. Basically, it’s just blah by itself.

Extra Light/Light: This, too, is a marketing term. It is refined olive oil and refers only to its “light” taste. (Note: It has nothing to do with calories.)

Pomace: This is the lowest of all grades of olive oil. It is the extract of leftover pits, skin and pulp after they’ve extracted the higher grade oil. Chemicals such as hexane and other solvents can be used in this process.

A4CYP5Personally, I am concerned with health and safety issues with using this type of olive oil. I refuse to buy it. Sure, it’s cheaper, but why take a chance with your health? You are probably using olive oil to improve your health – so why compromise here?

With olive oils, the old adage, “you get what you pay for,” pretty much sums it up.

While price is not really an indicator of the perfect oil, you might stay away from dirt cheap. A good oil should smell and taste like olives. A little taste of bitterness with peppery tones is consistent with an olive. If an olive oil is fresh, it will have these characteristics.

Fresh pressed olive oils have many beneficial compounds in them such as polyphenols that are antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. So, when looking for fresh oil, check the harvest date (provided on some labels) and the best-by date. The more recent the date, the fresher the oil.

oliveharvest1Also, consider your oil perishable, and buy only in amounts you can use up quickly. You don’t want to be using rancid oil.

Olive oil has a wide range of health benefits. You’ve heard of the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil plays a large part in food preparation in that part of the world. Olive oil can improve cardiac health by lowering cholesterol and other risk factors. It is considered by some to help prevent certain cancers, and it is said to help contain inflammation.

olivesOlives and olive oil have been important in civilizations all over the world since recorded history. Originally they came from the Middle East where they were used for many purposes since prehistoric times. In Greece, Homer called olive oil liquid gold. Drops of oil were poured into the tombs of dead saints and had religious significance. Olive trees were found in King Tut’s tomb. Olives have been said to have magical power and were symbols of wealth. The ancient Egyptians used the oil in lamps. Olives and the oil can be found mentioned in the Bible. The olive branch is a symbol of peace. Hellenic society believed that olive trees were sacred. To cut down a tree was punishable by death.

We are blessed with the perfect Mediterranean climate, which is perfect for the olive. California produces a great deal of fresh olive oil and other products for the table. Look for boutique olive oil stores in your town, and see if they offer olive oil tastings.

Armed with your new, immense knowledge of olive oils, you’ll be able to ask all the right questions. Look for fresh, extra virgin oil for your cooking and dipping needs.


Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.


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1 Comment

  1. Stacy Grover says:

    Highly recommend the book “Extra Virginity” which goes into great detail about quality of olive oils and how to choose them. According to this book California Olive Oil is by far the best, and of the best quality in the world. Always check the label for harvesting dates and bottling dates, because good olive oil does have a definite shelf life. California was recently successful in legislating label requirements for EVO, which most of Europe opposed because they felt it gave too much power to the California producers. Again, the book “Extra Virginity” is highly recommended.

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