Olive oil has enjoyed a real resurgence, thanks to cooking shows and media desire to manufacture miracle foods annually (see my Science 2.0 ‘Can you match the miracle food to its year?’ quiz) and there is little doubt that olive oil can be beneficial – in moderation. But so is CO2. Claiming that something that is beneficial in limited quantities can therefore be beneficial in ridiculous quantities is silly but the high priests of foodies culture latch on to this stuff like dogs to bones and they get support from Drs. Oz, Gupta and the other Four Horsemen of the Alternative until things really blow up and these same people are critical.
Olive oil is not a ‘flash in the pan’ type of product, though. People have extolled its virtues forever and Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil delves deep into the groves to examine the health claims and the history. He’s no stranger to olives, he lives in the mountainous Liguria region of Italy surrounded by the things.
Even as a young guy with limited knowledge I had to chuckle that the mob boss in “The Godfather” had an olive oil importing business. It was a commodity product, hardly worthy of being imported. As I grew older I realized it was the perfect product. People loved it, they wanted it, they were convinced it benefited them and it had virtually no standard to carry a label so retailers could charge whatever they wanted – olive oil throughout history has been basically what organic food is today.
Are you really getting Extra Virgin Olive Oil when you buy it? Maybe, just like when you buy “organic” food you may be buying food that was never touched by a toxic pesticide – it’s just unlikely and if you don’t know the person who grew it, your chances go down dramatically. Mueller cites a 2010 UC Davis study showing 65% of Extra Virgin Olive Oil actually aren’t and if anyone actually monitored organic food to know which kinds have no toxic pesticides (versus ‘organic’ toxic pesticides, which will still kill you) the numbers for organic food might be even worse.
Olive oil has always been handled by cartels, Mueller notes, and organic food could learn the same lessons about abuse of standards before the Mob comes along and shows Big Organic how it’s really done.