My wife and I are lucky enough to live in Greece and have growing in our garden fifteen Olive trees, these trees fruit every second year from which we harvest ten or so sacks of freshly picked little beauties and take them the morning after to the local press and await around sixty litres of our own deep green and luscious virgin olive oil.
As a result of this wonderful and totally natural resource being available to not only us, but our neighbours and local community in general, we never gave a thought to the validity of the virgin olive oil that is sold around the world on supermarkets shelves.
It was a relative of ours based in California who drew our attention to stories of so called “Mafia trading scams” in Virgin Olive Oil that prompted our deeper consideration on the matter and we would like to share with you our findings.
Now firstly it has to be said that no obvious “Mafia links” were uncovered by our investigations unless perhaps at some corporate level which to be frank we are not qualified to judge, but some patterns of “misrepresentation” to put it nicely, do definitely come to the fore.
So allow me to explain that “Olive Oil” is the only commercially significant vegetable oil to be extracted from the fruit, whereas most other oils such as sunflower, canola and soy oils are taken from their seeds.
The extraction of oils from olives is a purely natural process which can be achieved by mechanical methods alone such as pressing or use of centrifuges, whereas the extraction of oils from seeds necessitates the use of industrial solvents which then must be removed or masked by other chemicals or processes like neutralization, deodorisation, bleaching and de-gumming vape juices for sale.
The end result from a seed based oil is a tasteless, colourless and odourless liquid fat, whereas the oil released from Olives is a freshly squeezed fruit juice with all of its natural flavours and characteristics remaining.
The term “Virgin olive oil” refers to the freshness of the olives, which will result in the optimum quality and flavour of the oil and this “freshness” is the first source of a corruption of the term “Virgin” that came to our notice.
As soon as the fruit is picked and bagged it starts to spoil, excessive storage, bruising and moulds all accelerate the spoiling oxidization process and such poor quality olives possibly shipped in from other areas rapidly strip the oil of the right to be called “Virgin Olive Oil”.
Trick number two is to add the far cheaper seed oils to the mix, this is made possible because they hold no taste or smell characteristics and so can merely bulk out the resultant liquid at a fraction of the cost.
Then the third and most worrying practice we found and have reason to believe is not uncommon, was the addition of the synthetic oil Lampante ( lamp oil ) which despite being classed as illegal for human consumption in many countries, is still finding its way on to food shelves hidden within a mix described as Virgin Olive Oil.
So how does a customer even start to differentiate from the wide range of products displayed on the supermarket shelves, which oils are genuinely “Virgin Olive Oil” and which are not?
Well surprisingly that task is not as easy as it would seem as the practice of corrupting olive oil for profit goes back as far as the days of the Romans and the guilty parties have had more than enough unhindered time to perfect their art.
However there are a number of popular label phrases that can be picked out and discounted as irrelevant to the decision process and these include, “first pressed”, “fresh pressed” and “cold pressed”. These are terms of old and no longer have any meaning when applied to the vast majority of modern olive oil production methods.
But the phrases we have found to watch for are ones such as “refined olive oil”, “imported” and “packed in”, these are all signs that the pure and natural Virgin Olive Oil product has been tampered with in some way and should be passed by if the genuine article is sought..
In principle all Virgin Olive Oil must have been produced in the country or area that has produced the harvest because quite simply the time taken to ship raw olives any distance will strip the title “Virgin” from the resultant oil.
Of course the majority of olive oils displayed on the shelves are not harmful to human health and a blend with other oils despite losing natural characteristics can return a significant cost saving if that is what is required, but as a general practice if you seek genuine “Virgin Olive Oil” then chose an oil harvested and produced in the olive growing country and not one shipped, imported or blended elsewhere.
So from our studies we find it realistic to believe that not all Virgin Olive Oil labelled and displayed on our supermarket shelves is truly Virgin as the title infers.