Thursday, December 8, 2011

An Olive Oil Faux Pas

This is like the time I found out agave nectar isn't natural or even that good for you. Or when everyone realized that margarine, touted as the antidote to "fattening" butter, is actually really, really unhealthy (and butter is awesome). It's a little bit like everyone scarfing down products advertising "whole grain" but reading the ingredient list reveals only one "whole grain" constituent way at the bottom. Beyond frustrating. Except this is worse.

I love extra virgin olive oil. I cook with it just about every day. It's supposed to be healthy, and it clearly agrees with Mediterranean women. As it turns out, my well-intentioned EVOO purchases are A) probably not what I thought they were, and B) really bad for me. Based on an article from nutritionist Andy Bellatti's blog, let me summarize my mistakes.

What I Do: Go to Trader Joe's and buy the biggest, cheapest bottle of olive oil that I can find. Everyone says it's healthy, and I use it a lot, so this must be good idea.
Why That's Wrong: Andy tells us to "look for the California Olive Oil Council logo on a bottle" or "look for the Protected Designation of Origin logo", guaranteeing that what's in the store was actually produced and processed where it claims to have been (Spain or Italy for example). And, he says, while an expensive bottle doesn't necessarily mean that it's good, if you're getting 34 ounces for $6.99 (guilty!) it is most likely crap. I just read the ingredient list on our latest olive oil bottle, which is silly because there should only be one ingredient, but it includes "refined olive oil" and "extra virgin olive oil". What is refined olive oil, you might ask? Not all olive oils are created equal, and about half of those created in the Mediterranean region are of such poor quality that they must be refined to make them edible. No thank you!

What I Do: I have never paid much attention to the packaging of my olive oil, although I do choose glass bottles over plastic ones. I will say those slender, dark green bottles always look so fancy, but naturally they tend to be more expensive. I like to store the oil in a cabinet above the sink which also happens to be next to the stove. Once I had a really pretty bottle of it that I left out directly on top of the oven.
Why That's Wrong: Once again, you get what you pay for. Air, heat, and light all cause olive oil to turn rancid. It should come in a dark bottle (light), you should store it in a cool place (heat), and tightly reseal the container after use (air). It's also a good idea to look for bottles with a "Best By" date far into the future which likely means the product is more fresh.
Real, delicious EVOO I picked up on our trip to Greece. It's not even expensive there. COME ON Euro!
What I Do: I use EVOO in everything. Stir-frys, soups, thai curries, Indian dishes, salad dressings, lightly frying food, roasting vegetables - everything. I have never paid attention to whether or not the oil is smoking or to how hot it gets.
Why That's Wrong: Apparently, when olive oil is heated higher than about 250 degrees, and especially if you see it begin to smoke, the beneficial vitamins and antioxidants are turning into toxic prooxidants. The experts recommend cooking with a different healthy-fat oil that can take the heat such as coconut or avocado and saving the high-quality EVOO for things like hummus, salad dressings, or drizzling over fish and veggies after cooking.

Lesson learned!

For more healthy eating and lifestyle tips, check out the blogs featured on Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday.


  1. Thanks for the info. Luckily I just bought some Coconut oil because I found out Canola Oil was just cheap oil named after Canada. I have mostly used olive oil and will go read the article to learn more.

  2. That's so funny, I had randomly bought some coconut oil too just before I learned about this because I read about how awesome it is - good thing we both had some on hand! I've been using the coconut oil for a lot more of my cooking this past week and I will say that I really like the taste of it.

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