Ever since returning from San Francisco where I attended the Italian National Olive Oil Tasting School (O.N.A.O.O.) mini-class I’ve been looking into different published sources on sensory and chemical evaluation of olive oil. Articles are abundant, but I’ve never before stumbled upon a U.S. student paper on the subject (more on the paper in a few paragraphs).
Olive oil quality and the health benefits of olive oil are definitely top issues these days. Not only do professionals disagree on many aspects surrounding what determines quality and health value, but the testing of quality and content are major battlegrounds. This lack of agreement and coordination, which is due to territoriality and money-making, causes confusion in the general population. Most certainly the losers in all this are the consumers of olive oil since they are being bombarded with a plethora of inaccurate, biased and sensational information ranging from ‘what constitutes extra virgin olive oil’ to ‘the higher the phenolic content the better the olive oil.’
A great example of the quality-confusion messaging comes from the New York Times in a slideshow entitled “Extra Virgin Suicide.” While the infographics are kind of cool they are also dangerously simplistic, using inaccurate and incorrect data to support the activities depicted in the final few slides.
Yes, some olive oil is adulterated (mixed with non-olive oils). Yes, olive oil from other countries is milled and then bottled in Italy. Yes, some extra virgin olive oils are mixed with inferior olive oils. No, the Italian police do not regularly raid refineries. No, the price of olive oil has little to do with any of the actions described in the slides, but is part of a complicated bigger picture.
There IS a problem with quality but there is a worse problem with correctly educating consumers and the general public. Why? Because you get the paper below, an example of what will pass into the world of publications to be found on the internet as facts regarding the health benefits of phenolic compounds in olive oil.
Yes, the phenols found in virgin olive oils provide health benefits in humans, but the only strong evidence involves eating unrefined olive oil in combination with certain foods, hence The Mediterranean Diet. The evidence that higher concentrations of phenolic compounds in olive oil are better for people does not exist (if there is such a study, I invite you to send it to me). What I found most interesting about this paper is the assumption that higher phenolic content equals greater sensory appeal and by default better health value.
Here is where I present the paper mentioned in the title. It is called Quality of Olive Oils Available Locally: Chemical, Sensory and Market Investigations and is by Madeleine M. Gould, a B.S. Nutrition student at the University of New Hampshire College of Life Sciences and Agriculture.
After reading this paper I found that I could not fault the student for her assumptions since there is so much incorrect information out there. However, I do place blame elsewhere. I place it squarely on the shoulders of the scientists who fudge the data that places their ‘miracle’ food on grocery shelves. I blame the olive oil producer that sends tons of rotted fruit through the mill and instead of refining it and selling it as ordinary olive oil adds coloring agents. I blame the ambitious naifs whose conceit and greed leads them to blindly blunder about altering political and economic landscapes just enough to allow all those who wish ill to shove a foot in the door. I blame those who by action or inaction promote olive oil fraud.
May the sun shine through your branches.