Response to Vancouver Sun Article – Olive Oil 101
This week in the Vancouver Sun, food writer Mia Stainsby wrote an article featuring The Olive Oil Merchant and Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil. A reader and owner of a Greek Grocery Store in Vancouver took issue with the piece and wrote a letter which she published on her blog here. Here is my response:
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to the letter from Mr. Katsanikakis. I believe that discussion and debate on this topic is incredibly worthwhile and informative.
Mr. Katsanikakis and I agree that fresh olive oil tastes better but I would have to take issue with his definition of “long time”. How is a consumer to know how well an oil has been stored, how it has been transported and how old it really is? The only way for consumers to protect themselves and ensure they are getting what they are paying for is to look for a harvest date. Because olive oil can be sold in Canada without a harvest date or a “best before” date, it could literally be several years old. All olive oil, regardless of the quality will go rancid in time.
Regardless of when Bertolli, Carapelli and the like were sold to Spanish conglomerates, I was never a proponent of these brands for the reasons outlined in the article. When looking for the health benefits in olive oil, I whole-heartedly endorse ARTISAN produced extra virgin olive oil.
Mr. Katsanikakis is absolutely correct that companies in Italy import oils from other countries in the Mediterranean, blend them, package them and export them to North America. The sad fact is that Italy imports more oil than it produces. It is absolutely this type of activity that I am trying to inform the Canadian public of. These oils, farmed using super intensive methods, have no health benefits, do nothing to support artisan farming and actually taste terrible. You may remember Mia that we had two examples of these oils during our tasting and they taste like fuel.
And yes, there are excellent artisan oils from many countries in both the old and new world. I, like Mr. Katsanikakis, support and work with the farmers from my home country. Every country claims to produce the best oil in the world without being able to back up their beliefs with facts. The truth is that, Italy has more cultivars (olive types) than any other country and as a result has a greater variety and range of styles. As we discussed in our tasting, one cannot live with just one kind of oil, just as you couldn’t live with just one kind of wine. Different foods call for different oils.
Superior olive oil, or Extra Virgin, is obtained by hand-picking the olives and is quite a labour intensive process. Experts agree, including Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity, that if an olive oil costs less than $10/liter it has very likely been adulterated and is not Extra Virgin.
While I wouldn’t consider myself a guru (a diva maybe), I disagree with Mr. Katsanikakis’ last statement. Stone-grinding olives does nothing to maintain the nutrients in the olive oil, in fact it does quite the opposite. Olives that are stone ground are exposed to air during the grinding process and that means oxidation. Oxidation means a loss in polyphenols/antioxidants. New technology allows for the grinding process to take place in an air tight environment maintaining and protecting the oil’s antioxidants. With regards to the choice of filtered vs. unfiltered, there is no evidence that unfiltered oil is better for you. Unfiltered oil simply means that there are cells and olive particles retained in the oil which actually speed up the rate of degeneration of the oil – it doesn’t last as long. Many people enjoy the taste of unfiltered oil, myself included, but it is not a factor in determining quality.
The Olive Oil Merchant