Why Your "Extra Virgin" Olive Oil Is Probably a Sham Why Your "Extra Virgin" Olive Oil Is Probably a Sham

Why Your "Extra Virgin" Olive Oil Is Probably a Sham

by Peter Smith

April 29, 2011

The sensory research underscores our long-standing reverence for the medicinal properties of olive oil. One familiar food writing trope explains that olive oil was only sold in English drugstores, as a laxative or for treating earaches, before Elizabeth David's cookbooks appeared in the 1950s. More recently, olive oil has become a linchpin for the "Mediterranean Diet," although its benefits can be as uncertain as an oil's origins.  

So the distinctive burn of extra-virgin olive oil indicates its phenolic content, which may underlie its health benefits, but one thing is clear: a pharmacological understanding of oleocanthal alone can’t be a universal measure for good or pure oils. (After all, you could dilute or adulterate olive oil and still have a detectable burn.)

As our appetite for olive oil continues grows, it’s important to remember how these objective chemical analyses combine with the subjective apprecia­tion of experts, and "extra virgin" implies more than being pressed for the very first time.

Top photo (cc) by Flickr user fdecomit.
Middle chart via "Sensory Characterization of the Irritant Properties of Oleocanthal, a Natural Anti-Inflammatory Agent in Extra Virgin Olive Oils" ©2009 Oxford University Press.

Bottom chart via "How do consumer hedonic ratings for extra virgin olive oil relate to quality ratings by experts and descriptive analysis ratings?" © 2010 Elsevier.

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Why Your "Extra Virgin" Olive Oil Is Probably a Sham