In a recent book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, author Tom Mueller writes that one Italian olive oil producer estimates that 50% of the olive oil sold in the U.S. is adulterated in some way.
Why should we be troubled by this? Good, fresh olive oil is a wonderfully healthy fat, as Mueller puts it, "a cocktail of 200+ beneficial ingredients." It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Bad or rancid oil loses those properties; it is full of free radicals and impurities. Furthermore, cheap oils, such as soybean, or some seed and nut oils, are extremely unhealthy. They are highly inflammatory, high in omega-6 fatty acids.
So, what can we do to avoid these adulterated olive oils and ensure that what we are buying is actually fresh, healthy olive oil? Mueller has posted this very informative guide to buying olive oil. He recommends finding a store where you can taste oils before you buy (see below). If that is not a possibility, he has many other tips about what to look for. Mueller notes that bitterness and pungency are usually indicators of an oil's healthful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. He advises to, above all, seek out freshness. I found this helpful article about recognizing rancidity in olive oil. The author claims that most people in the U.S. are actually accustomed to the flavor of rancid olive oil.
Sources for olive oil in Pittsburgh:
- California Olive Oil Connection at the Farmers' Market Coop of East Liberty. This merchant dispenses its oils from bulk containers into reusable bottles. The oil is certified extra virgin by the California Olive Oil Council; a certifying body that Mueller says provides a certain level of confidence that the oil is properly made.
- Olio Fresca Olive Oil Company at the Pittsburgh Public Market. The last time I visited the Public Market this merchant had many olive oils available for tasting.
- Finally, the much-loved Strip District institution Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., better known as Penn Mac, has a mind-boggling selection of olive oils. If you track down the olive oil buyer or other knowledgeable employee, you should be able to garner plenty of information to help you choose a great olive oil.