Important news out today in the olive oil world: A major study finds U.S. consumers often pay premium prices for imported olive oil labeled “extra virgin” when in fact it’s cheaper, lower quality oil.
Tests conducted at two respected laboratories revealed that 69% of the imported oils labeled extra virgin failed to meet taste, smell and chemical standards established by the International Olive Council (IOC) and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Only one of the 10 California-made olive oils labeled extra virgin failed to meet the standards.
The defective oils included many leading and private label brands. They were bought at supermarkets and big box retailers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento.
“The oils that failed our tests had defects such as rancidity and many of these oils did not taste good,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the Olive Center at the University of California, Davis. “Before this study, we had anecdotal reports of poor quality olive oil being sold as extra virgin but now we have empirical proof.”
Full disclosure: California Olive Ranch helped fund the study. But we had no influence on the methodology, brand selection, or outcome.
The study was conducted jointly by the UC Davis Olive Oil Chemistry Laboratory and the Australian Oils Research Laboratory, a government research center and certified IOC testing laboratory.
Our Everyday California Fresh EVOO was among the brands tested. The study confirmed our Fresh EVOO complied fully with the IOC and USDA’s standards for extra virgin olive oil, as well as stricter standards established by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC).
All three sets of standards stipulate that olive oil labeled extra virgin can’t have any “defects.” The imported oils that failed to meet the international standards were found to be too old, of poor quality, and adulterated with cheaper, refined olive oil. The defective California oil didn’t pass taste and aroma standards created by the IOC and USDA.
For the study, researchers bought 52 samples of 14 readily available imported brands and 5 California brands of olive oil sold under extra virgin olive oil labels.
The oils were divided and analyzed by the California and Australian researchers. They tested the oils for their taste, aroma and chemical makeup.
We like to tell people our oil is significantly better and fresher than mass-produced oils imported into the United States from overseas.
For starters, the olives are grown in California’s unique “terroir” and pressed at our state-of-the-art mills here. Our oil doesn’t sit on a cargo ship for several weeks, journeying across the ocean.
Working closely with our skilled “ranchers,” we’re very careful about choosing the optimal time to harvest the olives in the fall. Our employees then get the olives from tree to mill quickly.
How? We plant our trees using a system known as “super high-density plantings.” It allows us to grow the trees in hedge rows of 570 to 670 trees per acre, versus traditional plantings of 100 to 150 per acre.
That way, employees driving our harvesting machines can harvest the trees more rapidly – and deliver the olives within hours to our mills, where they’re crushed into EVOO. It’s this speed which prevents the olive from decomposing before we extract the oil.
Part of the reason bogus EVOO can be sold in this country is because there are no federal standards governing quality. The USDA recently adopted standards meant to ensure the bottle of extra virgin olive oil you buy at the store is genuine and not some fake EVOO.
The new federal standards, however, are voluntary. They go into effect this fall.
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch