Olive oil 101 – How to pick the best EVOO for the money

(NC) Though it's called “liquid gold,” not all olive oils are worth your hard-earned

dollar. Lauded with health benefits such as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-bacterial and weight management properties, extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oils out there. But don't be fooled, they are not all created equal.

As one of the most counterfeited products on the market, olive oils greatly differ in quality and in taste. Aimen Ziouiouch, Canadian quality control manager for Oleiva, one of the leading exporters of EVOO in the Mediterranean, shares these tips to help you understand labels and navigate the grocery isle so you can invest in the real stuff.

Ignore words like “light” and “natural:” These unregulated terms don't carry meaning. While all olive oils are essentially natural, there is no such thing as “light” EVOO. Bottles featuring this title simply contain olive oil that was diluted with a lighter oil (most often sunflower oil) to lower its fat content.

“Made in” vs. “bottled in:” It is reported that 80 per cent of the Italian olive oil flooding the market is neither virgin nor Italian. Though you might think you're buying EVOO made in Italy, if the label says “bottled in,” the olive oil most likely originates from Tunisia or elsewhere in the Mediterranean. As the leading producer of EVOO in the world, Tunisia has been exporting in bulk to Italy, Spain and Greece for years where their oils are blended with others and resold under well-known brand names. Unlike in the U.S., Canadian laws do not require brands to specify where the olive oil originates from.

Extra virgin vs. regular or “pure” olive oil: The major difference between olive oils is in the way the oil is extracted. Regular (or pure) olive oil is often refined with additives and chemicals — a process that destroys much of the taste and nutrients — while EVOO is cold-pressed. This means that no heat is used in the extraction process, allowing the dietary elixir to retain the taste, aroma and nutritional properties of the fruit as well as its natural green hue. Visit your favourite brand's website to learn their oil-making technique. “As a benchmark, we pick olives by hand to select the most aromatic fruit and cold-press them on-site within 24 hours of harvest to maintain the integrity and quality of our products,” explains Ziouiouch.

Never pay less than $7 a bottle: The global price of olive oil currently trades at around $4630 USD per 1,000 litres, making the price of one single litre a little over $6 Canadian for the raw goods alone. If the oil you're purchasing is lower than the price of oil in bulk, it's not authentic and probably cut with cheaper products.

Don't focus on colour: Though colour is not an accurate indicator of quality, EVOO in its purest form retains a golden to green hue depending on the variety of olives used to produce it. Much like wine, the taste of olive oil is also influenced by the olive varieties as well as the ripeness at which the olives are harvested; green olives give a bitter, spicier flavour whereas ripe olives impart a sweetness.

Want to learn more about olive oil? Visit oleiva.ca for more facts, tips and recipes.

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