Losing Your Virginity: Olive Oil, Part I

olive oil

Time for an oil change?

Can you tell me what kind of olive oil you have in your pantry right now? How long has it been there? When do you use it?

For those who are still primarily using vegetable or canola oil to cook, time to get you on board.

Some of you have already incorporated olive oil into your everyday healthy lifestyle.

Brace yourself.

First, let’s roll back for a moment to 2013. I was just like everyone else, cooking mostly with vegetable or canola oil. Everything seemed fine.

I watched a lot of Food Network back then and after binging a few Rachel Ray episodes, I started getting curious about her “EVOO” (extra virgin olive oil). I was into healthy eating and knew olive oil was supposed to be better for you than vegetable oil so I bought some and starting using it to cook food.

That went badly because I was still using medium-high heat all the time and that is too hot for olive oil. I scorched a lot of food and got frustrated so the olive oil made its way to the back of the pantry shelf.

My husband at the time listened to NPR on the way to work. He comes home one night and says he heard an interesting interview with the author of a new book on olive oil and the olive oil industry. “It’s about as corrupt as the crude oil industry,” the author said.

We got curious and bought the book. And it changed my food life forever.

Losing My Virginity

Tom Mueller's book on olive oil

“Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil” by Tom Mueller gives a great history of olive oil which has been a necessity for centuries in everything from food to medicines to beauty products to religious ceremonies. Then he goes inside the business of olive oil – and that is where you will be shocked.

The olive oil in your pantry is not olive oil.

Not even close.

The following excerpt is from an article written in The New Yorker in August 2007 called Slippery Business. It’s by Tom Mueller.

“On August 10, 1991, a rusty tanker called the Mazal II docked at the industrial port of Ordu, in Turkey, and pumped twenty-two hundred tons of hazelnut oil into its hold. The ship then embarked on a meandering voyage through the Mediterranean and the North Sea. By September 21st, when the Mazal II reached Barletta, a port in Puglia, in southern Italy, its cargo had become, on the ship’s official documents, Greek olive oil.” 

That’s right folks. Label fraud. Keep reading.

Anyone who pays attention to the quality of their food – vegetarians, vegans, paleo, keto – you think you’re doing everything right, buying local or organic and preparing your meals with healthy olive oil. Think again. There is virtually no olive product at all in any grocery store-bought oil.

You are buying heat processed, bleached, colored and artificially flavored low-quality nut oil. Or worse.

You went to the trouble to pick quality ingredients and then unknowingly doused them in chemicals.

A Slippery Business

“In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.’s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force. (“Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks,” one investigator told me.)” – excerpt from the same article. 

Olive oil is big business. Consumer health trends have created massive worldwide demand for it, and olive oil sells for twice what the alternatives do. Are you shocked now to realize that there is motivation for fraud?

health benefits of olive oil

In September 2012, Consumer Reports published its results from testing 23 olive oils from Italy, Spain and California, and only 9 passed the test as actually being extra virgin olive oil, as claimed on the label.

Let me be clear – I don’t believe everything I read. So maybe this is all just internet hype? Wrong. The author is a New York Times journalist. He’s been researching this industry for over a decade and is now considered to be an industry expert.

So should you throw your olive oils out and go back to canola??

No. Keep reading.


Tom Mueller’s book also covers the beauty that is true, authentic, organic olive oil. He walks you through the process of learning to taste olive oil.

I remember reading his book back in 2003 and when he suggested that I go into my kitchen and pour myself a shot of my Bertolli, I nearly gagged.

Then I went on a trip to California and I tasted real olive oil (Round Pond estate in Napa – less than a mile from Beringer’s vineyard). Many of California’s wineries are trying to grow olives so you can actually taste farm-to-table products.

I tried freshly pressed olive oil. It had a greenish tint to it. The aroma was like freshly cut grass. It was beautiful to look at and better to taste. The winery I visited was offering “oil and food pairings” so of course I took advantage.

My mind was opened. I began to see olive oil as a food in and of itself, not just a means to an end for cooking food.

By this point, those of you who are paying attention to your oils have undoubtedly visited the local olive oil specialty store. Perhaps they showed you how to slurp olive oil, which is how to properly taste it. Many of these specialty stores are sourcing authentic product but you’ll still want do your homework.

The California Olive Oil Council was formed by local famers in 1992. They put standards in place and now certify over 400 olive oils per year. **Caveat – just because an olive oil isn’t listed on their site does not necessarily mean it is fake. Small producers can’t afford the cost of belonging to the organization.

Know Your Worth

So now what? You’re ready to toss all your Colavita and Filippo in the garbage. Good. But where do you buy the real stuff?

Check out my page dedicated to the “Extra Virginity” book and you’ll find links to several brands that I buy online from California. I primarily buy from Seka Hills, an American Indian Tribe that produces great EVOO and sells a 3L carton with a collapsible gallon bag that has a dispenser built in. You can buy this 3L carton on Amazon for $65. Click here to jump to Seka Hill’s site and buy the same product for $50.

Seka Hills olive oil
Click to visit Seka Hills and buy olive oil

$50 for olive oil???

Think of it this way…you think nothing of buying olive oil in the grocery store. It’s probably $12-20 for a modest sized bottle (and remember, you didn’t get real olive oil). For a small investment you get real U.S. grown and bottled olive oil in a container that prevents it from exposure to oxygen which ruins fresh olive oil nearly instantly.

Or think of it this way: most of us drink a bottle of wine at dinner that likely costs $15-20 dollars at minimum. Got company? The 3 bottles of wine you went through at one meal cost the same as a carton of delicious, healthy, extra virgin olive oil that will last you for months.

When you are ready to lose your virginity, buy the book and buy some real olive oil by checking out the COOC’s (California Olive Oil Council) certified list.

Next week I’ll be sharing a post dedicated to all the wonderful things you can do with your newfound extra virginity.

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Published by Jenny G

I'm sipping coffee in the morning, reading a cookbook for fun. Always planning my next trip and what I'll eat when I get there. Hoping to inspire others who share my love of cooking and eating, and to celebrate the wonderous diversity of food. I love to explore the world so I'll share my best itineraries and travel tips. Of course, sometimes I'd rather be snuggled up with a glass of wine and a good book so let's discuss those here too. And don't forget to feed the birds!

2 thoughts on “Losing Your Virginity: Olive Oil, Part I

  1. We use olive oil on a daily basis for cooking and dipping (with a little balsamic vinegar. Stopped at a specialty store in Greenwich Village two years ago as part of a NYC “food tour”. There we learned much of what you said above incl the CA rating system. they also suggested that we purchase olive oils that are “cold extracted” and that have pressing/extraction date as well as a “use by” date. We have been doing so since then. Currently we have bottle of Kirkland EVOO from Costco. It has good ratings as one of best domestic olive oils and recommended by Samin Nosrat. When I make recipes calling for olive oil my philosophy is usually “there is no such thing as too much olive oil”. I usually use at lest twice what is called for in recipe. I tried to attach pics but your page wouldn’t accept them….or I was doing something wrong 🙁

    1. Thanks Ken! Very helpful to know that there is a brand of quality olive oil available at Costco. Oh, and I agree – there is never too much olive oil!!

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