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Discovering the slippery world of olive oil

Any olive oil consumer who has been paying attention to the news in recent months is probably reeling. Recent reports and a newly released book “Extra Virginity- the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil” by Tom Mueller open up and expose the corruption and fraud in the olive oil industry. Reports on supermarket olive oils from the University of California, Davis show that 69 percent of imported olive oil samples and 10 percent of California olive oil samples labeled as extra virgin failed to meet the International Olive Council (IOC)/USDA sensory standards. Testing indicated that the samples failed extra virgin standards for reasons that include adulteration with cheaper refined olive oil, poor quality oil made from damaged olives and sometimes even mixing cheaper seed oils with olive oil.How can you avoid buying adulterated olive oil? Find out what a fresh, extra virging olive oil should taste like. Start by recognizing one essential fact about olive oil: it is a perishable product. Olive oil tastes best when it is fresh. Think of olive oil on a freshness continuum that goes from just-made, harvest-fresh at one end, to completely rancid at the other. When buying olive oil, know the harvest date and then use the olive oil before the next harvest date. Usually the “best by” date will only give you limited information about the freshness of an olive oil. Whenever possible, taste before you buy. Do you have a clear sense of what rancid oil smells and tastes like? A good image for many people is the smell of crayons. On a rancid scale of zero to 10, almost everyone will notice a nine or a 10. The trick is to develop the confidence to pick out rancidity when it is a five, or a three, or lower. The flavor of rancidity in olive oil is usually accompanied by a greasy mouth feel; in fact, the greasiness often is noticeable first.Another recommendation is not to taste olive oil with bread. Bread will only mask flaws and at the same time take away from the pure natural beauty of good quality oil. Ever sip olive oil and get that great peppery feeling in the back of your throat? Ever let out a cough or two? That’s the polyphenols doing their job. Always look for that when tasting olive oil. Good quality “EVOO” should be sipped, slurred and swallowed. You will then experience the viscosity and mouth feel. Is it smooth, thick, buttery? Flavor — is it green, fruity, grassy? Just like a fine wine tasting, olive oil tasting should be savored. Once an EVOO is purchased, use it. Don’t save it for company or special occasions. Store it away from light, heat and oxygen. These are the enemies of olive oil. When you use an excellent olive oil in cooking, the results will be better tasting food overall. Drizzle some on your toast instead of butter. Fry your egg in it. A simple lunch that anyone can put together is a slice of ciabatta bread, fresh mozzarella and tomato. Top with a little sea salt and fresh, extra virgin olive oil. Try baker & olive’s Manzanillo EVOO from Spain or go wild with infused oils like the blood orange EVOO on a spinach salad. Roasting vegetables? Herbs de Provence EVOO is a perfect choice. Give a whole new spicy twist to tofu with a Harissa infused olive oil. By paying more attention to the flavors of olive oil, and experimenting in your kitchen and at the table, you will discover the amazing diversity of this wonderful food. Stop on by baker & olive, North County’s reputable source for the highest quality, best extra virgin olive oil in Southern California. They are proudly listed on Tom Mueller’s web site ( as such. They sample daily, Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 165 S. El Camino Real in Encinitas, online at or call at (760) 944-7840. Here’s to your health! Bon appetit!