Last Updated Oct 1, 2010 4:33 PM EDT
If you like food--and who doesn't?--you've probably noticed that extra virgin olive oil (or EVOO, as Rachael Ray calls it) has become the gold standard of culinary lubricants among professional chefs and home cooks. Not only is olive oil yummy, at least in my book, but according to the Mayo Clinic website, it can lower your risk of heart attack by reducing bad cholesterol in your blood. And EVOO, the least processed form of the stuff, is even more healthful because it contains powerful antioxidants which, I guess--I am no scientist--keep your innards from rusting out like a 1989 Ford Taurus. Even if you're on a diet, the FDA recommends that each day you drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil--better yet if it's EV--onto your lettuce leaves.
For years, reports circulated that some EVOO was no purer than Paris Hilton. (I am not picking on her; she was recently voted the #1 slutty celebrity by visitors to mrsockmonkey.com. But now we have evidence--and from a respected academic institution: the UC Davis Olive Oil Center. Its lab, in cooperation with the Australian Oils Research Laboratory in Waga Waga, New South Wales, tested 14 imported olive oils and five California brands to see if they met extra virgin standards. A sensory panel sampled them for taste.
The results? Well, take an Alka Seltzer before you read on. First, many of the imported oils failed to meet international and U.S. standards for EVOO. Worse, sensory panelists found that some oils tasted rancid, fusty and musty. Apparently, they had oxydized--or deteriorated, like the above-mentioned 1989 Taurus--and were adulterated with cheaper oil and/or made from poor quality or overripe olives. California-produced oils did better; only 10 percent failed the tests. Some of the best-known brands didn't qualify as EV: Bertolli, Pompeian, Colovita, Carapelli, Newman's Own, Mezzetta and Mazola. Even Rachael Ray's EVOO underperformed. McEvoy Ranch and Caliornia Olive Ranch were the top scorers, but turning in a not too shabby performance was Kirkland Organic, which comes to you courtesy of humble Costco.
The situation has to make you gag. It's bad enough that BP spilled billions of gallons of petroleum on Gulf Coast beaches. But now slick olive oil manufacturers have condemned us consumers to salads and fried foods that taste rancid, fusty and musty--and charge us extra for the privilege. Take a look at your supermarket shelf if you don't believe me. EVOO costs between 15 and 20 cents an ounce more than the ordinary stuff.
All I can say is: thank goodness for lawyers. Callahan & Blaine, an Orange County, Calif. law firm, has teamed up with a batch of chefs, including David Martin of Top Chef fame, to sue the offending purveyors of EVOO and the running dog grocery stores (in California) who aided in the conspiracy: Vons, Albertson's, Target, Walmart, Kmart and others. Relying on the their representations that the stuff was the real deal, "Consumers spend an amazing $700 million a year on this product," says Callahan & Blaine's press release. And I am sure that they intend to recover every penny. All I can say is: keep your receipts.
In the interim, we can go back to cooking with plain old olive oil, but Lord knows what manufacturers are putting in that! Or we could try corn oil--and separate out first pressings (EVCO) complete with tinctures of "smut"--a corn mold favored by gourmets. Then too you could baste your oven-baked herb-crusted chicken with Valvoline. At least it's pure--pure something anyway--and a lot less expensive.