Thursday, October 25, 2012

OLIVE OILS – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly


One of our customers told us about a recent Fair Go programme that had featured olive oils.  So we went and watched it online – maybe some of you saw it too. Investigation and testing was done on extra-virgin olive oils stocked in supermarkets throughout New Zealand.

The Findings: All the European Olive Oils tested showed signs of rancidity. The only olive oils that were truly free from this rancidity were the New Zealand and Australian oils.
The question was asked: Have New Zealanders not developed a taste for good olive oil - have our tastes accepted the rancidity of the European olive oils?

Is Rancid Oil Bad for You? In a word, yes... not only are rancid oils reduced in vitamins, but they can also develop potentially toxic compounds that have been linked to advanced aging, neurological disorders, heart disease and cancer.
  • So, what does rancid oil taste like? Sniff it – a slight musty smell.  Taste it. It can have a buttery taste or taste slightly like crayons, putty, old peanuts, pumpkin.
  • If you value your health don’t feel bad about throwing out old olive oil - feel good about it!  In fact don’t feel bad about throwing out old flour, nuts or other old, processed grains while you’re at it.
In Search of a Good Local Olive Oil. Motivated by our new found knowledge, we went down to the sunny Hawkes Bay to find a NZ olive oil that we could happily use ourselves and offer to you. We settled on the good oil from The Village Press, just outside of Hastings; NZ’s largest producer of olive oil.

They were very welcoming and we enjoyed a tour around the facility and saw their cold press in action. Their oil is top grade, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil grown and processed in the Hawkes Bay.  Because it is local, and doesn’t have to come from the other side of the world, it’s not damaged in transit by light or heat.  The Village Press have a great variety of oils for salads, marinades, dipping breads and gentle cooking, all of which are now up on the Happy and Healthy website.

While in the Hawkes Bay among the olives, our education continued.  We learnt that:
  • Olive tasting is an art and is very akin to wine tasting.
  • Even as a novice if you taste a good olive oil alongside a European oil, boy what a difference – the NZ oil is alive while the other is bland and seems to be ‘dead.’
  • A good, fresh extra-virgin olive oil tastes rich, has a fruity smell, a ‘bitterly’ sensation in the middle of your mouth and a ‘peppery’ bite in the back of your throat.  It feels alive in your mouth.
  • ‘Good’ olive oil remains good for between 18-24 months from the date of bottling, as long as it is properly stored out of light and at an even cool temperature (for this reason, don’t buy olive oil in clear containers).
Scientists agree that extra-virgin olive oil is the healthiest fat around. Studies have shown that olive oil consumption is linked to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and arteriosclerosis1, as well as an increase in the functioning of the immune system.  It’s good for the skin as well.

Did You Know that Every Oil is Not the Same?  There are several grades of olive oil commonly available in NZ:
  1. First cold pressed, extra virgin– top grade oil, mechanically pressed at or under a temperature of 26C – this is all that The Village Press produces.
  2. Virgin oil– slightly lower grade than extra virgin
  3. Olive oil- oils that are a blend of refined and unrefined virgin oils. This grade of oil actually represents the bulk of the oil sold on the world market to the consumer. Blends are made in proportions to create specific styles and prices. Olive oil grades in NZ labelled as “Extra Light” would most likely be a blend dominated by refined olive oil. Other blends with more colour and flavour would contain more virgin or extra virgin olive oil.
  4. Refined olive oil- The refining process usually consists of treating lower grade olive oil with sodium hydroxide to neutralize the free acidity, followed by washing, drying, odour removal, colour removal, and filtration. In the process, the oil can be heated to 220C under a vacuum to remove all of the volatile components. Refined olive oil is usually odourless, tasteless, and colourless.
Final Note & Warning: If you’re looking for an oil to use for high temperature cooking (above 200C) don’t use extra virgin olive oil because of its low smoke point (207C), instead use un-refined coconut, avocado or grape seed oil (all available at Happy and Healthy).  Stay away from canola oil which gives off toxic fumes at even reasonably low temps.


1. Mary, Enig, More on Coronary Heart Disease: Sense and Nonsense, New England Journal of Medicine 331(9), Sept 1994

1 comment:

  1. One of the tests of genuine extra virgin oils is the 'does-it-solidify-in-the-fridge' test.
    I have noticed the Australian Cobham Estate oils do, and they also taste good (often a little cheaper than Villiage Press.