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Potentially the most damaging and the most healing foods we can eat are the oils we consume. When foods became mass produced, they required a longer shelf life. To accomplish this, vegetable oils were refined, bleached, boiled, degummed and deodorized. The result were oils that acted as both preservatives and antibiotics. They resisted the growth of bacteria and, as a bonus, they kept baked goods like breads and cookies nice and soft for long periods of time.
These oils have become standard fare in just about any packaged food. Try your best to avoid any packaged foods that have any oils, particularly ones that have been cooked or baked.
Olive Oil – The Way It Should Be
On my journey to find the absolute best oils available, I have sourced what I consider the absolutely best ghee and coconut oil you can buy. Today, I want to talk about what it takes to make a great quality olive oil. Over the years, I have developed a relationship with an award-winning California organic olive oil company, called Fandango.
I want to share with you what makes them a cut above the rest. For the record, I do not have a financial or family relationship with Fandango – which is why I feel comfortable sharing this information and using their standards as a benchmark to compare other olive oils.
First of all, the biggest concerns when buying olive oil are contamination, diluting and purity. Currently, Italy is fighting off an infestation of a bacterial pathogen, Xylella fastidiosa, which is destroying many olive trees. As a result, the yield from Italy has been dramatically cut. Pesticides have been used to kill this bacteria, and some companies have resorted to diluting their oils to keep up with the demand.
The organic standards in California are by far the strictest in the country, and maybe the world. For example, the peroxide limit, which determines the potential oxidation, damage, and shelf life of the olive is below 20, according to the USDA standard. In California, this number has to be below 15. Fandango’s peroxide levels are a 5. The longer an olive sits before processing, the quicker the oils will oxidize or be damaged.
Most olive oil manufacturers use machines to harvest the olives off the branches. I was fortunate enough to harvest olives one year on a small family farm in Tuscany and, I will tell you, this is a tough job. When the machines do it, they damage the tree, take a bunch of leaves and harm the olives. The olives sitting in a bin, damaged, will quickly ferment and oxidize, starting the entire process of making high quality olive oil off on the wrong foot.
Fandango, for example, still hand-harvests the oils, and then they go directly into a mobile olive mill. This means the mill comes to the olives where they are harvested. So, instead of the olives sitting for hours or days before entering a mill off-site, the milling starts immediately. This is a huge factor when you are trying to capture the most delicate antioxidants, polyphenols, and volatile constituents in the fresh, ripe olives.
The best companies employ small batch bottling into very dark glass bottles to achieve a longer shelf life of oxidation-free extra virgin olive oil. Also, most importantly, look for a company that includes both the harvest date, bottling date & specific olive varietal on each bottle. Many growers limit this info. A good olive is alive and rich in phenols that will dissipate over time. Good olive oil, unlike a good wine, definitely has a shelf life.
The Taste Test
An olive oil that is rich in polyphenols will have a kick. Soon after tasting it, there should be a bite or bitter taste in the back of your mouth or throat. If the olive oil is old or low in nutrients, it will lack the bitter kick. Don’t be fooled!
Organic farms, like Fandango, cannot use synthetic fertilizers or toxic pesticides. They must use cover crops to nitrogen fix the soils, use oil boxes for critter control, and cannot use re-cycled irradiated sewer water for irrigation that non-organic growers use. In California, organic growers are subject to regular surprise pesticide residue tests to be able to claim, “No Pesticide Residue Detected,” and to earn the prestigious California Olive Oil Seal of Quality – which should appear on the olive oil you consume if grown in California. Finally, most growers are contracted to sell their olives to big processors, where they are mass produced and often cut with less expensive and perhaps unhealthy oils. I prefer small farms, such as Fandango, that care for the olive from seed to seal.
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