New Yorker Article: Slippery Business

August 26th, 2010


Olive oil and health

August 26th, 2010

Q. I’ve read that olive oil is good for health, but is extra virgin olive oil worth the extra cost, or is it just another trendy gimmick?

You probably should be asking a chef, not a doctor. Extra virgin olive oil is trendy — so popular, in fact, that menus in many high-style restaurants boast of serving “EVOO,” the in-crowd’s acronym for extra virgin olive oil.

People in the know say that extra virgin olive oil has a characteristic zesty, almost pungent flavor that is missing from ordinary olive oil, which is bland, if less expensive. There is a chemical explanation for the difference between the two types of olive oil, and it may have implications for health as well as flavor.

Like other edible seed oils, olive oil is composed of a mixture of fatty acids. In the case of olive oil, about 75% of the fat is oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fatty acid in the omega-9 group. Oleic acid is also a major constituent of canola oil, and it’s equally present in extra virgin and regular olive oil. But there is a difference in the minor components of the olive oils. Unlike the others, extra virgin olive oil is obtained from the first pressing of olives; the other oils are extracted by solvents, heating, or both. As a result, extra virgin olive oil retains phenols. Various phenols, such as oleuropein, are antioxidants, and they may explain why olive oil helps protect LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from the oxidative damage that enables it to trigger inflammatory damage in artery walls. And because of the way it’s made, extra virgin olive oil has other vascular, anti-clotting, and anti-inflammatory properties that may be helpful.

A European trial tested this theory. Two hundred healthy male volunteers were randomly assigned to drink just under an ounce of low-, medium-, or high-phenol olive oil a day. In just three weeks, the high-phenol oil increased levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and reduced evidence of oxidative stress.

Do these chemical changes translate into clinical benefit and better health? It’s too early to say. For that matter, although scientists are confident that olive oil is better for the heart (and prostate) than saturated fat or trans fat, they are not completely sure that olive oil promotes health because of its own properties or just because it displaces harmful fats from the diet.

Until scientists can tell us more, we won’t know if the phenols and other minor constituents of extra virgin olive oil actually make a difference for health. If they make a difference in taste for you, join the trendy EVOO crowd, but as with all high-calorie foods, use in moderation.

— Harvey B. Simon, M.D.
Editor, Harvard Men’s Health Watch

Fresh is best.

September 13th, 2010

Why is the harvest date important? Olive oil is not like wine. It does not get better with age. The fresher the oil, the more flavorful and healthful it is. Oxidation and deterioration begins immediately after the fruit is picked from the tree, if not before. Olive oil should be consumed within 18-24 months from the harvest (18 months is better). In the northern hemisphere olives are harvested in the autumn, usually October, November and December. The southern hemisphere harvest occurs during our spring. Sometimes, the freshest available oils are from the southern hemisphere.

Read the entire article here:

Your Olive Oil May Not Be The Virgin It Claims

July 16th, 2010

A few more reasons to be extra cautious before buying “rancid” olive oil from your local supermarket. At Seasons you can taste each oil we GUARANTEE to be ultra grade extra virgin olive oil!

The next time you reach for a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, beware. A new study from the University of California- Davis claims more than two-thirds of random samples of imported so-called extra-virgin olive oil don’t make the grade.

The Olive Oil Chemistry Lab overlooks many of the 2,000 olive trees on the Davis campus. “It’s like we have our own CSI: Olive Oil lab here,” says chemist Charles Shoemaker, who manages the lab’s forensics. To be extra-virgin, olive oil can’t be rancid or doctored with lesser oils. Shoemaker wasn’t all that surprised that many of the 14 major brands failed certain tests.