A new study offers more evidence that U.S. consumers often pay premium prices for European olive oil labeled as “extra virgin” when, in reality, they’re buying lower quality oil.
The U.S.-Australian report suggests “most” top-selling European “extra virgin” oils sold in California supermarkets “regularly” fail to meet international standards for extra virgin. Extra virgin olive oil is the top grade, delivering the best taste and the full health benefits of olive oil. It also commands the highest price. (Click here to read the study.)
The researchers found that nearly three-quarters of the top five imported brands failed to pass “blind” taste tests conducted by two panels of professional tasters. These experts are trained to judge if an olive oil qualifies as extra virgin or is a cheaper grade like “ordinary virgin” or “lampante.”
The results reinforce an earlier study issued last July showing 69% of the imported oils labeled extra virgin failed to meet international standards. The new study is even larger than last year’s, with more than double the number of store-bought oils tested. (Click here to read the July 2010 study.)
We’re happy this report again showed that we make great oil … something top chefs and serious home cooks already know! In the study, we continued to fare better than imported brands, including a couple of brands that cost significantly more than our own bottles.
“These results clearly demonstrate the need for better testing procedures and regulations to adequately protect consumers,” our CEO, Gregg Kelley, said of the study.
The new data show our own extra virgin olive oil as well as an Australian EVOO passed the blind taste tests, based on standards set by the International Olive Council (IOC) and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Our oil also fared better in lab tests.
By contrast, the study found 73% of the top five imported brands — Filippo Berio, Bertolli, Pompeian, Colavita, and Star — failed to pass taste tests conducted by two internationally recognized panels in Australia and at the Davis campus of the University of California. In particular, 66 of the 90 samples tested failed both panels. The tasters found the inferior oils to be rancid or fusty. The latter is caused by fermented olives.
Seventy percent of the top five imported brands also failed to pass an EVOO freshness test, while 50% failed to pass a test for exposure to heat and light; the tests are based on German and Australian quality standards which define defects like exposure to oxygen or adulteration.
As with last year’s study, California Olive Ranch helped fund this new study. And once again we had no influence on the methodology, brand selection, or outcome.
What was behind test European results? The researchers said the results indicated the failed samples: were exposed to oxygen; were of poor quality; or were adulated with cheaper, refined oils.
The researchers wrote that “our findings indicate that the quality level of the largest imported brand names is inconsistent at best, and that most of the top-selling olive oil brands we examined regularly failed to meet international standards for extra virgin olive oil.”
Two our own bottles out of a total of 18 — or 11% of those sampled — failed a test for exposure to heat and light. We were disappointed about that.
We strive to ensure all our bottles meet the highest standards. We want 100% of our bottles to pass every test, every time.
We take extraordinary care to make our oil. Our investment in technology that allows us to identify the olives used to make our oil should help us understand what happened to the two bottles that didn’t pass muster.
Looking ahead, we’ll aim to show people what great tasting extra virgin olive oil tastes like!
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch