I’ve been thinking of doing a series on the blog for a while now, and today is the day we start!
This is going to be all about REAL food – or, really, how to make sure you’re actually GETTING real food at the store.
I know what you might be thinking: What am I buying at the store if it isn’t real food?
In all honesty? A LOT of things sneak into our foods and if we’re not paying attention to labels, we can find ourselves getting swindled by lots of companies.
Just one example – did you know most shredded cheeses have added flours / binders / cellulose (basically wood pulp) added to keep them from clumping? You may think you’re just getting cheese, but you’re not. And this is just the beginning. Sugar is in everything these days if it’s packaged. We’re eating way more salt than our bodies need plus lots of “ingredients” that don’t qualify as actual food. And many of these things aren’t allowed in other countries, but America is gobbling them up like swiss chocolate.
I completely understand the changes that have happened in our food system over the past 50 years – for demand and efficiency and shelf life – but that doesn’t mean I have to go along with all of them.
I’d like my cheese to just be 100% cheese and nothing else, please and thank you.
So today, to kick off the series, we’re talking about olive oil and highlighting two of our household favorites.
Olive oil is one of the most popular food staples around the world, but it’s also one of the most commonly counterfeited items. There are a few ways companies pass off lower quality – or even rotten, rancid oils – as olive oil. Some will cut their olive oil with something like sunflower oil or another similar form of oil to “stretch” their olive oil farther. But this means, if you’re buying it, you’re not actually getting 100% olive oil, even if it doesn’t say so on the label.
Another way they may stretch their oil is to dilute actual extra virgin olive oil with low-quality and/or chemically refined oils, or to dilute it using older (and sometimes now rancid) leftover oil from a previous harvest. Again, while some of this may end up and be all olive oil, it certainly isn’t fresh or what you want to be drizzling over your grain dish or making a salad dressing with.
So how can we know what we’re buying? Or which ones TO buy?
After doing some research on our favorite brands and everything else that’s on the shelves in our local stores, here are my top tips on finding the BEST quality olive oil where you are:
- Know that like many other words on packaging these days, most of them don’t mean anything. Natural, pure, cold pressed and other similar terms are actually unregulated and don’t carry any current meaning. So if that’s all you’re looking for, we’re going to change that.
- The MOST important term to look for is EXTRA VIRGIN. Even if some of these are the blended versions, anything not listed as extra virgin (as just olive oil or pure olive oil) are more likely to be poor quality.
- If you can find an actual harvest date on the bottle, that’s great! Choose one that was harvested within the last year.
- Buy bottles or cans that are either darker glass or tin, not clear glass or plastic. When olive oil is exposed to light, it goes bad much quicker.
- There are some certifications that are a good way to check for quality, too. If you can find California grown / made olive oil, check to make sure it has the COOC Certified Extra Virgin mark. There is also a EVA certification label from the Extra Virgin Alliance, which is used globally.
Of course, the best way to check for specific brands / companies is to search around on their websites or contact someone from the company to ask questions. As consumers – who are spending our hard earned money on food every day – it’s our right to know what we’re buying. And if a company is doing good work and making great products, they’ll be happy to tell you whatever you’d like to know. They should be proud to make a quality product, and that makes me happy and proud to purchase it.
So, our current favorites!
We’ve been using Nudo Olive Oil now for years, and I love it. Their extra virgin olive oil has such an amazing flavor on its own. They also have flavor infused versions like orange, lemon, and chili. Plus, you can “adopt” your own tree and get the oil throughout the year, which is so fun! They also encourage you to come visit, if you happen to head to Italy. (I’m also a total sucker for their packaging – how fun is it?!)
The other one I’ve found recently is California Olive Ranch. They have quite a few options, including – my favorite – the rich and robust extra virgin olive oil that is perfect for finishing dishes or using as a bread dip, etc. They also have the COOC certification and lots of information on their website about how they make their oils.
What are your favorite brands / companies for olive oil? I’m always looking for more to try!