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How to Choose a Healthy Olive Oil

artichoke and oil
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What is the Best Olive Oil to Buy?

Q:

I follow your blog and am passionate health foodie who recently discovered Real Food and WAPF this year (well, last year). I have been devouring books and everything I can find. However I am still stumped on one issue. What type of olive oil do you think is best to buy? I know that we should look for one in a dark bottle, organic, with very little refining, cold pressed, from Italy, etc.. but I am having trouble discerning from all the brands! I currently have a Carapelli olive oil, but the taste is very strong (which I assume means it’s not very refined) but I just want to find a good olive oil (or two- a lighter and stronger tasting one) that has the most health benefits and as close to the real thing as possible (also without paying an arm and a leg). I would appreciate any info you can lend on the subject!

Thanks, Meagan from Mutritious Nuffin blog

Hi Meagan, welcome to Hartke is Online! I am so glad you are following the blog! Not being an olive oil expert myself, I have turned to two gentlemen who may have some insight for you, Stanley Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat cookbook, and Chris Kerston, owner of  Chaffin Family Orchards. One is an expert in the culinary arts, the other an olive grower and seller of olives and olive oils. I hope you and the other readers will benefit from their ideas! I have been wondering about this myself, so I am really glad you asked!–Kimberly

A:

Stanley Fishman responds:

The best olive oils are organic, unfiltered, extra virgin and handcrafted. This is as close to the original as you can get. Spain and Italy , in my opinion produce the best olive oil, though the Greeks, Portuguese, and French would disagree. I’ve also had an excellent olive oil from Argentina, but I can’t find it anymore.

tender-grassfed-cookbook

A New Cookbook by Stanley Fishman

Unfortunately, the best olive oils can be very expensive, especially the ones from Italy.

My favorite olive oil, which does not cost an arm and a leg, is Nunez De Prado from Spain.

It is organic, unfiltered, extra virgin and handcrafted. It contains all the lipids, enzymes, and nutrients that are lost when olive oil is filtered. The company started in 1795, and continues to use traditional methods to make its oil. The oil has a nice but not overpowering flavor, and is perfect for salad dressings and marinades. You can also use it for cooking, but many of the health benefits are lost when the oil gets hot. This oil is available at Whole Foods and the price is quite moderate for the quality.

For cooking, which destroys the lipids and enzymes, I use organic extra virgin olive oil from Spain or Italy. There are a number of brands available at various prices. It is crucial to check with the seller to make sure they test the oil though, because many of the less expensive olive oils are adulterated with Soy oil or Canola oil, which ruins them. I would also recommend visiting the producers website, so you can be satisfied that the oil is really organic and 100% olive oil.

My cookbook has many references to olive oil and recipes for its use, visit my website, Tender Grassfed Meat.

Chris Kerston responds:

Kimberly has suggested I shed some light on this issue. I love that you are committed to finding a high quality, trustworthy, nutrient dense olive oil. I want to address a couple of your questions here but I will start with what you should look for and cover some of the more specifics in a second.

First start with nothing less than an Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The U.S. has less stringent requirements for this claim than Europe does. In the U.S. though it does at least mean that it is supposed to be a cold pressed oil which is the best place to start. Of course make sure to find an oil that is grown to organic standards. The olive market has been in a slump the last few years and can’t support a lot of inputs so this might be easier to find now, but make sure to ask about potential artificial chemical applications every year you buy. A lot of growers will say the trees aren’t sprayed but won’t tell you if they are using fertilizer or herbicide on the orchard floor. Next I’d look for an unfiltered oil. Unfiltered oils will contain more sediment at the bottom of each bottle but it leaves more of the nutrient density intact for the eater. On some of the sharper or more robust oils this might be a little too intense but we have definitely been able to pull it off with our mild oil.

Chaffin-Olive-Oil

Chaffin Family Olive Oil

I try to suggest people stick with domestic oils. I think most of our domestic producers are doing a good job in maintaining integrity of the oil. The further you remove yourself from the grower the less you know about what is happening in the processing of that product. You want to find out as much about the orchards as you can before purchasing an oil. If you can find out how old the trees are.  Older trees tend to produce better oils with a smoother more consistent flavor. Also you might ask about the conditions of the farm. The more the trees struggle the higher the polyphenol levels should be. A lot of oil now is coming from high density olives. These are olives trellised like grapes and then harvested mechanically. All of their nutrients are brought to them artificially. The olives do much less work to ward off disease or pests and then therefore produce less polyphenols. You can also ask if the farm tests their oil in a lab which will sometimes have a total phenol count as well as some other pertinent info.

I also recommend people only shop with oil producers who are specifically producing oil from their own olives that they grew themselves. I think a farm that is only using their own olives can be so much more sure about what happened to them during their life and speak directly of their integrity. If you can’t find this be sure you only buy a certified organic oil.

Chaffin-family-orchard

Chaffin Family's Olive Orchard

In terms of your comments about taste, flavor and level of refinement are not usually related (so long as you’re talking apples to apples and comparing an extra virgin to another extra virgin). Think more along the lines of wine. Olive variety, harvest time, management, locale, age of trees, and pressing style will all drastically change the flavor. There are as many olive oil flavors as there are colors of the rainbow and again like wine the flavor, though fairly consistent, of each variety will change a bit from year to year for every producer. As a rule of thumb early harvest (Oct-mid Dec) oils are much sharper than late harvest oils (mid-Dec on). Most places can’t harvest much past the end of January.

That brings up another good point. Olives are a once a year crop. People are always asking for “fresh” oil all year round. Any olive oil worth it’s weight ought to be able to keep well for at least a year so long as it is stored properly. Good olive oils should last 2+ years. The flavors will change a bit as the oil changes, usually in a positive way, but you should not taste rancidity within that time frame. Understand though that like most food products heat, light, and oxygen are your biggest enemies. Oxygen probably being the worst of those three. Most producers including ourselves ship gallons of EVOO in plastic containers. This is because they are affordable and it’s very scary trying to ship larger containers of olive oil in glass or anything breakable. I recommend people transfer the olive oil to dark glass containers upon arrival. Five clean sterilized wine bottles will hold a gallon. Just be sure you have a way to seal them well. Remember that oxygen exposure will drastically decrease shelf life.  Also store away from light and heat so don’t put the oil in a cupboard above or near the stove.

I like your point about having at least two different styles of olive oil. Each oil has its own place in the kitchen. Don’t get hung up too much on color or flavor from a health standpoint. There are healthy nutrient dense mild oils out there. That’s the market we have tried to master and I think we have done a good job. A lot of people buy our oil specifically for making mayonnaise. You cannot make mayo with a grassy oil.  We use Mission Olives from our 100yr old organically farmed trees. Mission’s are an heirloom variety notorious for their buttery mild flavors.  On that same end of the spectrum I have had some oils that are even sweet; so much so that I would consider putting it on pancakes. Sweet oil is not something I go for!

But, it shows how wide the flavor spectrum is. I like a good “California style” smooth mild oil. It’s very sexy right now to produce Spanish or European style olive oils. Most Americans don’t have a palate developed to such sharp flavors. European literature often states that a good oil should cause an involuntary cough. That doesn’t go over well with the average American buyer.

As a last tip try to buy a small quantity of oil before buying in bulk. You will pay more in shipping and price per unit on the smaller bottle but it’s worth it to try before stocking up. Once you have a few oils you like ask about purchasing by the gallon or 5 gallon container depending on how much quantity you use in a year.

We have more information about our oil and how we farm it differently in our webstore at Chaffin Family Orchards.

Readers, What Do You Think?

Hartke is Online! readers, what is your two cents worth on this issue? Do you have a favorite Olive Oil? If so, tell us about it in the comments, below. By the way, here is a blog contest for the best olive oil recipe, go and vote for your favorite finalist on Nourished Kitchen blog, plus a special promo for Chaffin Family olive oil.

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Comments

  1. Mikko Valjento says:

    “For cooking, which destroys the lipids and enzymes, I use organic extra virgin olive oil from Spain or Italy”

    I’d like to see the reference for this claim I often hear. Why would cooking destroy lipids (meaning fats, and there isn’t much anything else in any oil except lipids) if you don’t heat the oil up to, say, smoking point (which one would never do anyway)? And as for enzymes, as far as I know they will be destroyed (denatured, meaning they will lose their 3D structure) in the digestive tract by stomach acid anyway.

    Also, what does it mean for lipids to be “destroyed”?

    Most olive oil in traditional mediterranean diet is consumed in cooked food, so most of the health benefits must also come from cooked olive oil.

  2. Kimberly, I am so glad you addressed this. In the last year I have read several articles concerning the adulteration of imported olive oils. It seems that this is a wide spread problem, even in “high-end” oils, and it is never on the label! So I have been recommending (drum roll please)… Chaffin Family Orchards Olive Oil, which is simply *wonderful*! We just loved our 2 gallons, and I am now really wishing for more… It made fantastic mayonnaise, salad dressing, dip for artisan bread; it was wonderful in every application! Very smooth, and it felt good in our mouths!
    .-= Maureen´s last blog ..Feeding Your Family Well: Anyone Can Do It! =-.

  3. Also Kimberly, it is okay if I share this on Liberation Wellness, right?
    .-= Maureen´s last blog ..Feeding Your Family Well: Anyone Can Do It! =-.

  4. Mikko,

    It would be more precise to say that lipids are changed by heat, which changes their effect and composition, and enzymes are denatured by heat, which destroys their beneficial effect. All enzymes are denatured at a wet heat of 118 degrees Fahrenheit, and at a dry heat of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. All oil used for cooking is heated beyond this temperature durng the cooking process.
    Enzymes from food are extremely important for digestion.

    That said, olive oil, being composed mostly of oleaic acid, is a much healthier choice for cooking than polyunsaturated vegetable oils. Animal fat from healthy, pastured animals such as butter, tallow, and lard is the best choice of all for cooking.

    The term “Mediterranean diet” has many, often contradictory definitions and is often used to convince people to give up traditional animal fats that are crucial for health.The diet I recommend is the diet advocated by the Weston A Price Foundation.

    Sources: Article “Edward Howell MD”, by Sally Fallon and Mary G Enig, which is available at the website of the Weston A Price Foundation, westonaprice.org;
    I highly recommend the articles contained in the section “Know Your Fats” also on the same website.
    .-= Stanley Fishman´s last blog ..Health Benefits of Grassfed Meat =-.

  5. Kimberly Hartke says:

    Maureen, anyone is welcome to excerpt a couple of paragraphs from any post on this blog and then link to the rest of the article with a URL link (obtain by clicking on the post title then copy and paste the URL from your web browser into your article).

    I do recommend adding an intro paragraph in your own words, so that the search engines do not penalize you for duplicate content.

    Thanks for asking, and link away everybody! We all win by spreading good information around!

  6. Mikko Valjento says:

    Stanley,

    Thank you for your reply. You wrote:

    “It would be more precise to say that lipids are changed by heat, which changes their effect and composition, ”

    How are lipids in olive oil changed by moderate heat in cooking and how does that make them less healthy to animal fats?

    “Enzymes from food are extremely important for digestion.”

    Could you provide some peer-reviewed scientific evidence for this please, as I don’t see how enzymes from olive oil would have much to do with digestion especially since they are denaturated by stomach acid?

    You also wrote:

    “The term “Mediterranean diet” has many, often contradictory definitions and is often used to convince people to give up traditional animal fats that are crucial for health.”

    The traditional diet on the island of Crete has been associated with longevity as has for example traditional diet of Okinawa (not modern diet in either places). Both as far as I know use relatively little animal fats and a lot of vegetables, fresh herbs, olive oil and moderate amounts of alcohol.

    What evidence do you have to support your claim that animal fats are “crucial” for health? I’m not claiming the opposite, but it would be useful if you could provide any evidence at all to back your claims. To claim something is “crucial” for health means that one cannot live a healthy life without it and that’s a rather strong statement and I’m not convinced that it’s true.

    Mikko

  7. Mikko Valjento says:

    Stanley,

    One more question: If enzymes are indeed “extremely important” for digestion as you claim, then these enzymes are not present in butter/lard or they are also denaturated by the same heat that would denaturate enzymes in olive oil (as you yourself said), so I don’t really understand the enzyme argument in olive oil vs. butter at all. Could you clarify this, please?

    Mikko

  8. Hi Mikko,

    The best answer I could give to your questions as to peer reviewed information would be to refer you to the website of the Weston A Price Foundation, at westonaprice.org. Under the heading, Know Your Fats”, they have a number of articles which should provide what I think you are looking for. Dr.Mary Enig, who wrote or co-wrote most of the articles, is perhaps the leading scientist in the world when it comes to research on fats. She and her research group at the University of Maryland discovered the health hazards of transfats.

    In regard as to how enzymes work, I suggest you read the article entitled “Edward Howell, MD” by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, which explains in detail how enzymes work and their importance. That article is also on the Weston A Price Foundation website.

    There is a great deal of controversy as to what people on Crete and Okinawa actually eat. I have read articles that support your understanding.

    I have also read articles by people who have visited Crete and Okinawa that paint a very different picture. According to these articles, people on Crete will eat as much pork, lamb, and goat as they can get, and they prize the fatty cuts. The most common cooking fat used in Okinawa is pork lard. I did know some people from the country of Georgia, many years ago. People from Georgia are famous for their longevity. The Georgians I knew preferred meat over all other foods, especially the fatty cuts of pork, lamb , and beef, and ate huge amounts of milk fat, from yogurt, butter, and kefir.

    I would also highly recommend two books which I think will be very interesting to you. The first is Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Dr. Weston A. Price. I consider this to be the best book ever written on nutrition and a healthy diet.

    The second book is Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. This is much more than a cookbook. It has extensive nutritional and scientific information about diet and nutrition, and references many studies. This information is presented on sidebars throughout the book. Both of these books can be purchased thorough the website of the Weston A Price Foundation.

    As to your second email, the enzymes in butter and lard are denatured by heat, just like the enzymes in olive oil. They have other nutritional benefits found only in saturated animal fats, which is what I was thinking of when I referred to them. These benefits are described in detail in the articles and books I have referred to. Many of these benefits are not lost in cooking, just like some of the benefits of olive oil are not lost in cooking.

    I actually do believe that it is very difficult to live a robustly healthy life without the nutrients found in animal fat. That is a very strong statement, but I base it on my own life experience. I went from being gravely ill to robustly healthy in a couple of years. I read the information I have mentioned above and changed my diet accordingly. That is all it took. Many other people have had a similar experience.

    I invite you to read the articles and books I have recommended. I realize that the information in them is quite different from what most people are taught to believe, but I think you will find them interesting and informative.
    .-= Stanley Fishman´s last blog ..Health Benefits of Grassfed Meat =-.

  9. Thanks Kimberly! I’m so glad you finally got the article up!! 🙂
    .-= Meagan´s last blog ..Monster "Smashies" (cookies) =-.

  10. Great topic. I buy my EVOO at Trader Joe’s. They have at least two brands which are organic, cold pressed, unrefined and lovely to taste. The price is quite reasonable.

  11. Sylvia,

    What brands of EVOO do you buy at Trader Joe’s?

  12. I’ve been using organic EVOO from Napa Valley Naturals. Any thoughts on this brand? I but it because it’s cold-pressed, 100% unfiltered, and often on sale at my local grocery store. I like the taste on salads but don’t use it much for cooking.
    .-= Melissa @Cellulite Investigation´s last blog ..Tales from a Lymph Drainage Therapist =-.

  13. I am changing my recommendation.
    I recently had the pleasure of trying the excellent olive oil produced by Chaffin Family Orchards. This is the very same oil raised by Chris Kerston. This oil is excellent, works beautifully in my marinade recipes, and is great in salad dressing. I t has a great flavor which is subtle, yet very pleasent.
    I recommend it above the Spanish oil I mentioned in the article.
    .-= Stanley Fishman´s last blog ..S 510 Threatens Our Freedom =-.

  14. Great post! Thanks!
    I’m also a Nunez De Prado fan. I enjoy the flavor and use it for just about anything.
    Great links, Stanley, thanks!
    We have a little shop nearby called Artisano’s. They sell all kinds of Olive Oils. You can taste test each one! They also carry spices and different kinds of Balsamic Vinegars. Great place to hang out, taste test, and chat with the owner.
    http://www.artisanosoils.com/
    Jen

  15. Jen, you are welcome. It is a shame I’m 2,000 miles away Your website looks great, and I would love to try some of the traditional products in your store.
    .-= Stanley Fishman´s last blog ..A Better- Sustainable Way to Farm =-.

  16. Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Ie.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know.
    The style and design look great though! Hope you get the problem
    resolved soon. Kudos

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