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So many quips about virginity and olive oil! The UC Davis research story, released on 15 July 2010, has run throughout the country, first in USA Today and the Los Angeles Times. Other media has jumped on this “headline opportunity”.

Olive oils we all recognize as grocery store brands “imported from Italy” were found not to be of the same quality as the smaller-producer California labels. Those grocery store brands (you’d recognize the gold tins and plastic bottles), were found to have laboratory qualities which did not meet the international standards for extra virgin. For a list, see the report’s Appendix.

While it is lovely that a California university conducted research that supports the brands of California, it really supports what we knew about grocery store selections, and the purpose of our mission at Olio2go.

In the report’s conclusions, the take-away message for consumers is that the oils are indeed “olive”, albeit “refined”, and not adulterated by other oils. Lower quality (and higher acidity) oils may have been bottled, and with further exposure to heat and light, the chemical properties reached a point where they could no longer meet the standard for extra virgin. They may have met the standards (just barely!) for extra virgin when bottled, but with light and heat they have deteriorated. Is that a surprise?

Have you ever noticed how the grocery store shelves are never empty? It takes a super-sized pipeline to bottle enough olive oil to fill all of the grocery store and warehouse chains. There’s not enough high quality extra virgin olive oil to fill the pipeline. We and our artisan producers regularly run out, and when that happens we wait for the next year’s harvest.

The best advice is to know your merchant and know how your oil is stored. When you buy from Olio2go, you can be assured that your oil has been stored in the dark, in cartons, in an air conditioned warehouse. Our low acidity oils are bottled far below the possible extra virgin-to-virgin threshold, and they are warehoused in the best possible conditions. We work together with the olive oil artisans to carry the best possible oils and support the small high quality Italian producers.

Update (6 August 2010) A group of California chefs has taken this to the next level and filed suit in Orange County Superior Court. According to this AP Report, they claim false marketing and advertising using “extra virgin” on the label. How do you feel about this controversy?

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