A Cook's Diary

A question of virginity

A question of virginity | casaveneracion.com

If you’re one of those parents who follow health news closely for the sake of your family and you use a lot of olive oil in your cooking hoping to keep the cholesterol levels down, you ought to know that whenever you buy a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, you might be getting something else. And this is a serious concern especially in countries where the exclusive source of olive oil is importation. If you’ve been wondering why olive oil has become more “affordable” during the past few years, it’s not necessarily because competition — the laissez-faire system — naturally brings prices down.

The LA Times reports that the USDA will start to get really serious with the enforcement of standards on olive oil quality following complaints about diluted or blended oils being passed off as extra virgin. Currently, there are no rules that determine what is “virgin” or “extra virgin.”

The thing is, the problem is not necessarily nor exclusively at the retail level. Importers of olive oil may not even be aware that they aren’t getting what they’re supposed to. And the mistake is passed on to consumers, perhaps unknowingly. Three years ago, The New Yorker published a jaw-dropping report about a tanker that left Turkey carrying 2200 tons of hazelnut oil in its hold. By the time it reached Italy, the hazelnut oil had miraculously become Greek olive oil per the ship’s documents. And it wasn’t an isolated incident. Of course, it’s The New Yorker — I’ll leave it to you to decide how credible the report is.

The website of a group promoting Palestine olive oil manufacturing companies has some words about a “study in Italy found that only 40 percent of the olive oil brands labeled ‘extra-virgin’ actually met those standards.” Since the company is a competitor of Italian olive oil makers, again, I’ll leave it to you to decide just how objective the claim is.

Of course, it’s about business. Shady business, to be more precise. With the popularity of the Mediterranean diet which hit the world less than a decade ago, the demand for olive oil has been soaring. And in any part of the world, there will always be businessmen who will want to profit from the minutest investment. Remember the melamine scandal? Same banana.

The problem is that these businessmen are playing with the health of millions of people — us, the unwitting consumers. The average household does not have the equipment nor the technological know-how to test every bottle of olive oil that comes from the supermarket. What do we do?

The new administration has said a few things about vigilantly protecting the rights of consumers. Will that extend to a strict monitoring of imported food items? Let’s see, shall we?

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