Olive oil is a slippery business. Just like honey, olive oil is one of the world’s top food items susceptible to food fraud. Producers in Spain, Greece, and Italy do produce great olive oil, but they don’t send us that oil. They keep it for themselves! They adulterate the good stuff with the bad stuff. There is your answer to why imported olive oil is so cheap. It’s because it’s the low-quality oil that gets exported and lands up on our shelves. You get what you pay for! Much of the oil that is labelled extra virgin is not even extra virgin. It’s just, nobody is checking it.
By contrast, South African oil is checked by the SA Olive Association to ensure it is what it says it is. So look for the SA Olive Seal to be sure you are getting what you are paying for. South Africa makes world-class oils deserving of the international accolades they receive.
The colour of olive oils does vary dramatically, but the colour does not indicate the quality of the oil nor the strength of the oil. What does affect the colour of the oil is the types of olives used and when they were harvested. Ensure that your oil is labeled ‘extra virgin’, since other categories such as pure, light, olive oil and olive pomace oil, have undergone chemical refinement.
Another fact that is misunderstood by many, is that ‘light’ olive oils have fewer calories. This is not correct. All olive oils are 100% fat, which means they all have exactly the same number of calories. A light oil normally means it is light in flavour, so better for cooking. However, many light oils are not of good quality. Rather choose an extra virgin that has a ‘delicate’ flavour profile. That way you get all the goodness and health benefits and the oil is still light enough to be used for cooking.
Olive oil does not improve with age. Olive oil is a fruit juice, and like any other fruit juice, it’s at its best when it is freshly squeezed. Over time olive oil loses its flavour and health. Try to buy oils only from this year’s harvest – look for bottles with a date of harvest. Failing that, look at the ‘best by’ date which should be two years after an oil was bottled. And make sure you store it in a cool, dark cupboard. Not in the fridge.
So why don’t we try to keep it local? Our olive oils are of much better quality and price compared to the imported fakes. Here a list of award winning, local olive oils in South Africas, spoiling us with choice.
Delicate extra virgin olive oils:
Lapithos Olive Growers
Medium extra virgin olive oils:
Avenue Park (Pty) Ltd
De Rustica Estate
Intense extra virgin olive oils:
De Rustica Estate