«I buy a Greek extra virgin olive oil in bulk because bulk Italian olive oil is often not Italian and in some cases not even olive oil,» wrote acclaimed chef Sarah Jenkins, owner of the very popular Porchetta and the newPorcena restaurant in New York’s East Village. Her statement is critical in view of a bizarre new EU regulation that directly threatens unsuspecting consumers all over the world. Hard-working Greek and Mediterranean producers learned that “Brussels authorizes deodorised olive oils,” as an urgent Slow Food alert informed us.
“You do not protect quality by damaging honest extra-virgin olive oil producers, a category already facing a difficult situation. The presence of deodorised oils must at least be indicated on the label in order to guarantee the protection of the consumers’ right to information and health,” writes Carlo Petrini, Slow Food’s founder.
The chemically ‘deodorised’ olive oils will no doubt come under labels owned and distributed by large and powerful multinationals, who “have the habit of destroying our food for ‘efficiency’s’ sake, and then throw in some additives to ‘fortify’ the synthetic edibles they produce for us,” as Giorgos Dimitriadis, a producer oforganic olive oil from Crete, angrily observed.
Deodorization is basically achieved when an inert gas (nitrogen) is introduced at high temperature into seriously defective crude, or industrial grade ‘lapante’ olive oils (oil for lamps) for a length of time sufficient to destroy all foul smells. Refineries using the technique also treat oils that were originally destined for soap making, mixing them with oil extracted from pomace –the solid remains after olive pressing. The resulting ‘refined’ oil has no color, no smell, no taste, no acidity, and no health benefit whatsoever! The EU insists and guarantees that it does not hurt us, that is why it allows it to be consumed. This purified/deodorized olive oil is never sold on its own because it bears no resemblance to olive oil; it looks more like viscous water. Refineries add 5 to 15% good quality extra virgin olive oil to it and all of a sudden the deodorized oil acquires color, taste, smell, and acidity; then it is sold as ‘purified’, or ‘refined’ olive oil, or just as ‘pure olive oil’. Now that EU legalized the process as a means to ‘improve’ olive oil, you shouldn’t be surprised if you see totally misleading labels calling this kind of processed oil “Improved Extra Virgin Olive Oil!”
Needless to say that this development drives honest and hard-working producers all over the Mediterranean crazy as they are already facing rising farming costs, while EU gives the industry ample opportunity to reduce its cost with the ‘processed products’. A five-quart tin of processed ‘olive oil’ retails for about 13 Euros at the supermarket shelves in Greece and southern Europe; but Greek producers are on the brink of abandoning cultivation because they only get 1,80 – 2 Euro/per kg (quart) of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil they produce, price that doesn’t even cover their expenses!