With continued focus on eating and health, the benefits of olive oil have been extolled for years. As consumers, we’ve seen a substantial increase in the quantity and variety of olive oils on store shelves and are somewhat aware of the different classifications. But what do they mean? Most people know that ‘extra virgin’ is the classification given to the best grade of oil, but few know what constitutes ‘extra virgin’. That’s not hard to explain since the USDA had never defined what ‘extra virgin’ or ‘virgin’ was. As a matter of fact, UC Davis in concert with the Australian Oils Research Laboratory tested both imported and California produced olive oil found on grocery shelves in three regions of California. Their results showed that almost 70% of imported olive oils sampled that were labeled ‘extra virgin’ failed to meet international standards for ‘extra virgin’ olive oil. Read the complete UC Davis report here: http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/news-events/news/files/olive%20oil%20final%20071410%20.pdf. While the oils tested came from stores only in California, many of the imported brands are sold throughout the country. The confusion about what ‘extra virgin’, ‘virgin’ and plain ‘olive oil’ mean, is changing.
The California Olive Oil Council petitioned the USDA to establish standards for classifying olive oil. Effective October 25, 2010, the USDA’s official standards for grading olive oil took effect. Read the USDA olive oil classification standards here: http://cooc.com/docs/USDAstandard.pdf. There are several key points regarding the new standards. First, there is now an official definition as to what ‘extra virgin’ and ‘virgin’ is. With this new definition, there is a legal reference point to enforce accurate labeling of olive oil. No longer will importers be able to dump inferior oils in America by labeling and selling them as ‘extra virgin’. This also educates the consumer as to what exactly is ‘extra virgin’ versus other grades of olive oil and allows for an informed purchase. Is your olive oil ‘extra virgin’? Now you’ll know!