The natural-oil food trend is something we have been captivated by, as study after study claims organic options yield better health overall.
But are some of these olive and avocado oils claiming to be something that they’re not?
Let’s dissect this modern-day kitchen oil conundrum.
A groundbreaking study done by the University of California, Davis in 2020 – and several other supporting studies in the lead up and since – found that an astonishing amount of kitchen oils claiming to be “avocado oil” were actually not what they claimed. While advertising supposed health and safety for consumers, these oils – within their “use by” window – were found to be rancid and inappropriate for human consumption. In addition to that, many of the oils tested were actually mixed with other oils and ingredients not listed on the product label.
In a world that is constantly evolving with new food and chemical sensitivities and allergies, this type of information should be mainstream. Yet, it isn’t. We cannot fathom people being unconcerned in a world where products are being cut with other, lesser, products or distributed outside of their expiry dates. Who is to say that the oil just purchased from a local grocer meets the standards of countries with regulation? What if there is an additive in this oil I am deathly allergic to that is unlisted or less referenced?
While the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does ensure control over regulating common oils, avocado oil is still relatively new and trendy to the everyday kitchen market. But even before it was trendy for more casual consumption, it was being served unregulated, to many. True avocado oil has been utilized in modern restaurants for years – and it has been identified as being used more than 10,000 years ago in Mexico. And yet, the FDA still doesn’t have a complete set of means to regulate the authenticity and quality of avocado oil.
This is not good.
“Most people who buy avocado oil are interested in the health benefits, as well as the mild, fresh flavor, and are willing to pay more for the product,” explains Selina Wang, Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Technology at UC Davis. “Because there are no standards to determine if an avocado oil is of the quality and purity advertised, no one is regulating false or misleading labels. These findings highlight the urgent need for standards to protect consumers and establish a level playing field to support the continuing growth of the avocado oil industry.”
The same was true for olive oil about ten years ago when Wang completed a similar study. Her work – alongside her colleagues – led to a boom in the olive oil industry and a push for regulation. However, regulation on olive oils still isn’t fool-proof, and hardly goes further than to outline the definition of types of olive oils for identification.
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) outlines information on olive oil that is not fit for consumption, it doesn’t guarantee that standards are being applied. In fact, as recently as 2016, headlines detailing over 80% of olive oil on the market is fraudulent cropped up, and yet the industry has hardly been touched since then. The truth is, corruption in the industry is deep-rooted, and may be the reason behind the slow-down on policy protecting consumers from low quality products.
It may prove a little difficult to see any progress on regulation in the near future, however there are things to note and ways to cope with the reality of your kitchen wares.
Is my oil real?
Though it isn’t always that easy to determine, there are an array of tells when you may have purchased olive oil labeled “virgin” that just isn’t. In fact, UC Davis study went on to claim that in three separate instances, bottles labeled as “extra virgin” or “pure” – regularly promising, decadent splurges of oils – were actually run-of-the-mill soybean oil. Even when your oil isn’t another oil in its entirety, it could be cut with oils of other grades, colors, and consistencies. When trying a new oil product, make sure to take a look at the liquid outside of the bottle to assess your particular situation.
Fake olive oils often have a more greasy consistency, and a flavor that is not akin to olives at all.
*A common myth is that you can test the authenticity of your olive oil in just 24 hours using your refrigerator. Supposedly, you add 2-4 tablespoons of your oil to a glass jar, then close it and put it in the refrigerator. If it has solidified by the next day, then it is olive oil. If it maintains its liquidity, then it probably isn’t the real deal. However, this test is not accurate and should not be trusted to determine the purity of your olive oil. You can get an in-depth explanation of why here.
*This is a correction – previously we inadvertently shared that this was an effective test.
Is my oil fresh?
Virgin avocado oil can come by a variety of flavor notes depending on the region it is sourced from. If you are unsure what to look for in verifying that what you have is avocado, examine the taste. Avocado is buttery, grassy, and should have a hint of mushroom taste to it. Avocado oil that is already rancid will smell stale upon opening the bottle. Many people liken the scent to that of play doh.
While rancid oil in moderate doses most likely won’t make you sick, there could be long-term consequences, especially if you’re continually purchasing a low-quality brand or buying in bulk. Be sure to monitor how you feel after trying new olive oils from your local store, and dig up as much information as you can about their certification, sourcing companies, and origin.
Though it ultimately doesn’t always matter, do try to buy a bottle of oil that is as close to the harvest date as possible, so you get some extra mileage out of your purchase. After breaking the seal, your oil has a shelf life of about 6-8 months when stored in a dark area.
Is my oil virgin or refined?
As the study suggests, many oils are not what they seem, even if they are labeled as such. If you have purchased avocado oil labeled “virgin” or “extra-virgin,” then the liquid should retain multiple properties of the avocado itself. It should be a beautiful green color, and have a smoke point of about 482 degrees Fahrenheit. Refined avocado oil can be identified by its lightened yellow – sometimes almost clear – tint. It also has a higher smoke point you can physically test for, between 500 and 520 degrees Fahrenheit.
Olive oil has similar tells when it is extra-virgin versus when it doesn’t meet those standards and is put through the refining process. Virgin and extra-virgin olive oil – like avocado – are often green in color, and have a pretty strong aroma. Many will leave a peppery aftertaste on your tongue. Refined olive oils have a less knockout flavor, and are lighter in color.
Kasandrino’s produces one of the most flavorful, certified olive oil on the market. Just knowing that it is made of hand-picked, Grecian olives compressed in small batches makes it feel luxurious. And it is. It is a food grade product, which means it can be used for consumption and not just for surface skincare treatments and everyday maladies.
When engaging true olive and avocado oils in your cooking, you will benefit greatly from oleic acid and other healthy fats. Both help your body absorb important nutrients, and these – as well as many natural oils – are known to support clear skin due to an abundance of natural antioxidants.