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The World Of Olive Oil

“Extra virginity.” We’ll look at the sublime and scandalous world of olive oil.

A farmer pours olives from a bucket she picked before sorting out the leaves during the harvest, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010. A staple of many farmers around the world, olives are often used to make olive oil.  (AP)

A farmer pours olives from a bucket she picked before sorting out the leaves during the harvest, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010. A staple of many farmers around the world, olives are often used to make olive oil. (AP)

From ancient days, olive oil was the oil of the gods.  Of the sacred.  Bathe in it.  Anoint with it.  Burn it in praise.  Today, olive oil is the paragon of health foods.  The golden foundation of the Mediterranean diet.

But do you know what you’re buying when you buy olive oil? My guest today says the market is swimming in scandal.  Musty, grubby, rancid olive oil “deodorized” and passed off as extra virgin.  Italian flags slapped on oil from all over.  Health benefits promised and lost in fraud.

This hour, On Point:  Extra virginity.  The sublime and scandalous world of olive oil.

-Tom Ashbrook


Tom Mueller, writes for The New Yorker and other publications. He lives in a medieval stone farmhouse surrounded by olive groves in the Ligurian countryside outside of Genoa, Italy. He’s the author of the new book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.

Demeter “Mimi” Kotsonis, Greek-American resident of Athens. Her family owns a grove of 300 olive trees in the village of Skourochori near ancient Olympia.

View map in a larger map

From Tom’s Reading List

Olive Oil Times “Lately the olive oil industry has been struggling with a wrenching crisis brought on by mass-market price wars and a flood of low quality olive oil — a lot of it falsely labelled extra virgin.”


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  • Carlo

    After having traveled to Italy and Croatia, I can attest that there is something magical about the olive oil there and completely missing with our olive oil here. It’s just not even close. Even my kids noticed it.

  • Michiganjf

    I’ve walked the beautiful road through olive groves into Olympia… absolutely beautiful, idyllic terrain. I only wish I’d have had bread, cheese, olives, and wine to stop for a picnic lunch.

     Olive oil seems to have been used for almost everything at one point or another… ancient Greeks and Romans used Olive oil to bathe, for instance, dousing themselves with oil and having it scraped off along with dirt and body oil! I can’t imagine it, but I’m sure their skin looked beautiful!

    • Soli

      I used a blend of olive and castor oil to “wash” my face, and my skin has never looked so good.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    Scam sales and FRAUD advertising?  Who is surprised?

  • Nutricj

    another blow to helping people eat well and live healthy.

  • Soli

    I hope you put in a decent amount of coverage about companies which cut their olive oil with nut oils. At one point Connecticut apparently had a bill up to label such oils due to allergy issues, but I don’t think it ever went anywhere.

    • TFRX

      As someone allergic to some tree nuts, I have been told that the allergens don’t exist in the oils. Whether this is the case is beyond my knowledge.

      • Nutricj

        if it is refined the allegens are usually removed, but if it is fresh press as an exta virgin oil should be, the allergens wouldn’t be removed.

        • TFRX

          I’ll continue to pass on them, I guess. I can live without walnuts, I can live withouth walnut oil!

          • Nutricj

            yes, i am sorry to say it to anyone with nut allergies, you are better off avoiding the refining- just as the guest is explaining- is oft the worst!!! extra vigin avocado oil and coconut oils are wonderful, rich, healthy and delicious alternatives if you love to cook and watch your health ;-)

          • Soli

            That they are, and don’t forget butter! :)

          • Nutricj

            i love butter too! it does burn at moderate-high temps- but for flavor we can mix it half/half with avo, mac, or coconut oils, depending on the dish.

        • OliveChirper

          Yes, but if it’s real olive oil, you don’t have to worry about tree nut allergens, because there won’t be any tree nuts in it. It’s the adulterated stuff that might contain hazelnut or other nut residues (though again, refining usually strips these away).

          • Nutricj

            This is really bad advice. The tannins in the pits and stems of olives can produce allergic response for many with allergies. You should not advise someone about its allergen safety when you do not know the information. Lots of allergies exist from other substances in the fruits, stems, pits, residues, etc.

          • OliveChirper

            Sure — if you’re allergic to *olives* . The question was about adulteration with other tree nut oils.

          • Nutricj

            Ok, let me try this specifically, many with TREE NUT ALLEGIES have sensitivities and or allergies to the stems, pits, etc. in OLIVES….”google” about allergies, but I would suggest real evidence based research instead.

  • MM

    Is it true that the temperature you cook at with olive oil can change its properties and make it bad for our health?

    • TFRX

      The closer to extra virgin it is, the greener and fruitier, the less heat it will take before it starts breaking down. That loses a good amount of the flavor one pays to get over a more-refined olive oil.

      • OliveChirper

        That *is* true as regards flavor: heat breaks down many of the polyphenols and aromatic volatiles, and also causes some of the volatiles to evaporate out of the oil. But again, as regards health, if you *must* heat oils or fats, intense, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil is amongst the healthiest choices. Heating fats, and especially frying, is just inherently an unhealthy thing to do. Better is to  use as little oil as possible during cooking, and then add it in afterward.

    • Nutricj

      yes, it has a moderate to low smoke point oil (the point at which the oil burns- and when you see this it is not steam, it is burning/ruined). higher smoke point oils for higher cooking temps that are excellent are macadamia nut oil and avocado oil. extra virgin olive oil when it is real is excellent, just should not be overcooked.

      • OliveChirper

        Actually, no: the smoke point of macadamia oil is 210°C, while that of *high-quality* olive oil (with a low free fatty acid level) is close to 230°C.

        • Nutricj

          False on Mac oil. Making up numbers or quoting a bad source.

          • OliveChirper

            macadamia nut smoke point

          • OliveChirper

            smoke point macadmia
            … works even better on Google.

    • OliveChirper

      Yes and no. When you heat *any* oil or fat, you produce toxic byproducts and break down some of the healthy nutrients it contains. But because of its high content of monounsaturated fats and (especially for more intense oils) protective polyphenol antioxidants, multiple studies show that high-quality olive oil is forms *less* of these toxic byproducts than other oils at high temperatures.

      • Nutricj

        Contradiction to say any oil or fat then say oo is different. Pushing any fat to its smoke point is horrible to ingest and to be around breathing fumes when that point has hit or gone beyond. OO is not magically protected from smoke point and “many studies” say many things about anything. Fat is healthy and required for healthy function.

        • OliveChirper

          No contradiction. Speeding is dangerous; speeding with seatbelts is less dangerous than speeding without them. Frying is dangerous; frying with olive oil is less dangerous, thanks to its polyphenols. No argument that oils should not be pushed to their smoke point: ideally, as I said, oil should be heated as little as possible. And *healthy* fat is required for healthy function: there’s no requirement for trans fats or *dietary* saturated fat, and lots of people get too much omega-6 fat.

  • Rex

    I just assumed it’s all called extra virgin.  I really don’t care, but I’m told olive oil is a healthier option than the other oils.  Whatever is cheapest at Whole Foods comes home with me.

  • MM

    Is it true that the temperature you cook at with olive oil can change its properties and make it bad for our health? 

  • Anonymous

    What can anyone tell us about the olive oil from Chile?  I have been using it when I can’t find Californian olive oil. 

    • OliveChirper

      There is good and bad oil from Chile, just as there is good and bad oil from California, Italy, or anywhere else.

  • BHA in Vermont

    OK, so the olive oil I’ve been eating since I was a kid (thus > 50 years) has almost exclusively been Berio.

    Can I trust that this is NOT from olives swept off the ground after laying there for months?

  • Anonymous

    Buy local. In the Northeast use butter. Use the best olive oil you can find for special occasions. I’ll no longer buy the cheap stuff. Now off to tell my wife. Wish me luck.

  • guest

    I am currently looking at the lables of the two bottles of Extra Virgin Olive Oil I have in my cupboard.  One has an ingredients list containing one ingredient: Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  The other bottle doesn’t have an ingredient list at all.  Would it be a correct assumption to think the bottle with the ingredient list is really Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the one without the ingredient list is not really Extra Virgin Olive Oil?  

    • BHA in Vermont

      I thought all foods were required to have a list of ingredients.

      • Nutricj

        in this case, the trouble is the ingredient list will say, “extra-virgin olive oil” and it is untrue.

    • OliveChirper


  • Lclhowe

    Any recommendations for honest producers of olive oil?

  • Anonymous

    I want the freedom to buy mislabeled olive oil.  Stop the nanny state government from killing jobs made by the owners of olive oil companies. 

    • Anonymous

      Would you also like the freedom to buy mislabeled meat, milk etc. Producers need to be kept honest.

    • Nutricj

      and you fully have that freedom. the government hasn’t enough resources to stop the flow of the immitators- but we have the power to make the choices by finding out which producers we trust

      • Anonymous

        You first

      • OliveChirper

        Unless you have your own analytical chemical lab, or have specialized training as an olive oil tester, there’s no way to find out if you should trust them or not. Most Americans are just used to consuming lousy oils, and don’t know what to look for. And “the government” *would* have the resources if Congress would create legislation, allocate the funds, and get over their ideological insanity over raising taxes. Olive oil adulterated with cheap seed oils is the least of it: look at the rising rates of food poisoning, and contrast it with the starving of the FDA’s and USDA’s food inspection system.

    • Brett

      Don’t listen to those other commie-socialists; they’re just jealous of your mislabeled olive oil’s freedom!

      • Anonymous

        I’m glad someone got the joke.  I was getting worried.

    • RolloMartins

      The freedom to be duped? Seriously? That is the same as saying you want corporations to be able to hoodwink everyone (steal) just so you can say, Smaller gov’t is better. 

  • Jethro Katz

    So,give us the bottom line: what brand should we buy and where can we buy it?

  • Nancy Pierce

    Since your guest’s article appeared in the New Yorker I’ve been befuddled about what olive oil to buy. So, because there was no mention of Australian oils among the scamps described in the article, I’ve been sticking to olive oil from Australia. Is this a safe bet, or can Tom recommend a different strategy?

  • Anonymous

    What countries can we trust the labels from?

  • BHA in Vermont

    As far as I’m concerned living wouldn’t be worthwhile if there were no olive oil and garlic  :)

  • Anonymous

    According to the guest…I am a barbarian!!!

    • Anonymous

      No, according to the ancient Romans you are.

      I also enjoy beer and pork so I guess I’m a barbarian as well.

  • Dh001g

    Isn’t it a waste to use EVOO for things like frying potatoes? Are their other grades of olive oil are ok for more basic cooking? Is lower grade oil still better than corn oil?

    • Nutricj

      it is a waste- and it is harmful- both for your breathing the burn fumes when the oil breaks down and for consuming the burnt oils. use high smoke point fats if frying is demanded. to bring the smoke point to a higher point on OO of any kind- the only way is refinement=no good.

  • Jennifer

    My absolute favorite olive oil is Unio.  It’s Spanish and it’s pure purfection.  I accidentally discovered it at Whole Foods ten years ago, and I haven’t been able to buy any other since.  Whole Foods has stopped carrying it- so now I have to ship it in Bulk.  Has your guest tried Unio?  If not, he definitely should.  It’s heavenly!

    • Jennifer

      perfection- sorry about the typo!

  • Diane

    What tips can dumb consumers have to get real healthy olive oil when we go into a grocery store??

    • Nutricj

      look at some common labels- and then call companies, or research them online- if they are local- visit!

      • OliveChirper

        If they’ll lie on their labels, they’ll lie on their telephones and websites.

  • Robert Sardell

    Does “certified organic” mean that the oil is more regulated and hence less chance of fraud?  I’m thinking of Zoe from Spain and Biionaturae from Italy.  What do you think?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Athena-Agoudemos-Lawrenz/756698513 Athena Agoudemos Lawrenz

    Greetings!  Thank you for the informative show.  I was just in Greece in September enjoying home grown, GREEN, earthy olive oil poured out of a spent METAXA bottle.  Athena 
    p.s. My uncle still uses olive oil in his hair.  p.p.s. Tom, your voice is part of our household.  You are the best

  • Justin

    Sounds like an analytical approach would help-if an oil is known to be extra-virgin, if could be analyzed with modern techniques that should be able characterize the oil. This would enable adulterated oils and “non” extra-virgin to be detected.

  • Ponderworks

    Check out this treatise on Hanukah and Olive oil.

  • JustSayin

    Now if I’m going to buy unregulated oil, then I guess I’ll buy American oil.  I guess.  I wish the guest would give us some pointers on what to avoid, and is any labeling certified in any way.

    Perhaps its back to Canola, until they get this market regulated.

  • Leah

    I sometimes bake with “Extra Light Tasting” Olive oil to get the health benefit of the fat but not overpower certain baked goods with the traditional olive oil flavor.  What kind of processing does this “light” olive oil go through and am I wrong to assume we are getting the “good fat” benefit from it?

    • Anonymous

      This is one of the ones I would avoid like the plague.
      I use butter when I bake. I would never use olive oil for baking, unless I was making pizza dough.

    • Nutricj

      here here, to jeffe reply!!

      and would add, one could argue you benefit from the monounsaturated fat vesus a saturated fat BUT i would eat the real butter anyday/everytime over the highly refined, industrial “light” olive oil. the over-refining of fats (oils/liquids at room temp) destroys the health imparting qualities of real food. and one other note- the bulk refining is why it is so cheap to buy.

      • soup

        isn’t real butter processed and refined to make it cheaper, and taste like it’s supposed to ?

        unless you’re churning your own butter of course….  what is real butter ?

        • Nutricj

          I get it from local farms or I buy European, unsalted for baking at WFs or health food store. Or yes, throw heavy cream into your mixer and keep going till you get butter. Always organic, no feedlot cows milk /cream, no antibiotics, no hormones. That is real.

        • Guest

          Not usually. Occasionally processors will add some annato or something to make it more yellow, but as long as you’re buying butter, not margerine, it’s butter. There are better and worse butters, based on quality of milk and things like that, but not what you’re seeing here (all hail kerrygold, btw).

    • Bostonoliveoil

      yes you are wrong to assume that, to get the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil you must use extra virgin olive oil and nothing else

      • OliveChirper

        That’s not exactly true. The health benefits of monounsaturated fat is still present in refined olive oil. What you don’t get is the *extra* benefit of the polyphenols, squalene, and other nonsaponifiable goodies in high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.

  • T.M.

    I hate to fall into the trap of assuming that more expensive guarantees “better”, but I’m also feeling like there are no clear guidelines here as to what is truly good.

  • Anonymous

    What about using rapeseed oil. It has a very high burn rate and is a good substitute for a cooking oil.

    • Nutricj

      this is one of the most popular restaurant choices because it is high heat/smoke point withstanding and less expensive. i am not against it, but the others (like the avocado and macadamias, etc.) have much more nutritional bang for buck per fat calorie. BUT one big advantage: it does NOT add other flavors as the other oils will, many dishes we create we hope to avoid influening the food with fat flavor too.

  • Emmet M.

    Lard made from organic, pastured pork fat is a cheap, healthy and easy to make at home from local sources. It has a higher smoking point than olive oil or butter, and is high in Omega 6 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats.  Don’t waste your time and money looking for an “authentic” extra virgin olive oil, when you can render your own cheaper alternative at home! Praise the Lard!

    • Guest

      That’s my go to fat. That and tallow (beef suet). Ok, good butter, too…

  • MM

    Is it true that the temperature you cook at with olive oil can change its properties and make it bad for our health? 

    • Anonymous

      Don’t let it burn. If it starts smoking a lot discard.

  • Buzz

    This show is great, but I’ve learned NOTHING about how to buy good olive oil.  Please comment.  Buzz

  • Margaret

    So what brands do you recommend

  • MM

    I am sorry my post was repeated. I actually also meant to ask whether using lots of olive oil can be bad for health. My boyfriend uses tons of it and when I tell him oil is bad, he says not olive oil, you can have as much you want.

    • BHA in Vermont

      As my doctor told me – it is better for you than saturated fats, but it is still fat so probably, no, you shouldn’t over do it. But then, how much is ‘tons’?

    • Nutricj

      i am sorry too- i tried to reply and it posted above, LOL so we are busy thinking about food, we forgot how to post ;-)

    • OliveChirper

      The only bad thing about consuming olive oil is that like all foods it contains Calories ;) . If you take in too many Calories, you will put on fat: it doesn’t matter if it comes from olive oil, butter, pasta, or ribeye steak.

  • cindylouhoo

    this guy calling olive oil ‘fruit juice” reminds me of the bug guy calling insects “animals”

  • Lee Farris

    With the governments of Greece, Spain, and Italy both needing money to reduce their deficit, why not institute the same type regulatory system as they use for wine?  Then they will have an incentive to regulate the right way.

    What is stopping them?  Are the big companies paying them off?

  • new england eater

    Treating olive oil in cooking is as important as buying the best – high heat can damage the oil in frying and change it’s healthful properties to neutral or not healthful – Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun and more, sells oil from her grove at her web-site on-line - 

  • David in Canaan, NH

    Excellent program.  Thank you very much.

  • JustSayin

    If I’m to believe the 60 minutes piece on The Flavorists, then they could take crude oil and make it taste like E.V.O.O.  So… back to whatever is to cheap to monkey with. Butter?

    I have had the same experience with fruit (in FL and HI) and also with wine. Once you have tasted the real thing, everything else tastes like garbage.

    • BHA in Vermont

      Yep, like Maple Syrup. Until I moved to Vermont over 30 years ago, I thought Log Cabin, Aunt Jemimah, etc WERE maple syrup. NEVER AGAIN. If it didn’t go directly from the tree to the sap bucket/holding tank to the evaporator to the bottle, I skip it entirely. 

  • Sonja

    This is most disturbing. What we need is a list of reputable sellers (labels) in grocery stores of “real” olive oil. I’ve tried the taste testing you suggested, but have you seen the prices of these oils? Who can afford that? There has to be a basic good real olive out there that won’t break the bank. 

    • Jeremy

      Unfortunately there are only a few known companies who are recognized for supplying truly Authentic Olive Oil.  In retail… the Kirkland Signature brand offered at Costco (www.costco.com) has been tested and proven authentic.  In wholesale and bulk quantities… the Bella Vina brand offered by Centra Foods (www.centrafoods.com) has also been tested and proven authentic.  

      • OrganicAmy

        Thanks for the info Jeremy.  If you’re in New Mexico, http://www.lamontanita.coop is also know to carry authentic olive oil.  I’m not sure if they carry both retail and bulk though.

  • Dalisbrother

    . . . this has been such a great revelation. the story itself is a tell, tell of what we have become as consumers. We have gotten far from the idea of getting the “Real McCoy” it isn’t funny. I looking forward to reading the book.

  • Nutricj

    we argue/debate a lot about this. i am a licensed nutritionist with a masters…my take is that fat is good. very good. our brains wouldn’t work without it. our joints would shrivel. our eyes wouldn’t see. fat doesn’t make us fat- too many calories, too much sugar and inactivity are much more concerning than eating oils, except for heavy frying, because this alters the fat molecule chains to increase heart disease, obesity, etc. our bodies are not wired to like this alteration.
    the sardians live the longest, have the highest number of centenarians still actively working in the world, and they eat olive oil a lot (and wine, fish, veggies and only little meat/sat fats). cheers!

  • JustSayin

    This program has put Olive Oil into the same category as Hotdogs.

  • Donald B Harris

    Sorry I just heard of your show.  I often listen when I am driving.
    At http://www.latienda.com we carry more than 20 olive oils from Spain — which is by far the leading producer in the world. Spain ships a significant amount of EVO in bulk to Italy where it is bottled as Italian.EVO is like wine — both are the product of squeezed fruit.  There are myriad variations. My favorite is Señorío de Viscántar from the proivince of Córdoba.  It is a fruity blend of picual, picudo and hojiblanca olive — mellow with a zip.  If you are in Williamsburg, Virginia we have a shop where we have regular classes and tastings.  Our http://www.tienda.com site has the fullest selection of extra virgin olive oil in America — we ship anywhere.  I would be glad to talk with anyone at my email address harris  @latienda .com or 757 262 8831.

  • Ternhill

    What was the name of affordable Spanish olive oil mentioned in last moments of the show…. óleo something????

  • RolloMartins

    I went to Israel once and they had a ton of groves…sadly I never taste tested. After listening to the show I am certain I’ve never tasted real EVOO. 

    • JustSayin

      Yeah, I guess I haven’t tasted it either.  I have purchased some very green and fragrant oil in the market, but it could have been dyed, and “enhanced”.

      I always liked the greenest Spanish oil I could find, thinking that’s the real thing… but now who knows.

  • Peter K

    Great story NPR!!   I got turned on to REAL Olive oil about 4
    years ago by Tom at Ariston’s olive oil when i met him on the job, His family
    has been making Olive Oil for generations on a small farm in Greece, just like
    your story…I have to say I was amazed how different REAL olive oil tasted…  Absolutely delicious!
    We loved it so much I put it online and we only have Olive oil…trying to spread
    the fantastic taste of real Olive Oil!
    Checkout:    http://purehealthyoil.com/

  • Fred Moore

    Where is Turkey in this discussion? I lived there many years and they have Olive Oil as well!

  • Owen Ryan

    Thanks for having me on the show today, and for making consumers aware of these important product integrity issues in this $1.3 billion US market segment. Even as a professional in the food industry and an entrepreneur with decades of experience bringing multiple new food products to market, it’s a truly daunting challenge to source, package and sell quality product that have real integrity and unadulterated pedigree.  (www.AntiOxidantFarms.com)  It’s even more of a challenge to deliver that product at a price consumers can afford — without having to mortgage their homes in the process! At AntiOxidant Farms, we’re looking forward to bringing great quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil to market in 2012 to add to our current line of healthy foods in NYC and elsewhere, but only if we can first sort through the many quality and authenticity issues which you highlighted today. There are a lot of “fake virgins” out there as you pointed out today, plus many of the food store store execs at the big grocery chains are focused only on getting the lowest cost per ounce, providing a built-in advantage for the fraudsters of the world, an incentive for continuing fraud, and a serious economic burden for smaller suppliers. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but with the support of increasingly educated consumers because of books and programs like the show today  (and a bit more patience from my investors) I certainly hope to provide consumers with some reliable options to most of what’s out there now. Time will tell. Keep up the good work!

  • daniel

    I’ve been buying olive oil at Whole Foods or Trader Joes. I noticed that ALL of the olive oil available on the shelf is labeled as Extra Virgin. My grandmother used to buy those large tins of Italian branded olive oil from local shops in her Italian community in central New York State. She used that basic olive oil for pretty much everything. It certainly had a richer flavor than the basic bottled brands (365, Trader Joes) available here. When Extra Virgin became a trend I remember those oils being distinctly fresher, more like ripe olives, and recommended for bread and salads while the basic oil was used in cooking. What happened to the basic olive oil? It seems to me it’s all packaged as Extra Virgin.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t trust Trader Joe’s of Whole Foods in this regard.
      I’ve been buying Olive oil from a small Greek grocery.
      So far what I’ve bought from them seems pretty good.
      Although I need to become a better educated consumer in this area.

  • Anonymous

    California produces a lot of olive oil… I imagine U.S. regulations might be stricter? Can we assume US grown olive oil lables are more accurate than overseas?

    • Arwen Curley-Panteleakis

      Your assumptions are completely wrong. Regulations in the U.S concerning food quality are deplorable and are definitely way behind E.U regulations. And here lies the problem, people automatically assume that the U.S. has a good system for regulating food and they believe their food what it should be.

      • OliveChirper

         The US really does have a poor food safety system as compared with other developed OECD countries. See:

  • Anonymous

    Small world. This fellow in the video from “Seasonal Fresh” is the real deal. I met him on Market Day in Wells, UK last year. He did the same presentation with with us, and believe me that oil was superb. He’s not exaggerating one bit. Fresh herbs, flowers, rich and satisfying, it’s all there. So good we brought some home.

    BTW I see La Tienda in Williamsburg, Virginia posted here during the show. We shop with them and love their products. They do a wonderful job finding the good stuff.

    ….and no, they didn’t tell me to say that.

    Thank’s, Tom for a great show.

  • Flipthis

    Ocean State Job Lot has some good extra virgins from the old Baltics – only 5 or 6 dollars a bottle too.

  • http://www.araliaoliveoils.com Emmanuel Daskalakis

    Thank you for allowing me to speak on your show Tom. My family on the island of Crete in Greece, produces ARIA, one of the world’s best olive oils.  When I realized years ago that American consumers had available to them mostly inferior, often counterfeit oils that they purchased from their local supermarket it became my passion to introduce ARIA to the US market.
    Tom Mueller is exactly right on what makes a great olive oil – and he is correct about all the fraud that goes on. In making ARIA we follow exactly the steps he outlines to produce a superior product. Most important, we pick our olives just as they are turning from green to purple; we carry them to the mill in small sacks and press them immediately to retain the freshness of the fruit that you can taste in its juice – the olive oil.

    ARIA is sold in the US in major supermarkets (Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Fresh Market), specialty gourmet stores, and online at http://www.araliaoliveoils.com. BUT regardless of whether you buy ARIA or another genuine extra virgin olive oil, my goal is to help consumers learn to distinguish between the real and the fake. If you would like more information please contact Emmanuel at epd@araliaoliveoils.com.

    Emmanuel Daskalakis


    • Pegair75

      I love it! Wish I could get large amounts for a better price! Is that possible?

  • Anonymous

    I have been buying ARIA olive oil, which is made by a family farm in Crete. It is absolutely delicious and it is very fresh and honestly made.

  • http://twitter.com/justinerows Justine

    After listening to this show, I went shopping at Stop & Shop and was pleasantly surprised to find such a range of oils that list the date made and location pressed. I opted to go with ARIA because of it coming straight from Crete to Boston, where I live. Thanks for the great tips! I feel like an oil connoisseur.

  • jaymer

    This was a fascinating show. As I was listening, I was making a dinner which included roasted vegetables and sautéed spinach with garlic. I found myself gathering all of the olive oil in my kitchen and choosing “the good stuff”, olive oil with limes, made in California and bought at Whole Foods. Delicious. Our “regular” olive oil, a brand that we occasionally buy at Costco, has always smelled and tasted funky and unappealing. Now I know why. The idea of it possibly being rancid, convinced me that it’s worth spending a few extra dollars, for the REAL Extra Virgin oil. Thank you for a wonderfully interesting topic. I learned  a lot!

    • floortotopbunk

      Not to dis the small label small businesses, but FYI an article some months ago which I read (perhasp on website Consumerist?) had a comparison of several brands. I recall Costco had passed the test of at least being 100% olive oil -unadulterated with random oils.
      I don’t have the reference handy now but perhaps you could  research it.

    • Guest

      I also have been buying some olive oil at costco, and had noticed its funkiness, especially in mayo. It went away once I seasoned the mayo (or rather got covered up), so I never thought about it much. After hearing this I tasted it by itself, and realized that that funkiness was rancidity. blech! I don’t know how I’ve been consuming this stuff. I guess doing most of my cooking with butter and lard helps, but still!

  • Melissa

    THANK YOU Tom for the great show!! I was so happy to hear the exact same words that I convey to my customers on a daily basis. My mother owns a small olive grove on the southern tip of the Peloponnese in Greece. We are located on the outskirts of a fisherman’s village called Gythio, in the prefecture of the Lakonía region. We import our own olive oil and olives in bulk to Maine for packaging in small batches. Our family is involved from the harvesting in Greece, to the hand-crafting in Maine – providing the highest quality control from start to finish. Our olive oil is completely raw and unfiltered, single-variety, and single-estate. It is premium extra virgin grade, with an acidity level less than .5%. It is the real deal, exactly what you would get when traveling to the southern tip of the Peloponnese, and what you talked about on your show. I want to introduce you to our family business: Lakonía Greek Products.
    I’m well aware of all the fraudulent extra virgin olive oils in stores that we are competing with. My olive oil consultant in California told us when we started our business that the toughest part would be educating consumers what REAL olive oil is all about, and how most olive oil in stores are adulterated and mislabeled. In fact, we just had an olive oil tasting event, and I made sure to let our customers know about adulterated extra virgin olive oil in stores, and they were all shocked! The average consumer has no idea what real olive oil tastes like, and the scandal behind it.
    We are a small family business, not in Trader Joes or Whole Foods. We have a store in Saco, Maine, an online store, and supply small businesses who like to deal directly with the producer. We import and distribute our products; no one takes better care of our olive oil than the hands of our family. Check out our website: http://www.LakoniaGreekProducts.com. I just posted this segment on our facebook face, and am also going to link it to our website. Thank you so much for such a great resource!! If anyone wants to try one of the best Greek extra virgin olive oils available, feel free to use this FREE shipping code for our online store, you won’t be disappointed: ORU. Also, if anyone has any questions, please email me at: Info@lakoniagreekproducts.com, or call: (207) 286-7321 (cell),(207)282-4002 (office). I’d be happy to personally field any questions. We have lots of info on our website and have been working on an olive oil regulations section, which is coming soon. This show will be perfect to feature in our new section, thanks again!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6IHV4MFIZSWLDYVHLMSSWKARZ4 Brennan511

    I was camping in N.H. a while ago and said “I’v got some PEANUT OIL” and everybody started laughing embarresedly. I think they TOO misheard me…
    California Yes! not eroding Spain [ship ballast].
    I bought some very very tasty [greenish] home-made Olive Oil in N-NW BAJA CALIFORNIA MEX in a mason jar/recycled bottle. And they don’t till nothing.
    But will it/oil give you a heart attack? that’s the real question.

  • OliveChirper

    To all the folks asking about where to get authentic, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil: Mr. Mueller does have a page on his website for good brands, although he hasn’t filled it in with producers yet:

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HLMXNRFKZNHHRCZUOUZWM4H6BA D

      there is no information on that page, other than ‘coming soon’

  • Liz

    What Spanish olive oil did Tom Mueller mention/recommend towards the end of the interview?

    • Kevin

      olio espeda

  • Michael Miller

    I highly recommend the articles by Lucy Vivante in the Berkshire Review (http://berkshirereview.net/2009/02/bomarzo-olive-oil/ ) and the Olive Oil Times (http://www.oliveoiltimes.com/features/gruppo-pieralisi/ ). She is deeply knowledgeable about Italian olive oil, having interviewed many of the Italian principles in the industry and is constantly in touch with new developments from her base near the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome.

  • Nora Nix

    I work for a California olive grower and this is so great, I am so proud to sell handpicked, cold washed first pressed and unfiltered olive oil

  • Jen Brehob

    My friend Sandra Langston lives in Italy and has a blog where she describes in entertaining detail the tasks of owning an olive orchard and producing one’s own authentic oil. Her post “Olive Oil is Expensive for a Reason,” is entertaining and accompanied by one of her art works of an Olive tree.

    Here’s the link:


    This is a good discussion and I look forward to reading Tom Muller’s book. 

  • Lisa

    Great show! I have been importing Tutti Amici Olive Oil from my friends in Tuscany for 3 years. It is absolutely superb! We won 1st place in CT Specialty Foods Annual Competition forvour olive oil and our honey this year. We arevthrilled to introduce everyone to delicious cold pressed (old stone wheels), extra virgin olive oil. We bring in grade B…because Italians do not let grade A out of the country…please check out our website at http://www.tiezziimports.com and try our Award Winning Tutti Amici olive oil for yourself.

    Freshly pressed every November, we bring in just enough for 1 year. It is stamped with an 18 month expiration date to insure freshness.


    • Peter

      how can you people shamelessly promote your goods like this in this forum? have some tact!

      • Squire

        I find the “shameless promotion” of their goods as a helpful aid in my search for good oil.  I laughed at the picture in my head of you shrilly denouncing  those people.

  • Sharri

    I enjoyed the interview very much and look forward to reading the book. My iPhone/iPad app, Olive Oil IQ, is a portable shopping and culinary travel assistant to take to the local grocery store or gourmet shop, with details and photos of labels and tips on choosing, storing and tasting olive oil. It’s also fun to take along on your next trip to Italy to find olive oil producers region by region, olive oil routes, maps, museums.

  • CalAthena

    How to find good real extra virgin olive oil is of course
    the $64 question in this discussion. As Tom M. points out, the reality is that
    in the US we are really “the wild west” as far as regulation goes. We
    finally have a USDA definition for extra virgin, but there is no meaningful
    regulation or enforcement. The Australians have recently adopted a very good
    standard for olive oil that includes two tests that are very good at detecting
    old, poor quality or refined olive oil—there is talk of adopting this tougher
    standard globally to give consumers some assurance of authenticity and quality.
    There are a couple of articles on my website that might be helpful for people who
    are trying to get a handle on the olive oil quality issue so they can buy
    better oils. http://www.calathena.com/olive-oil-appreciation/

    • Harry09

      Ariston Extra Virgin Olive oil!  100% extra virgin never mixed with lesser qualities from other countries.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TWTAKSVSYRWWBBJX4LGJCA3NFM M

    Good news!  According to a study conducted by the UC Davis Olive Center,
    Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic EVOO ranked consistently as genuine EVOO.  See for yourselves here: http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/publications

    • OliveChirper

      Careful. First, it was (as you say) the Kirkland Signature  *Organic* oil that passed: the regular Kirkland Signature wasn’t tested, and since it comes in clear plastic PET, it is almost certainly garbage by the time you buy it even if it started off OK.

      But second, even the Kirkland Signature Organic oil was shown to be degraded: it passed the low threshold of the International Olive Council standard, but one in three samples failed on the more advanced testing required in the slightly more rigorous Australian and German standards — and the other two samples barely squeaked by.

      In any case, no one would confuse either the regular Kirkland Signature oil or the Organic with the kind of delicious liquid gold celebrated in Tom Mueller’s book, or that Tom Ashbrook was regaling on the air.

    • Karl

      Please visit Oleaestates.com for the real thing.  From the valley of Sparta, Greece (the Lakonia region where the best olive oil in the world is grown).  First cold press, .3 acidity, USDA and EU cert. organic.
      I just returned and harvested myself, I can be reached at karl@oleaestates.com.

  • Osteopam

    I know mine’s extra virgin cold pressed cos I picked them myself and took them to the local press, and dipped bread in it as it poured out fresh. Heaven! 

  • Dan Cooper

    I liked this show and On Point in general.  One thing I noticed though, and I’ve been noticing it more often.  When I started listening to On Point they always got to the very essence of things, not wasting time but never starting in the middle either.  Lately it hasn’t been the same.  I listened to this show for the first 20 minutes then had to go and never in that time did I hear what Extra Virgin even is.  If something’s virgin how can it be extra?  Does it mean there are no additives?  It’s like talking for a half hour about whether Kosher meats are Kosher, does no one think to explain what Kosher is?  The On Point I first started to listen to would have asked the question ‘for our listeners who don’t know, how does Olive Oil come to be and what do the different grades signify? 

    I think that’s an important part of the show.

    • Mark Kirk

      From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_oil

      Retail grades in the United States from the USDA.

      U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil for oil with excellent flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of 0.8g per 100g (0.8%);

      U.S. Virgin Olive Oil for oil with reasonably good flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of not more than 2g per 100g (2%);

      U.S. Virgin Olive Oil Not Fit For Human Consumption Without Further Processing is a virgin oil of poor flavor and odor;

      U.S. Olive Oil is an oil mix of both virgin and refined oils;

      U.S. Refined Olive Oil is an oil made from refined oils with some restrictions on the processing;

      These grades are voluntary

      • lalla

        the same in italian law –
        but Extra Vergin must be from the 1st pressure of olives and have to pass a tasting test (“panel”) with at least a vote of 6,5 (from 1 to 10) – no additives, no chemicals. I have a farm and I produce organic olive oil, only Extra Vergin. Local controls are very serious.
        Big industries are another world…. as always. But if you pay a very low price for a product you have to imagine that there is not possible to have good quality…

  • Carrie Rubinstein

    I am so upset about the findings heard in this show. I consume a tremendous amount of olive oil daily. If what we buy is so bad then what is it that I am buying & think I like so much?  If there is any more info on how to get the real thing, I would love to have it posted. Thank you for airing this topic. 

    • OliveChirper

      You are, very probably, buying very poor, flat-tasting, and slightly rancid oil. I used to like regular supermarket “extra-virgin” myself, but then I tasted some of the real stuff, and there is just no comparison.

      Again, while he hasn’t filled it in yet, Tom Mueller does have a page for good oil sources on his website:


      Alternatively, Tom did recommend as a very good first step finding an olive oil tasting bar in your area and just having a taste. The quality of such stores varies significantly, but nearly all of them have FAR superior oil to what you’ll get in the grocery store (including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s).

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HLMXNRFKZNHHRCZUOUZWM4H6BA D

        there is no information on that page, except ‘coming soon.’

      • Sbrownell

        “an olive oil tasting bar” ???? You have got to be kidding.
        I tried  to get the info Carrie is looking for when the New Yorker article 1st came out. When I saw California olive oil in the store,  I tried to get info from Cooperative extension in California and got nowhere. What’s the sense of the expose, if you are not going to provide a solution?

        • OliveChirper

          (a) why exactly have I ‘got to be kidding’?

          (b) one of the reasons to do an expose is to  *drive* a solution. As more and more people become aware of the range of malfeasance in the olive oil marketplace — from actual adulteration, to the sale of low-quality olive oil as ‘extra virgin,’ to the misleading use of ‘Light’ and ‘Pure’ olive oil to mean *refined,* solvent-extracted olive oil, to oil that was once good but has just gone bad, to even the difference between an oil that just  barely squeaks over the low bar set for “extra virgin”  to a truly magnificent oil — they will:

           (a)  go out to olive oil bars to learn how to identify and buy better oils, thereby not only helping themselves and honest producers but driving the market toward higher transparency and quality for everyone; and (if they’re serious)

          (b) write to elected officials to demand a genuine certification program, independent of industry, with legally-enforceable quality standards and random testing of oil coming in as imports and sitting on store shelves.

          To make an over-the-top analogy (and no, I am NOT *equating* lousy olive oil with tainted milk and meat!), think of how Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” made our food so much safer
          in the thirties. He didn’t say, “This food is killing people; go buy
          your meat from Bob’s Deli on West 49th” — he said, “This food is
          killing people,” and left it to the public to demand regulation of the

  • Slipstream

    Thanks for another great guest and another great show.  For some time I have wondered why the shelves of the stores I go to all seem to stock multiple varieties of “extra-virgin”  and “virgin” olive oils at pretty low prices, and why the extra virgin oils I buy often don’t taste very fresh or flavorful.  I guess you still can’t go wrong just buying plain olives, but I bet Mueller has something to say about that too. 

    Really, the governments need to step in and put a stop to the dishonest labeling.  There is nothing wrong with buying second grade, adulterated olive oil for a reasonable price, as long as you know what you are getting, it is probably still a good oil overall. 

  • Megan

    A few years ago I toured the Queen Creek Olive Mill in Arizona.  They claim to be the only pure producer of Olive Oil in the United States and one of the few in the world.  
    You can order their handcrafted extra virgin olive oil online from http://www.queencreekolivemill.com without having to have it imported from Italy. 
    If you’re ever in Queen Creek AZ considering taking the Olive Oil 101 tour; it’s really informative.  There are lots of free samples as well!

    • ScottH222

      They don’t list shipping charges. Do you know about what they are? It looks to me like they want me to go through 99?% of the purchase to find out. I think stores should make it much easier to check out shipping charges.

  • http://twitter.com/JeanMattila JeanMattila

    Thank you for another entertaining and informative show.
    I went to my cabinet and threw out my olive oil.

    • Olyoliveoil

      Feel free to contact Olympia Olive Oil, we stock oils and vinegars from one of the two places Tom Mueller said was a trustworthy source of EVOO. Veronica foods.

      You can reach us at info@olyoliveoil.com.

  • Fay Ratta

    Just found this report. http://tinyurl.com/18r, referenced at npr.org here: http://tinyurl.com/28p9tlk.

  • Anonymous

    Resources for authentic extra virgin olive oil can be found here:  http://preview.tinyurl.com/6pbde56 

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  • Brandy

    Now I am scared.
    They mix in highly allergic hazelnut oil with the olive oil?!
    All I see are comments about the lack of purity affecting taste and health benefits.
    Why does no one talk about the possibility of death from allergic reaction to hidden ingredients?
    It’s hard enough to find products that are tree nut free, now I have to worry about hidden (undisclosed and deadly) ingredients in single ingredient products too?

  • Greg D

    Please do more like this. This was fascinating. I love to cook and always look for good quality oil. I’ve only had the real stuff a few times, and I agree it is night and day. Thanks again for this great topic. Love the show. 

  • Gregor Christiaans

    It’s time for the consumer to confront some supermarkets with their lack of knowledge of olive oil. <0,8 acidity is not the ONLY parameter for an extra virgin olive oil. Taste it, smell it!


    Gregor Christiaans
    The Netherlands

  • Greg

     I don’t trust the  Italian  mafia, any of, so-called, extreme virgin olive oil from Italy, is not for  me. Only American made olive oil. I have remember:it was great  scandal in Germany, when in wine imported from Italy the lab find nicotine -for more higher degree and taste.  Unfortunatelly, in USA the  FDA is so corruptive, that never has any lab. tests of oil from Italy.
    Sincerely, Greg

  • JeanBruce

    The Israelis steal olive orchards as part of their economic warfare.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    OMG… I had no idea that there is so much behind Olive Oil.
    Just another example of how lack of regulations and enforcement hurts us.

    • Steve__T

       Yep you hit it. the real scary thing is this is only one product out of hundreds that actually need regulation control. but….

  • http://www.facebook.com/fszaba Frank Szaba

    Tell us the names of the good and bad brands!!

    • mikalra

       As he mentioned in the interview, Mr. Mueller has a database of producers and sources of premium extra-virgin olive oil
      on his website:

      this lists good oils, rather than shaming the bad (although a couple of sources are damned by faint praise), but it does the job quite nicely.

    • Donna Williams

      See Consumer Reports September 2012.

      • OliveChirper

         The Consumer Reports story wasn’t very good, because they didn’t do a full range of chemical tests, didn’t have a trained tasting panel,  and rated many oils with defects on the taste panel as still being acceptable. There are much better sources of information, such as Mr. Mueller’s website.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.e.toy Andrew E. Toy

    Very interesting.  This problem has significant parallels to the maple industry.  Of course, unlike the maple industry, this seems so much more wide spread, it sounds impossible to regulate.

  • Susanna King

    We have an olive oil specialty shop downtown & I never considered visiting it until I heard this show. Now I can’t wait to go there & see what they have!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alison.arnett.58 Alison Arnett

    Hi, Tom

    Salumeria Italiana in the North End Boston specializes in super premium extra virgin olive oils, many DOP, all from small producers from many regions of Italy. Customers can taste any oil and the staff, especially Chef Raymond Gillespie, can describe oils, origins, and history of EVOOs. Come by some time. Ciao, Alison Arnett

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=688730661 Nancy Traina Sulek

    Unfortunately I go through so much EVOO that I cannot afford the specialty shops.  Would love to learn the names of affordable, but very good quality EVOO!

  • SadiyeGuler

    Hi Tom and Tom, great program excellent book.

    I’d like to bring Turkish extra virgin olive oil to everyone’s attention, very very good and not as expensive as other pure brands,  because it is not as much marketed or advertized. As a matter of fact many Spanish, Italian and Greek producers import Turkish Extra virgin olive oil.
    I highly recommend Milas brand extra virgin olive oil  from southern Mediterranean coast we recently we come across in a local supermarket, great taste for a great price ( $10 for a 750ml. bottle!!)  After buying and tasting the first bottle we went back and bought 5 more bottles!!

  • DogOnARocket

    Hello, everyone! Thank the Powers-That-Be that life is more than hard news about government and politics. Discussions about food and cooking, however, fill the airwaves all year long. So on the morning after the last night of the Democratic Convention and President Barack Obama’s smart, stirring, courageous address to our nation, On Point’s second hour focusing on Olive Oil is, to me, disappointing and somewhat bizarre. I do like to cook. I use Olive Oil. I do hope the product will be improved. But couldn’t On Point’s revelations about the deceptions of the Olive Oil trade wait for another day?    

    • Paul McDermott

      Sorry every network and radio show alive was talking about the DNC….thank you On Point for the “escape” as short lived as it was.

  • Arwen Curley-Panteleakis

    Thank you for this show! I have recently moved back to the U.S ( due to the present crisis) after living in Greece for twenty years and have found that what they call olive oil in this country is absolutely horrific. But it’s not just olive oil. It’s everything!
    I don’t understand how the “wealthiest” nation on earth feeds itself with such garbage and why there are no regulations forcing processors to identify their garbage as garbage. The cheese situation here is downright criminal, what they call asiago or feta or croton has absolutely nothing to do with those cheeses. These products are vile. And don’t even let me get started on products known as “honey” here. The companies that sell this junk should be put in jail.

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An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

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