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A new study says a Mediterranean diet prevents heart disease, thanks in part to the ubiquity of olive oil. Many of us use it regularly, but what do we really know about the juice of olives? Researchers warn that some inexpensive olive oil is rancid or adulterated with other oils. Food Wednesday examines what’s inside that dark bottle, what “extra virgin” denotes and why genuine olive oil is so good for you.
- Diamantis Pierrakos Co-owner, Laconiko olive oil producer and importer
- Dan Flynn Executive Director, UC Davis Olive Center
- Cary Kelly Owner, Ah Love Oil & Vinegar (in Arlington and Fairfax, VA)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Food Wednesday. The flavor should be fruity, sometimes with a hint of bitterness. It's best consumed within two years of its harvest. Otherwise, it may get rancid. And be sure to store it away from light and heat. Olive oil has long been a staple of the kitchen and a favorite of cooks around the globe.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINow, a new study shows that a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil can help prevent heart attacks and strokes. But aficionados warn that not all olive oil is created equal. Extra virgin oil is the best for you, but a lot of olive oil labeled extra virgin isn't. What you buy in the grocery store may in fact be a blend of different oils or may be so stale it's lost its heart-healthy punch. Joining me on this Food Wednesday to explore the world of olive oil is Cary Kelly, owner of Ah Love Oil & Vinegar stores in Arlington and Fairfax, Va. Cary Kelly, thank you for joining us.
MS. CARY KELLYThank you.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Diamantis Pierrakos. He is the co-owner of Laconiko olive oil producer. Diamantis, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. DIAMANTIS PIERRAKOSThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from studios in Sacramento, Calif. is Dan Flynn, executive director of UC Davis Olive Center. Dan Flynn, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAN FLYNNGreat to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation. Call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Where do you buy your olive oil, and what kind do you look for? You can also send a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Diamantis, your family has been growing olives and producing olive oil in Greece for four generations. Tell us about your family's olive groves and where they're located.
PIERRAKOSOK. Well, we are located in the southern part of the Peloponnese, the region of Laconia. We are -- we grow sand-grown olives. We're right off the shore, right on the beaches, and we primarily produce our olive oil from the koroneiki olive, which are a lot health benefits on a particular olive.
NNAMDIAnd you've been doing it for four generations.
NNAMDICary, you were first charmed by Mediterranean cuisine during a trip, it's my understanding, to Europe after college. How did you decide many years later to give up your consulting business and open an olive oil store?
KELLYThank you for not quantifying many.
KELLYWell, healthy cooking has been my passion my whole life, and Mediterranean food is so full of flavor. And, really, my passion is flavor even more than health. I love full flavor. And so when I was sort of thinking about a career change and thinking about all the things I love the most, it kind of came together.
KELLYYou know, when I open the doors of my store every day, I feel like I'm inviting people into my home to feast. So that's sort of the heart of our store, too, is that people get to come in and taste all the olive oils and the other artisan-crafted foods that we have. And it's just so much fun.
NNAMDIWhat happened when you went to Europe for the first time?
KELLYWell, you know, I grew up in the suburban Northern Virginia area.
NNAMDIYes. And you apparently did not inherit this cooking gene that you have.
KELLYSomebody has been telling tales.
KELLYI did not. I became the cook in my family at a very young age. But in those days, you know, margarine was sort of the star fat of the American diet, which is horrible to think about now. I am pretty sure I never tasted olive oil until I went to Europe. It just -- I don't have the ethnic background. You know, I think second-generation Greeks or Italians may have had some at their grandparents' table, but that wasn't the case for me. So when I went and ate fresh-grown vegetables drenched in beautiful rich olive oil, I was blown away. It was as impactful to me as the Uffizi in Florence.
NNAMDICouldn't get rid of it in her brain, and as a result of which we now have her olive oil stores. Dan Flynn, a study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that consuming a Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of heart disease, including strokes and heart attacks, by as much as 30 percent in people at high risk. One of the key ingredients of that diet is, of course, olive oil. Explain why the polyphenols and antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil are so good for our health.
FLYNNThey're good for our health because they help fight aging and cancer and all these other ailments of the human race. And it's actually been a known fact, at least among traditional olive-growing regions, that olive oil is healthy for you. So it's great to get this validation in this study.
NNAMDIBut I'll start with you again, Dan. I was surprised to learn that a lot of the olive oil that we buy in the grocery store is either mixed with other types of oils or is rancid, not unsafe, but not fresh either. Can you explain what researchers at the UC Davis Olive Center found in their study of supermarket olive oil?
FLYNNWe went out to the supermarket and pulled olive oil off the shelf, and we took some of the biggest names that are sold in America and took multiple samples and went to multiple supermarkets. And this was all in California. And what we found after running those oils through a number of chemical tests and also through a trans-sensory panel was that the -- probably about two-thirds of these samples of these oils did not meet the minimal standard of extra virgin.
FLYNNAnd it's important to realize that the standard for extra virgin is quite minimal when it comes to taste and what it tastes like. And when a sensory panel analyzed it, they're looking for the absence of defects, such as rancidity. And what we found was that two-thirds of these oils could not even meet that very minimal standard.
NNAMDISame question to you, Cary Kelly. Why is it that they could not meet that minimal standard? What are we looking at here?
KELLYWell, I think that a lot of the reason for it -- and Dan may elaborate on this some -- but, you know, some of it is mathematics. So it's expensive to produce extra virgin olive oil. I think something around 10 percent of each year's harvest qualifies to be extra virgin. And so the temptation for fraud is huge. But there's also another factor at play here, and some of it is what I call innocent ignorance.
KELLYThere are a lot of people in the food business, whether they're distributors or, you know, large retailers or even some chefs, who don't know enough about olive oil to know it should be used when it's fresh. So even if they may get a fresh olive oil, it doesn't stay that way. Here's an example. I was in a wonderful specialty store in North Carolina not too long ago, and they -- this was a local chef, and they sold organic meats, some local cheeses.
KELLYAnd so, of course, I had headed to the olive oil section to see what they had, and right in front was a beautiful bottle of Italian olive oil which had the harvest date on it, which you don't always find. And the harvest date was 2005, and this was this past January. I am sure that the owner of that store has no idea that that is not an olive oil that should be sitting on the shelf.
NNAMDIDiamantis, what is extra virgin oil, and why is it both the most healthy and the best tasting type of olive oil?
PIERRAKOSOK. Well, that all has to do -- extra virgin olive oil has all to do about freshness. So, to clarify, the oil that makes extra virgin olive oil is -- comes from a fresh fruit. So the fresher the fruit, the better the quality of the oil, usually goes through only a single pressure or single crush to get the best extra virgin olive oil. And they're graded primarily on its chemistry. And by chemistry, I mean the acidity level.
PIERRAKOSAll olive oils have acidity. As a fruit starts to degrade, it has high acidity oleic acids. So it's important to find an olive oil that meets those criteria, that it has extremely low acidity level to make sure that it is the healthiest oil because that's what's going to provide you with the nutritional values and the health benefits.
NNAMDII am drinking here the olive oil that you guys have brought that is labeled number one. What am I drinking here? Am I drinking extra virgin olive oil?
PIERRAKOSYes, you are.
PIERRAKOSThis is, I believe -- Cary Kelly, this is the last harvest.
PIERRAKOSThe last harvest that you're drinking.
NNAMDIOh, this is delicious.
KELLYSo this olive oil is a year old. It is still a good olive oil, but we wanted to bring you a comparison of last year's harvest from the same farm. And now what you're about to taste is the Laconiko brand-new harvest, just finished in January.
KELLYSo this is a very new oil. In fact, it is still -- still has some fruit particles and sediment in it.
PIERRAKOSAnd you should get a very -- a peppery finish at the end. It hits you...
NNAMDIYes, I do.
NNAMDIIt tastes great.
KELLYThey call it the cough factor sometimes, right, Dan? When I -- at the sensory evaluation courses, they'll say there's a cough factor in some of the fresh olive oils.
FLYNNYes. The real connoisseur likes to get one or two coughs out of it.
KELLYThere we go.
NNAMDIThat makes me a real connoisseur at this point.
NNAMDIOlive producers try to get the olives to the presses within a few hours after they were picked. Why is that freshness so important?
PIERRAKOSThe freshness is important because, again, the fruit starts to break down. That's why you want to minimize the time from picking to the olive mill, to minimize that to make time as short as possible, so the fruit doesn't start to break down. So that's why it's so important to get it immediately to the olive mills, so you can get those low acidity levels and high polyphenols.
NNAMDIIt's a Food Wednesday conversation, the inside story of olive oil. We're talking with Diamantis Pierrakos. He is co-owner of Laconiko olive oil producer. Cary Kelly is owner of Ah Love Oil & Vinegar stores in Arlington and Fairfax, Va. And Dan Flynn is executive director of UC Davis Olive Center. He joins us from Sacramento, Calif. You can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850 or by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org. How do you use olive oil in your cooking or baking? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Here is Gigi in Silver Spring, Md. Gigi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GIGII'm -- how are you?
GIGIGreat show. And I'm with MilkLadyMarkets.org. We have four neighborhood farmers' markets in Montgomery County, and we're a producer-only market. But the exception that we make...
NNAMDIUh-oh. You seem to be -- we seem to be having trouble with your connection, Gigi. Say something again. See if I can hear you. I'm going to put you on hold for a second, Gigi, and we will get back to your call as soon as possible. If you're trying to get in touch with us right now, shoot us an email to email@example.com, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Dan, technically speaking, extra virgin olive oil is measured by acidity, defects and flavor. Can you explain what that means?
FLYNNWell, there are really three areas that you evaluate extra virgin. One is in its flavor, which is how most consumers are going to assess it. And like I was just saying, you can't have any defects, such as rancidity. There's other defects that are called moldy or fusty or winey. None of those should be in the oil at all.
FLYNNThen the chemistry, which Diamantis was talking about, there are things like free fatty acidity and peroxide value, things that most consumers probably aren't going to understand. And actually what we found in our studies is that just about every oil passes the chemistry standards that have been established at the international and national level. So the chemistry itself is, if it passes, it's not going to tell you whether that actually is a tasty oil.
FLYNNThen there's some processing criteria where you need to have the olives -- when they're crushed into a paste, you need to have that paste below a certain temperature, which is where this term cold pressing came from. Although in reality, oil is not pressed anymore for the most part. It's extracted from the paste in a centrifuge. Just through the physics of spinning, that paste and the oil separate.
NNAMDIYeah, I read about that. Yes.
PIERRAKOSYeah, that's correct.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our Food Wednesday conversation on the inside story of olive oil. If you'd like to get in touch with us, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. Do olive oils' health benefits inspire you to use it more often? Kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation on olive oil, the inside story. We're talking with Dan Flynn, executive director of UC Davis Olive Center, Diamantis Pierrakos who is co-owner of Laconiko olive oil producer and Cary Kelly is owner of Ah Love Oil & Vinegar stores in Arlington and in Fairfax, Va. If you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us now at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Dan, sometimes bitterness is part of the flavor of olive oil, correct?
FLYNNThat's correct. And sometimes people think that that sounds like a negative, but when you think of all the things that we enjoy to eat and drink that are bitter, such as dark chocolate or coffee or a pale ale or a gin and tonic or arugula, that bitterness lends an important dimension to the flavor experience. And without it, the food or the drink would taste flat.
NNAMDICary, what is virgin olive oil, and what do you recommend using it for?
KELLYWell, you know, virgin olive oil, it's interesting. It's -- it is an oil that does not meet the criteria of extra virgin. It may very well still be the first extraction. You know, when a lot of stores in other countries, you can go see on the store shelf extra virgin olive oil and virgin olive oil. And you can choose virgin. It will be less expensive, and Europeans will often use that for their cooking oil.
KELLYAnd it's too bad we don't have that option here because there's nothing wrong with virgin olive oil. We just don't see that on our store shelves. What we see on our store shelves is a plethora of extra virgin, which unfortunately isn't. So it would be a good thing for our consumer to have the choice of extra virgin and virgin.
NNAMDIDiamantis, you just came back from your family's olive harvest in Greece. Was it a good season? How do you pick the olives and make the oil?
PIERRAKOSHow do we make the oil? Well, we say that we handpick it because we use special tools. We don't have, like, a high-density system. Our trees are very spaced out so what we do -- we put mats down underneath our olive trees, and then we actually physically knock the olives off the tree. And we take it straight to the olive mill. And that happens for us for about a month, a month-and-a-half till we're completely done.
NNAMDIWell, how was the season? Was it a good season?
PIERRAKOSThe season was a very rough season this year, to be honest, because we had a big drought in Greece. We didn't get any rain until our harvest time. So right when we were about to begin, we get all this rain. So we didn't have a very good yield in olive fruit. The quality was there, but not a whole lot of olive oil and a whole lot of work.
NNAMDIWell, there are several callers, and we've got a few emails, too. So let me start with Brian in Pasadena, Md. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRIANHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I've got two quick questions for your guests.
BRIANOne is, how can a consumer like me look at the plethora of types of olive oil and know which one is the good one at the grocery? And the second question is, can you recommend a very reliable brand?
NNAMDICary, I'll start with you.
KELLYOK. I think that's a great question, and it really relates back to something Dan said that I think is so important. There is chemistry that's -- validates if an oil is extra virgin, but most consumers shouldn't be burdened with learning that and probably wouldn't be interested. So there is no better taste -- no better test than taste, and being able to taste an oil before you buy it, I think, is a huge advantage for user consumer.
KELLYAlso, I think being able to buy from a place that has some personnel that knows something about olive oil and can tell you about it, I think that's really important. I will also say that it depends on why you're buying it. The majority of customers that come in our store tell me they only use olive oil because of health benefits.
KELLYSo if you're choosing something for taste or you're choosing something for good health practices, those are two different motivations for purchase. Fortunately, you can get both out of a good olive oil. So I would say first is taste and being able to taste it, and second is buying from somebody who knows what they're talking about.
KELLYNow, I will tell you, there are a couple of brands in the supermarket, and Consumer Reports did a big study in, I believe, September. And I think, Dan, if I'm correct, I've read this from UC Davis also, but there are two California brands that I think are reliably extra virgin. And I think because they have a larger farm, their prices are able to come down, but one is California Olive Ranch and...
BRIANCalifornia Olive Ranch?
BRIANOK. I'm writing this down. Thank you.
NNAMDIDan, any recommendations you can make for our caller, Brian, about how can a consumer tell that it is a genuine, valid extra virgin?
FLYNNWell, Cary is right that being able to taste the difference is important. And knowing what a fresh oil tastes like, first of all, is what's going to help set your mental image and mental taste memory. But what I suggest oftentimes in -- short of that is that you look for a harvest date on the label, which I found is usually associated with the better olive oils.
FLYNNAnd you want to try to get that oil within about 15 months or so of the harvest date and then move on to the next harvest date.
NNAMDII just tasted the lemon. What was that I was just tasting there?
PIERRAKOSThat is of the Koroneiki olive that is fused with the lemon. That means during pressing, the lemon is pressed with the olives, and that's where you get that lemon...
NNAMDII can both smell and taste the lemon flavor in that one.
KELLYIsn't it wonderful?
NNAMDIBrian, thank you very much for your call, and good luck to you. We move on to...
NNAMDI...Jess in Alexandria, Va. Jess, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSHi, Kojo, and thanks for taking my call. I've got a question. First, I want to disagree with one of your speakers that here in the Washington, D.C. area, you can find regular olive oil, virgin and extra virgin in a great number of grocery stores and certainly in a lot of the international markets. But my question turns to frying with olive oil. I know that different oils have different smoke temperatures, and if you're going to sauté an olive oil, isn't it better to use something like a virgin than an extra virgin 'cause you're more likely to burn the oil and ruin the flavor?
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Diamantis?
PIERRAKOSI don't -- I mean, for me, my family -- I can speak from personal experience -- we fry with extra virgin olive oil. We've never had an issue with having a burning point. Obviously, we're exposed to that on a daily basis. We fry with -- for French fries. We've never had an issue. Extra virgin olive oil does have a very high burning point where, you know, it is belief that it doesn't. But extra virgin olive oil, because it is a higher quality, it usually can handle the higher temperatures versus virgin or regular olive oil.
NNAMDIThat's your experience, too, Cary Kelly?
KELLYYes. And mostly from -- I don't do a lot of frying personally just because of the way I cook. But, you know, what I have read is that in many places, olive oil has a smoke point of around 400 degrees, and I believe we fry at around 365, 375. So you do have to be careful about the smoke point of any oil because it's toxic. But olive oil has a plenty high smoke point for most cooking, even frying.
NNAMDICary, why is extra virgin olive oil among the few types of oil that don't need chemical processing?
KELLYBecause olive oil is -- the oil's extracted from the pulp of the fruit, so a lot of oils are extracted from the seed, walnut oil and a lot of those. And so chemical -- some sort of solvent is required to get the oil out of the food item. And also I think it is cheaper to use chemicals to extract oils and then refine it, but it's not necessary to use chemicals for olive oil.
KELLYAnd so that is one of the criteria of extra virgin is that it is purely mechanically processed. I think for that reason, among others, olive oil is one of nature's greatest miracles because it is so natural, and nowhere in its life is it necessary to touch a chemical. It's amazing these days.
NNAMDIJess, thank you very much for your call. Gigi in Silver Spring is back. Gigi, you're on the air now. Go ahead, please.
GIGIThank you. And thank you to your guests. And so I'm with milkladymarkets.org, and we have four farmers' markets in Montgomery County. And I was sharing that we're a producer-only market, so it's local farms, local producers. The farmers are actually at the market. But we make several exceptions, very few of them. One of them is, of course, for olive oil because it doesn't grow locally and because of the health benefits of that product. And one of our vendors at the market is Olive (word?) World. And I know they're a partner with Cary at Ah Love Olive.
GIGISo, hi, Cary.
NNAMDIGlad we could bring you two together.
GIGIYeah. And, you know, one of the things about the extra virgin olive oil when you're really using it for health -- I don't know if you've ever heard this, Cary, but rather than heating the oil and further breaking it down that you steam your veggies or whatever and then you -- when you're eating, you serve it by pouring the oil over the food. So that would be the...
PIERRAKOSThat is exactly how we do it.
KELLYI always think it's a good idea to use olive oil on a finished food product mostly because you can really get the flavor of the olive oil. And one of the things that I -- we tell our customers in our store all the time is that our mission is to move olive oil out of the category of a utility, you know, to lubricate your pan or thicken your dressing, and move it into, in peoples' minds, a major flavor component of your recipe. And you get it -- you get the flavor that way when you use it after the food is cooked.
NNAMDIGigi, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIYou, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Do olive oil's health benefits inspire you to use it more often? What Mediterranean diet work for you and your family? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Dan in Falls Church, who writes, "Some of the prices of olive oil are exorbitant. And it's hard for me to believe that more expensive oil will much improve on the flavor I enjoy and what is currently sold as a Trader Joe's Kalamata Greek olive oil. I pay $9 per liter in contrast to two or three times that price for half of that volume with other olive oils. I consume this quantity in about two months."
NNAMDIThe olive oil one buys in the grocery store is less expensive that what you would buy at a specialty shop. Can you talk about the price of olive oil and what consumers should expect to pay for genuine extra virgin olive oil? Dan Flynn, I'll start with you.
FLYNNIn our studies, we actually looked at the price of what we paid when we bought the oils that we tested, and the conclusion that we came to was that the consumer can get better quality at the same price. We found that the California oil and the Australian oil, for example, cost about the same amount per ounce as the imported oil from the Mediterranean in the supermarket, and we're talking about supermarkets here.
FLYNNThat it is true that you can spend more for olive oil, and I think for a lot of consumers, they look at the label. It all says extra virgin, so it must all be the same. But when you think about what you pay for wine, you know that's not the case, that there are certain wines that you can buy for $5 that are perfectly fine but not particularly special.
FLYNNAnd you can spend more for wine and get a very good one. You can also get one that's not very special. And so it really takes some experience to know when it's worth it to pay extra for olive oil. And I think if you go to a shop like Cary's, you would find that you can taste through some oils and really sort of experience what the wide range of flavors are possible with olive oil.
NNAMDICary, what parts of the world does olive oil come from? What conditions are best to grow olives? And I forgot to have you weigh in on the pricing issue.
KELLYWell, you know, your -- the caller or emailer said something important and that is about flavor. And ultimately, it does come down to what you like, so same with wine. You know, if you really enjoyed Two Buck Chuck, then that's what you should keep drinking. But here's where the analogy to wine ends -- and I go back to this issue of the health component.
KELLYSo if, for instance, you have read studies that extra virgin olive oil will lower your cholesterol, and so you begin buying extra virgin olive oil so that you can see your cholesterol lower, and it doesn't happen, you're going to be very disappointed. So it's really important that you know what you're buying if that's your incentive for buying it.
KELLYIf flavor is only your incentive, then taste a few of them and buy what you like. And if it's the cheaper one, then fabulous because there is often a budget issue. But I think it depends on why you're buying it. So to answer your question about where olive oil grows, it loves -- olive trees love Mediterranean climates. So hot and mostly dry is where they grow. And you often see olive trees grow in the same place that you see grapes growing for wine.
KELLYNow, I will tell you a very interesting exception, and we're all sort of watching this, is there's an olive grove in Georgia and that is Georgia in the Southern United States, in Lakeland, Ga., just north of Florida. And they are growing a type of olive called arbequina. And so far, they're producing a very nice olive oil. I think what the concern is for them is, will they ever produce enough to be a commercial enterprise because the weather is not necessarily on their side?
NNAMDIDiamantis, I'd ask you to weigh in on the price issue. People feel that there should not be a difference in price.
PIERRAKOSYes. Well, I will explain from our personal experience. We're a very small olive oil producing -- producer. So it is very difficult for us to also compete with a lot of the extra virgin olive oils on the market because a big part -- a lot of them are adulterated in the supermarkets. So there's definitely going to be a price issue because a lot of times, you'll see ridiculously low prices in the supermarkets, and it is physically impossible for us to be able to compete with those companies.
PIERRAKOSSo obviously, that's going to reflect on the price, obviously. We've never actually tried ourselves to try to market in the supermarket because our production is so small. So we do try to focus on the quality, always being authentic on what we say, that it's -- we'll say it's extra virgin, that means it's extra virgin. So obviously, I can't list the supermarket brands on what exactly they might be selling, but that's the issue that we're running into as an olive oil producer.
NNAMDIDan Flynn, talk about the California olive oil industry. A lot of vineyards that grow wine grapes are also growing olives there.
FLYNNThat's true. And actually, the olive oil industry in California is expanding quite rapidly, and it's partly in those wine-growing regions. But the real center of agriculture in California is in the Central Valley, which is very fertile, and it has plenty of water and abundant sunshine. And so the style of growing olives that has been spreading most quickly here in California is a hedgerow type of planting, which the trees actually look almost like a vineyard.
FLYNNAnd a harvester can drive right over the tops of the trees, which have been shaped into hedges, and harvest that fruit very quickly and get it to the mill very quickly, which is important for quality. And so what we're finding in California is that the producers are becoming better at producing in volume at a price that the consumer will find to be friendly. And when Consumer Reports did their recent issue on this, they found that a number of California oils were at the top of the list in terms of quality, and many of them were also at a very, very good price.
KELLYUruguay. Yeah. I thought it would be interesting for you to taste that as well.
NNAMDII'm about to.
KELLYOK. For -- and you have your water nearby.
KELLYFor a couple of reasons. You know, they're on the other side of the equator, so their harvest season is the opposite from ours. So this is a -- is an oil that was harvested from Picual olives in June, in Uruguay. And the South American olive oil industry is also one that is burgeoning, and there are some beautiful olive oils coming out of Chile and Uruguay and some of the other countries in South America. This one has won a number of awards and is a really, really good oil.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. The lines are all filled. So if you'd like to join the conversation, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or send an email to email@example.com. Food Wednesday, olive oil. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our olive oil conversation with Dan Flynn, executive director of UC Davis Olive Center. Diamantis Pierrakos is co-owner of Laconiko Olive Oil. And Cary Kelly is owner of Ah love Oil & Vinegar stores in Arlington and in Fairfax, Va. Back to the telephones with Graham in Annapolis, Md. Graham, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GRAHAMThank you, Kojo. I'm really enjoying the show.
GRAHAMAnd my question was, can you press your own olive oil from olives you might buy in the supermarket, or are they just not fresh enough? Or can you do it? Can you buy a small olive press?
NNAMDICan you do that, Diamantis?
PIERRAKOSNo. And I wouldn't recommend it because the olives that you might buy from the supermarket have been sitting out. So I don't know anyone from personal experience to have tried it, but just the time period that they've been sitting in the supermarket would tell me that the olive oil would not be of very good quality.
NNAMDIGraham, thank you for your call. Dan, what do we know about the health benefits of eating olives as opposed to olive oil? Does the process required to remove the bitterness from fresh olives affect the nutrients?
FLYNNIt does affect the nutrients, and it depends on how you debitter those olives, what kind of process that you use. And there's been some evidence that I've seen that certain ways of processing olives retain more the natural nutritional content of those olives.
FLYNNI think that's a good area for us to do some research in, and it's one that we're exploring right now, which is how can we do this process of debittering, which has been around for thousands of years, in a way that's going to maximize the nutritional value of the olive fruit and still make a very tasty finished product? And so it hasn't gotten the attention that olive oil has, but I think there's a very rich area for research with table olives.
NNAMDIHere is Michael in Alexandria, Va. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELYeah. Hi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I'm from the Alexandria area, and I just wanted to let you know that I came across a store there, Olio Tasting Room, who actually had Laconiko olive oil. And I got to say, it was fabulous. Not only did they offer a varietal, but the store also had some of the infused flavors. And I've incorporated it to all of my cooking, and my family loves it. And I just wanted to let the gentleman there from Laconiko know that we really appreciate being able to find them in some of the local stores.
PIERRAKOSThank you so very much. Thank you.
NNAMDI...is pleased about this. Diamantis, how did you and your brother decide to keep the family business going by importing your olive oil to the United States...
PIERRAKOSWell, it was...
NNAMDI...so that Michael can get it?
PIERRAKOSWe -- yes. Well, we were educated out. My family came here when we were younger, got educated. Then we came to a crossroad a couple of years ago because we've been going back and forth to Greece every winter, harvesting our trees. So about five years ago, we made the decision that for -- it's either going to end with my family, with my father, or we're going to take over. And we made the decision to take over the business and to try to market it ourself rather than let someone else exploit our quality extra virgin olive oil. And so that's how we got started.
NNAMDIHow has that been working out for you?
PIERRAKOSIt's been a very wonderful experience. It's been difficult at times, but we're slowly getting the recognition that we believe we deserve. So it's going...
NNAMDISo far so good.
PIERRAKOSSo far so good.
NNAMDICary Kelly, we got an email from Sheila in Alexandria, which I will pair with an email from Elizabeth. Sheila asked, "How should I store opened olive oil? How long will unopened olive oil keep?" And Elizabeth says, "To prevent rancidity, I keep a small amount of two different olive oils in ceramic pouring jugs by the stove. They have the flip type metal lid. Then I keep the rest in the fridge and replenish about once a week. I have heard conflicting information on whether to keep olive oil in the fridge. Is this a good compromise? Opened olive oil, refrigerated olive oil?"
KELLYHmm. Well, once you open your olive oil, we tell people -- now this is assuming you're buying it within the 15 months -- Dan recommended buying it no older than 15 months from harvesting, which leaves you a good period of time to be able to consume your fresh olive oil. Now, of course, once you open that bottle of olive oil, you've exposed it to its greatest enemy, which is air, oxygen.
KELLYAnd every time some of it goes down in the bottle, all the empty space in your bottle is air, which is deteriorating your oil. But nobody should worry about that. Just use your olive oil up within six months -- again, assuming you've bought it in a place that it's young enough when you purchased it. It should not be kept by the stove. I think -- I don't think people should treat their olive oil like precious china that you never want to touch.
KELLYBut don't put it next to the stove where it's exposed to constant heat or in bright light. You know, keep it at a darker end of the counter. If you can pour it into a smaller container as it starts going down. But, you know, if you follow the advice of the Mediterranean diet and eat two to four tablespoons a day, you're going to go through a 375 or 500-milliliter bottle well within its freshness period. And in terms of refrigerating, you know, my understanding is that it's not a good idea generally to refrigerate on a daily basis because that active refrigerate-thaw, refrigerate-thaw is not good for the oil.
KELLYBut I have heard from some -- and Dan might be able to chime in on this -- but if you're going to keep it in the refrigerator for a longer period of time, for instance, when you're away on vacation -- I know one of our producers recommends doing that -- if you're away for a couple of weeks and you have a good bottle of oil, put it in the refrigerator to bring out that one time. But as a daily practice, my understanding is that it's not a good idea.
NNAMDICare to chime in, Dan?
FLYNNI've also heard conflicting evidence on this, and we've had so much conflicting evidence that we're doing our own study on this to see what kind of impact does refrigeration have on olive oil. So look for that in the future. But one of the other areas for refrigeration that's been in the news lately was -- I was on "Dr. Oz" last month, and he had suggested that people put their oil in the refrigerator to see if it's actually olive oil because olive oil often will congeal in the cold.
FLYNNAnd a lot of people took his advice, and they found their olive oil did not congeal. And they were upset about it, and they thought they got fake olive oil. So we just released a study yesterday on this. And we found that it's not a reliable method to put it in the refrigerator to see if it is really olive oil because there are certain olive varieties that don't have the wax content to congeal, and so you may very well have good olive oil if it doesn't congeal in your refrigerator.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Margaret, who says, "I like to use olive oil as a body lotion -- weird, I know -- and to sauté vegetables." Here now is Bruce in Glen Burnie, Md. Bruce, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRICEHi, Kojo. Another great show. I appreciate it. I have been buying my olive oil at Trader Joe's, and I noticed that it says on it organic. And of course, these days everybody says, well, gee, that must be something better. Does that truly make a difference? And the other thing I notice is that the only date on the bottle is dated in 2014, and so that's -- how long can it last before you open it up?
FLYNNWell, it really depends on a lot of factors. How good was the oil when it went in the bottle. We're finding that a lot of the oil that we tested, particularly the bulk oils that are sold on the international market, were probably not very good when it went in the bottle. But typically, I would say that the oil, if it's stored unopened in a cool, dark place, if it's got average shelf stability, maybe it'll last for two years.
FLYNNBut when you finally open that bottle two years down the road, it's not going to last for another two years. I would use that bottle up within, you know, six or eight weeks. And like Cary was saying, people shouldn't try to hoard this oil for special occasions. When you open a bottle, it's not going to get any better as it's opened. So I would use it as quickly as possible to enjoy it at its best.
KELLYEven as a body oil.
NNAMDIWell, the other part of Bruce's question, Bruce, will be, I guess, raised by Dainet, (sp?) who is in Baltimore County, Md. So, Bruce, I'm going to put you on hold while I talk with Dainet. Dainet, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAINETHi. Thank you, Kojo. I love your show. This is a great topic. And my question is in regards to pesticides. I don't know much about olives and if there are pesticides used on them to help the fruit to flourish. So that's my question. How much should I -- how much is there to consider about pesticides on olives? And is that going to my bottle of olive oil? And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd is that what is meant by organic, Cary Kelly?
KELLYHmm. Well, out of the three of us, Diamantis and Dan might give you better information about that. What I do know is that there are a couple of things like the olive fly that are real nemesis to the olive fruit, that there are variety of methods for treating that, and I do believe some farmers are using pesticides.
KELLYI also know that there are a lot of farmers who -- and we represent very small producers, many who are doing organic farming but do not go through the red tape and expense to get certified organic, so some of that is going on on the other side of the coin. But, you know, Diamantis may have something to say about how you treat some of these pests.
PIERRAKOSI mean, it is -- the fruit fly is a big international issue. You'd have a lot of fruit loss if you don't treat the trees. So, I mean, I would say that the majority of olive oil producers are using some form of pesticide, at least once, to kind of -- so they don't have such a big fruit loss.
NNAMDIBut, Dan Flynn, when our caller Bruce says that the olive oil he buys at Trader Joe's says organic, does that mean it has been certified by someone? Is it being regulated by someone, or can anyone simply make that claim?
FLYNNI don't think anyone could just make that claim particularly at a company like Trader Joe's which would have some quality control standards to back up that claim.
FLYNNBut organic alone is not going to tell you whether than oil is very good quality.
FLYNNI have tasted a lot of organic oil that was not good at all. It was rancid and otherwise defective. But what you are getting with the better organic producers is a very careful attention to the growing of the olives and trying to minimize the amount of chemicals that are going on the trees and into the soil. And, you know, I've had some outstanding organic oils. It just depends, really, just depends on the producer and what kind of care they put into all elements to the operation.
NNAMDIBruce, thank you very much for your call. Here's Peggy in Gainesville, Va. Peggy, you're turn.
PEGGYHi. Thank you for this topic. It's very interesting. My name is Peggy Zarcadoolas. I'm Greek as well, and all I use is the extra virgin olive oil for everything. I grew up on it. One main topic that I don't think it has been touched on is the olive oil industry here in the U.S. is not very regulated. So when I ran out of my Greek olive oil that I use on a daily basis, I bought store -- you know, from the grocery store olive oil. And everything has been blended. On the back of the label, it has about 10 different countries...
PEGGY...that are listed on the label. And not only that -- I did some research -- come to find out that a lot of times, they put extra virgin labels on bottles that only have maybe one to 5 percent extra virgin olive oil.
PEGGYThe rest of it is different kinds, vegetable or canola oil blended.
NNAMDIWhich is one of the reasons we put this entire show together, as a matter of fact, Peggy, so people can be more educated about making those distinctions. Hopefully, during the course of the past hour, we have shed some light on that. We're running out of time very quickly, Cary. But olive oil shows up in all sorts of folklore remedies as anti-inflammatory to relieve itching.
KELLYYeah. Olive oil, the woman earlier who said she uses it as a body lotion, who's really on to something because extra virgin oil has some properties that are really very good for your skin and do have some healing properties. Mothers have been using it in Mediterranean cultures forever for things like diaper rash, and not just because its consistency is soothing but because it can help heal the rash. Women my age are using it around our eyes for little wrinkles creeping in, and it really does have wonderful skin softening properties, as well as other medicinal ones.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Cary Kelly is owner of Ah Love Oil & Vinegar stores in Arlington and Fairfax, Va. Cary, thank you for joining us.
KELLYThank you. It's great to be here.
NNAMDIDiamantis Pierrakos is co-owner of Laconiko olive oil. Diamantis, thank you for joining us.
PIERRAKOSThank you so very much, Mr. Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Dan Flynn is executive producer of UC Davis Olive Center. Dan, thank you for joining us.
FLYNNEnjoyed it, Kojo. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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