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article imageOlive oil virginity questioned

By Joe Duarte     Jan 29, 2014 in Food
New York - The question of virginity is back in the news again after a controversial New York Times piece about extra-virgin olive oil and whether consumers are getting true value from the costly kitchen condiment.
The controversy started after a New York Times online interactive feature by Nicholas Blechman, in which he detailed the way today’s olive oil is imported to Italy from countries such as Tunisia, cut with soy and other oils, mixed with beta-carotene and chlorophyll to mask taste and add color, and exported around the world to be shelved as Made-in-Italy “extra-virgin” olive oil — a label that designates the olives are pressed into oil within hours of being harvested.
Olive oil has been a valuable commodity for centuries, predating oils that are more treasured today — such as crude, which is the base for most of our energy needs. Through the centuries, olive oil has been used to cook our meals, light our paths, moisturize our skin, shine our hair, grease our machinery and it’s even been traded for other things we've wanted to acquire.
How valuable is olive oil? If you were to compare today’s market price of olive oil to the market price for crude, olive oil is almost five times more expensive. This could account for some producers’ cutting costs by “cutting” the real stuff with less-expensive edible oils, and then passing it off as authentic in order to realize a healthy profit.
In Extra Virgin Suicide: The Adulteration of Italian Olive Oil, Lechman claims that about 70 percent of the extra-virgin olive oil on today’s shelves is adulterated, despite government regulation and strict enforcement (attributable to corruption, claims the NY Times piece) — information the Olive Oil Times claims comes from an outdated study based on too small a sample.
Lechman reportedly got his information from Tom Mueller, or rather from Mueller’s blog Truth in Olive Oil. Mueller is a recognized olive oil authority and crusader for standards in olive oil production. He wrote about olive-oil scandals in his book Extra Virginity but has expressed his dismay at being named a source for the NY Times slideshow, claiming to have simply provided superficial information and directing Lechman to sources for more information.
However, Olive Oil Times claims Mueller actually tweeted his congratulations shortly after the NY Times piece went online. And Lechman had earlier tweeted his thanks to Mueller and other illustrators for their collaboration.
“This piece is riddled with false statements presented as though they are fact,” Eryn Balch, executive vice president of the North American Olive Oil Association, wrote in a letter to the NY Times. “By failing to review the factual statements made in this piece, your trusted brand has become an outlet for self-serving marketeers.”
In a rebuttal to the NY Times feature, Olive Oil Times Executive Editor Curtis Cord blames the simplicity of the presentation for potentially misleading consumers.
“Over the past few years, bewildered consumers have been bombarded by confusing messages from olive oil evangelists and negative campaigns by groups of producers in their zealous pursuit of market share,” writes Cord in an opinion column. “However, in efforts to boil down such a complicated topic for increasingly short attention spans, there is the danger that oversimplification can disguise what is often just more misinformation.”
More about extravirgin, New York Times, italian olive oil, Olive Oil
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