On Bittman: How the Hell Do You Pick a ‘Good’ Olive Oil?

After years of researching, discussing, and exploring the infinite dark sides of the world of fake vs real Italian extra virgin olive oil, we came to the conclusion that the more you study, the more complicated this issue gets.

As it turns out, when you care about regional food systems; when you don’t want to support slave labor, and you’re looking for transparency in terms of where food comes from, olive oil is a tough product to navigate.

This doesn’t mean that we’ll stop asking those uncomfortable questions, or looking for more answers. And we couldn’t think of a better group of people than Kate, Mark, Melissa, and Daniel of The Bittman Project + our old friend Rick Easton to get this conversation going. To use their words:

This post is not an olive oil primer. It’s a discussion that illuminates the challenges in how to buy olive oil when the industry lacks transparency.

The question of all questions, by Mark Bittman himself, kicks it off: 

There isn’t a single commodity in the world where we can’t find egregious examples of exploitation or the single most fabulous (and expensive) version of a product. The question is, how do we navigate?

So, if you find yourself in a store, how do you know you’re buying a bottle of real extra virgin olive oil? Rick Easton says it loud and clear:

And even if the labels mean nothing, I think it is important to start with the date. If they are claiming it is from the most recent harvest, that is at least a place to start. No harvest date? I wouldn’t buy it at all.

And then, how can you be sure that your olive oil was made properly? Ethically even? To quote Mark:

This is the problem: No discussion of food can really end with food — it’s about labor and money and the environment, etc. So it becomes kind of a “teaching opportunity” (as they say). How do you enter into an economy without (or even with less) exploitation?

Bittman wraps it up and makes a point that we’ve been screaming for years.

To me, the bottom line is this: If you can buy direct from the producer, or with just one or two trustworthy people in between, and you can afford to do that, it makes sense.

Questions that lead to many more questions, about income, value, local and global economies. Read the whole discussion on how to pick a good olive oil on The Bittman Project and, please, keep looking for satisfactory answers. We, as consumers, have the power to shape this market and turn things around.