Olive Oil Virginity Comes Under Scrutiny

UC-Davis's Olive Oil Chemistry Lab—turns out there is such a thing—says it has discovered that more than two-thirds of random samples of imported extra-virgin olive oil are rancid or adulterated with lesser oils. "It's like we have our own CSI: Olive Oil lab here," chemist Charles Shoemaker told NPR, and given the scale of the crime he has seemingly uncovered, his words seem entirely appropriate. Here's NPR on the "mounting concern over truth-in-olive-oil-labeling," as well as the possibility that California's olive growers could have biased Shoemaker's study:

No molecule can hide. Shoemaker revs up a small vacuum that removes solvents and isolates chlorophyll, which is always in oil made from green olives, but never in lesser-grade seed oil. As it sucks a sample, he's patient.

"It takes about 25 minutes per sample to do just this one step," he says.

The UC-Davis study was funded in part by the California Olive Oil Council. Oils were tested by some methods not yet recognized by international standards. For that reason, Bob Bauer of the North American Olive Oil Association, which represents importers, disputes the Davis study.

Read the full story at NPR.org.

Presented by

Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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