#OliveOil: buyer beware!

Life with food allergies is fraught with mysteries, a few of which, I suspect, are never elucidated. My daughter has many allergies and, as a result, her food is prepared at home, from single ingredients that are carefully-vetted to exclude soy, corn, palm, gluten, and dairy, just to name the main culprits. We’ve had too many accidents that resulted in a trip to the emergency room to stray too far from our regimen. While a great number of those accidents were traceable to a food she ingested, or the possibility of cross-contamination, there were still a great many instances where there was an illness and no obvious culprit.

Olive oil is a staple in our kitchen. Up until recently, while I would strive to buy our olive oil mostly from either Costco or Whole Foods, I would buy it at my local grocery chain when in a pinch. Recently, I ran out of olive oil as I was getting ready to make a limited run to the local grocery. I bought a liter bottle there. Within hours, my daughter was sick. While she was not sick enough to need the emergency room, she was noticeably ill and we didn’t know why. After all, nothing new was added to her diet. Right?

A few days later, as my daughter’s condition was getting worse, I came across a piece entitled, Extra Virgin Suicide, by The New York Times’ Nicholas Blechman.  The piece provided all the explanation I needed to solve my daughter’s mystery illness. Blechman explains, visually, how extra virgin olive oil is cut with other oils in Italy. The olive oil I had recently purchased at the store most likely was tainted with soy or corn. Both, in oil form, would cause her to exhibit the symptoms were were seeing. Indeed, after a few days of using olive oil from Costco, her symptoms disappeared.

Blechman’s piece led me to two other articles. Slate ran a story, ‘Is Your “Extra Virgin” Olive Oil Really Virgin?‘ That story led me to Tom Mueller’s Truth In Olive Oil website, and a piece entitled: “Tom’s Supermarket Picks: quality oils at good prices.” I highly recommend reading both.

While price was never a top criterion for me in buying olive oil, purity most definitely is.  The list in Mueller’s list isn’t complete, but I have found that many of the brands of olive oil sold at Middle Eastern markets are trustworthy. The greener, more expensive the oil, the more likely (until you open the bottle and sniff it) it is that it is 100% olive oil.

While I don’t have the talent or schnozz for sniffing out soy or corn oil in my olive oil, I do have years of consistently good experience with the quality control at Costco and Whole Foods. For those of you fortunate enough to have a Middle Eastern market to shop at, Lebanese olive oil is divine and safe! My favorite is Tazah.

Mystery solved!



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