Book Recommendation: Extra Virginity

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller

By Rainy

My family is Italian so we cook a lot of pasta dishes and olive oil is used frequently. I knew how to cook with olive oil and that it is the foundation of the Mediterranean diet’s health success. Beyond these basic facts I now understand that I didn’t know squat. My co-worker recommended I read Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller after we got chatting about food during our lunch break. Olive oil is such an important food ingredient people should know more about it.

Olive oil is extracted from the fruit while other vegetable oils are derived from using industrial solvents to remove the oil from seeds. Olive oil also doesn’t need to have any unpleasant smells or tastes removed using high temperature desolventization, neutralization, deodorizing bleaching and degumming. Olive oil needs high quality olives to create high quality oil. Other vegetable oils use standard or low grade seeds to make oil. After learning this I eye the bottle of “vegetable oil” suspiciously. It is not a product that was available to us until modern science.

Muller explains the unique and unknown situation olive oil is in. The best place to get the freshest olive oil is at the place where it is made. The worst things for olive oil are oxygen, heat, and light. Paolo Pasqualin invented OliveToLive to allow oil to stay fresh. “Oil is the opposite of wine. Wine ages, oil goes bad. The instant an oil is bottled, the decay accelerates. Bulk oil is the only way to go – superpremium bulk oil.”  His system is light proof, oxygen free and stays at 16 degrees Celsius until it is ready to be served. It is currently used in high-end restaurants and oil bars.

Mueller sets up information about olive oil that quickly turned me into a pure oil advocate. He touches on many topics in his novel including the current illegal but unregulated activities in the oil market. Fraud is endemic to the olive oil industry. It is easy to make more money by cutting the olive oil with a little seed oil. Chemists who are in committees to detect fraud are sometimes are the ones that make new methods of oil fraud using chemistry.

But this kind of fraud has been happening for a while.  Mueller points out that Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi describes a conversation between two traveling salesman. They boast to each other how they sell Oleomargarine as butter and cotton-seed oil as olive oil. This also brings up how margarine has been pushed to replace butter with the less expensive to produce vegetable products. The fight between the farm lobby and the margarine companies was heated in the United States. But Olive oil authenticity has never been addressed.

Fats are a normal part of the human diet. Muller describes how animal fat and olive oil were the original fat sources. Olive oil is preferred in warmer regions where the trees can grow. In the northern areas animal fat, including butter was most common. And the tug of war between these two continues today often in my own kitchen when I have to decide to use butter or oil for cooking.

When I balance the advantages and disadvantages, I now know after reading this book the beneficial aids in olive oil.  Gary Beauchamp PhD discovered anti-inflammatory properties in olive oil by noticing the similar burning taste of ibuprofen when swallowed.  He was able to isolate the molecule that olive oil has that is has a similar reaction in the human body as ibuprofen as well as reducing the effects of ADDLs, which are believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical test have suggested that olive oil inhibits certain types of cancer when ingested and when applied to the skin protects against harmful bacteria as well as the sun’s ultraviolet rays preventing skin cancer. But olive oil that has been cut with less quality oils degrades these health benefits so it is important to know you have true virgin olive oil. If olive oil doesn’t sting at the back of the throat, have a bitter or velvety in texture, it contains little or no health benefits.

Muller says olive oil bars are becoming more popular as Americans are becoming more aware of quality oil. He recommends the online resources OliveSource.com and The Olive Oil Times. And I recommend that you read this book!

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