This should be a must read for anyone who eats olive oil and who lives religiously by it, like my mother who bless her funky soul, would even put it in chocolate brownies growing up.
Amid Bugs, Hail, Floods and Bacteria, Italian Olives Take a Beating by The New York Times.
Basically what has happened is that in 2014, olive-growing regions in Italy experienced abundant rainfall coupled with a fruit fly invasion that destroyed most of their crops. The beauty of living in a country so dependent on agriculture, is that we can really feel environmental affects on even the smallest things like household staples. In the states, where everything is available year-round with a relentless global buying power to match, most environmental abnormalities have little consequence on everyday life.
What this means is that if you are in the states or elsewhere, you probably should not count on 2014 Italian olive oil from a single source. Even in Florence where I live at the mouth of Italian olive oil abundance, the place I recently went for the green gold had to dig around in the back for 2014 batches whose supplies are starting to dwindle. And this shop was the small kind that sources directly from farmers all over the region. If this place had problems even in just small volumes to find the authentic, single farm sourced Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, I can’t imagine a big grocery store conglomerate having more luck acquiring sufficient supplies of the precious oil from the 2014 press.
What this also means: Eventually the 2014 supplies will run dry. 2013 will be sold in its place. Big deal? Well, not that big of a deal. Unless you consider with time, the oil looses some of its freshness and potency in terms of polyphenols.
Is this the end of the world? No. In fact, I think this is a good wake up call for consumers who think Italian olive oil is the end all, be all of cooking and dietary oils. In fact, I have a variety of oils in my pantry varying on the application. I have a theory that repetition is a form of poison. Everything is bad for you- even olive oil doesn’t have a complete profile of some essential fatty acids. Too much of even Omega 3 can be unfavorable. The trick to avoiding an accumulation burden is by having diversity in your diet and environments in general. Think of it like this as well: It is simply unsustainable for every household to cook/eat extra virgin olive oil from Italy- the are over 7 billion people on the planet! When we focus on one product, and create an unrealistic demand for it, then no wonder that things come about like taking olives from various parts of the Mediterranean and labeling it “Made in Italy.” What did the consumer markets expect?
Here is a quick list of alternative oils to use to help make your 2014 Extra Virgin Olive Oil stretch until the 2015 harvest is ready:
Coconut Oil- I really love coconut oil, you can get extra virgin cold pressed varieties which have virtually no odor or taste of coconut so you can use it in even some Italian recipes (but not many) Coconut oil is great because it has a high smoke point which means you can cook with it at most temperatures. The problem with cooking everything with olive oil is that the fats are fragile. Omega 3s generally do not withstand well to heat. Personally, I cook use coconut oil for stir-frys, quinoa, rice pilafs, pancakes, crepes, anything Asian, fish even, Indian food, strongly spices foods which are usually exotic. I would be tempted to make a risotto with a mix of coconut oil and butter to see if it would be tolerable. People tend to shun coconut oil because of saturated fat content and the belief that it will make everything taste like coconut. The saturated fats in coconut are actually not as harmful as one would think.
Sesame Oil- This is particularly good (not to mention tasty!) for asian-style dishes and anything with soy sauce
Peanut Oil- Good for frying! Make sure it is organic. Peanuts are heavily treated with industrial ag chemicals since they are susceptible to mold.
Safflower Oil- A good alternative to canola oil which is something I try to avoid at all costs. Vitamin E is an essential fat soluble vitamin present in most oils. However, its presence in soy, corn and canola has been suggested to be damaging to respiratory health. Generally speaking, safflower oil is very neutral in taste so it can be used in cooking at medium-slightly medium high temperatures. But not too high, safflower oil has a somewhat less tolerant smoke point that coconut oil. It is also good for baking!
Hemp Oil- This oil is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and is a perfect nutty component for salads and raw things and especially dips like hummus! Plus it is a very environmentally safe product, hemp grows well and needs little maintenance. I think the world would be a little better if we started utilizing more of the hemp plant (including fibers for clothes!)
Alternatives to hemp oil if you cannot find it: Avocado oil, flax seed oil (not my favorite, the bioavailability of its omega 3s are supposedly quite low) Hazelnut oil and Pistachio Oil.
Now…where to find these oils? Go to your local health food store and ask the person on staff! I spent many years working in the nutraceutical world and I can tell you the staff are usually happy to have their brains picked and love sharing health tips and debunking product myths, etc. In Seattle, I really like Rainbow Remedies in Capitol Hill (spendy), Central Co-Op in Capitol Hill, Edmonds Vitamins and Herbs, the Central Market chain,Manna Mills in Mountlake Terrace, etc. By the way, a visit to Edmonds is well worth meeting Justin. Such a powerhouse of nutritional and herbal knowledge.
In Florence, there is Naturasi and La Raccolta for buying these oils. I recommend La Raccolta in Florence because the service is loads better. Every time I have been to Naturasi, the staff have been unpleasant and not helpful. Go to the small, independent health food stores and they will give you loads more input and you will leave a little more empowered, I promise.
A general note when buying oils- try to buy organic when possible and extra virgin, cold pressed, etc.
Want to get deeper into Italian Olive Oil? I can arrange customized olive oil tastings either in Florence or in the countryside to the farms themselves. Simply drop me a line.
In your quest for health,
The Curious Appetite