Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oilve Oil- "liquid gold" or adulterated?

Olive oil, or "liquid gold," has been produced in California since well before the 49ers arrived. Yet as of now, only 2 percent of olive oil consumed in the U.S. is produced here. The California Olive Oil Council and its members are looking to change that.

California olive oil producers are taking on an industry fraught with culture and tradition, competing with companies from Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy, and Greece where olive oil has been produced and consumed for centures. According to the New York Times, California producers have been using intensive growing methods and the high standards of quality set by the International Olive Council to make their way not only to specialty stores alongside premium (and expensive) oils from around the world, but also to supermarkets at affordable prices.

As California continues to cultivate its olive industry, European businesses continue to attract scrutiny in the wake of Tom Mueller's revealing look into the black market olive trade and Operation Golden Oil in Italy. Rampant olive oil fraud and adulteration has damaged the reputation of imported supermarket brands, in turn opening up a market for the burgeoning California industry.

In a report released by the UC Davis Olive Center in July last year, 69 percent of imported olive oils marketed as "extra-virgin olive oil" failed to meet the IOC's "sensory standards," compared to 10 percent of California olive oils--the primary reasons being oxidation, adulteration, and poor production. However, this report was later criticized by the North American Olive Oil Association and the IOC, who noted that the study was funded by domestic oil producers, and that the Olive Center itself markets its own olive oil.

Whether scientific evidence is in California's favor or not, there remains the familiar argument that local agriculture supports the local economy, reduces fossil-fuel consumption, and provides consumers with fresher products.

Olive oil has a history of use in Mediterranean cultures from religious rites to cosmetics, and it has established a reputation in the U.S. as a healthy, more refined substitute for butter and other oils laden with unhealthy saturated fats. It has, in fact, become a popular ingredient in health-conscious eating, with the FDA officially acknowledging in 2004 that the consumption of olive oil may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Its increasing popularity is reflected in the USDA's adoption of new grading standards for olive oil last year, an act originally petitioned by the California Olive Oil Council five years before, that replaced the agency's original standards dating back to 1948.

Organizations such as the COOC and the North American Olive Oil Association are the leading forces behind the growing awareness of olive oil in the U.S. The Olive Oil Times is an American news source reporting exclusively on the life of this "liquid gold." Thus, as the California olive industry continues to grow and olive oil works its way further into the American diet, it remains to be seen how it will compete with the romanticized olive oil culture of Europe.
The 2010-2011 olive harvest yielded 1.2 million gallons of olive oil in California, which is double the amount produced in 2008, according to the California Olive Oil Council (COOC). It is estimated that olive groves will continue to grow in area, with an estimated 5,000 acres of new trees being planted through each of the next nine years.

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