The character Olive Oyl was a staple of the comics long before Popeye came along. She had relatives named Castor and Diesel, perhaps because the writer had a thing for oil names. On the other hand olive oil has become a staple of world kitchens. Television food personality Rachel Ray can probably be credited for promoting EVOO or extra virgin olive oil. But it turns out the EV in the OO is the subject of much intrigue in the world of food and business. Much of what’s being sold as extra-virgin olive oil may not meet the standards for such a label, and in some cases it may not even be olive oil at all. Such are the multitude of discussion points in the book, “Extra Virginity,” by Thomas Mueller. The author has long been writing about the issue of bait-and-switch in the olive oil business. Several years ago he chronicled the adventures of ships that brought hazelnut oil fromTurkey to Italy which was then mixed, packed and shipped as Italian olive oil.
Much the problem revolves around the commonly held belief that olive oil is superior to other oils in its ability to heal ailments and promote good health. Everyone from the ancient Greeks to the Pharaohs embraced olive oil for various uses. Olive oil on a Roman table was seen as a triumph of the civilized over the barbarians. Ancient athletes once rubbed their bodies with olive oil to achieve a pleasant, shiny appearance. Consequently, olive oil can command higher prices, which in turn leads to unscrupulous business types diluting it with other oils, or adding chemicals to achieve the smell and taste. And along the way there has been a case of death by olive oil. Well, it was not by olive oil because the deaths were a result of other oils mixed with aniline, a chemical used in blue jeans dyes, to imitate olive oil. And who would have guessed the trade group for the Italian olive oil industry is called ASSITOL?