Monday, 18 January 2010

Olives in sunflower oil

When I bought these Kalamata olives I assumed I was buying olives marinated in olive oil, as it said extra virgin olive oil in big print on the label. When I got home I read the label properly. It actually says -

“Olives Kalamata
Marinated in (2%) extra virgin olive oil and oregano”

On the back of the label the ingredients list the second ingredient after the olives is sunflower oil. The 2 per cent extra virgin olive oil is listed after the salt. I imagine the label meets legal requirements, but it is still misleading. Buying in a hurry we make assumptions based on what is customary, the extra virgin olive oil is used to sell the product in big letters on the front of the jar, when it only contains a minimal amount.

You will find sunflower oil lurking high in the ingredients list of many Mediterranean style foods. It is never announced on the front of the packaging, but a look at the ingredients lists shows that it is, entirely or to a large extent, replacing the traditional olive oil in pesto, marinated vegetables like artichokes, sundried tomatoes and jars of olives and capers.

Apart from the misleading labelling there is the problem of lack of information about food processing. Pale, bland tasting sunflower oil is not just the result of pressing sunflower seeds. In his book Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, which was actually published in 1993, Udo Erasmus, exposes the many stages of processing such as bleaching, de-gumming and deodorising, involving high temperatures and chemical treatments which systematically remove nutrients like vitamin E and lecithin, and alters the molecular structure of oils in order to create a bland oil with long shelf life. Some doubt Erasmus's credibility as he does have a product line of eye-wateringly expensive vegetable oils which have been cold pressed and are sold in small batches with a limited shelf-life (I just eat the seeds containing the beneficial oils). But whatever your view on these products, he has actually done the work to research and expose the hidden processing of vegetable oils and the harmful health effects.

The harmful health effects of trans fats is in the news again today, but the hydrogenation, process which hardens liquid oils for products like margarine which produces these trans fats, is just the tip of the iceberg of vegetable oil processing. It is very difficult to find vegetable oils which have not been processed in this way. If sunflower, or any other, vegetable oil is cold pressed rather than subjected to the usual processing it will be sold as such, prominent on the front of the label and at a premium, like the extra virgin olive oil which is a minor ingredient in this jar of Kalamata olives.

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