Because Australia is so far away from the rest of the world we tend to assume that because olive oil has always been synonymous with the Mediterranean way of life for so many thousands of years…their olive oil must be infinitely better than ours…well guess what, it isn’t, and that’s official!
Australian olive oil has taken the international olive oil competition circuit by storm according to prestigious US based food magazine Epicurious.
One of their lead writers Janet Rausa Fuller wrote this month, “Australian olive oil has taken the international olive oil competition circuit by storm. It’s such good stuff that Larry Olmsted, author of ‘Real Food Fake Food’ who has written extensively about counterfeit olive oil, says if he had to choose an oil based on nothing other than where it’s from, his first choice would be Australian.”
According to a 2013 report by the US International Trade Commission, “Australia’s olive oil producers are all about intensive layouts of olive groves, modern irrigation and farm management practices, mechanised harvesting, and advanced milling technologies”.
Lisa Rowntree, a spokeswoman for the Australian Olive Association explained that: ”Most growers also have their own mills and bottling facilities, which allows them to press their olives within 24 hours – but often much quicker. It all adds up to a pure, super-fresh product that just might be the world’s best olive oil. If you produce good olives and harvest them quickly, you can’t go wrong”.
Like the rest of the world, our growers here in Australia have had to handle poor quality, non-compliant oil being imported into our market place. However, we did something here that nobody else did. In 2011 our Australian Olive Association put in place the strictest standards in the world for what can be called extra virgin olive oil – it’s what sets our EVOO apart from all the others! Olive oil grading standards set by the Madrid-based International Olive Council are considered the industry benchmark, but while they require lab analysis and sensory tests, they’ve been strongly criticised for being too broad and inadequate in determining factors like the age of an oil.
The Australian Standard for Olive Oils and Olive Pomace Oils—AS5264-2011 for short – goes above and beyond the IOCs testing by requiring, among other things, two additional chemical tests not used elsewhere that detect freshness, quality, and whether an oil’s been cut with cheap or old oil.
The DAG test, which Larry Olmsted calls “the most sophisticated chemical analysis for freshness”, measures the ratio of compounds called diacylglycerols that change with age, heat, and/or the refining process. The PPP test measures the degradation of chlorophyll in the oil, which happens steadily with age but can be manipulated with high heat, say, in the refining process.
AS5264 also bans the use of misleading label terms such as ‘pure’ and ‘light’, requires a ‘best before’ date less than two years from when an oil was bottled, and calls for random testing of olive oil at the retail level, ‘in order to capture the degradation that naturally occurs over time’, according to the International Trade Commission.
What really amazes the rest of the world is that apart from these stringent requirements we have an additional voluntary certification program which has been in place since 2005, and which monitors things like sustainable practices, and which producers agree to follow—voluntarily—in order to carry the ‘Australian Extra Virgin Certified’ seal. As Lisa Rowntree pointed out that while none of this is enforced by law here in Australia, over 90 per cent of olive oil made in Australia meets these standards. Give yourselves a pat on the back Australia!