Olive Oil: Solving an Identity Crisis
Olive oil has become quite a tricky business. Is it fake? Is it really extra virgin? You can never be too sure of it. Quite unfortunately, real olive oil and an adulterated one can taste the same. The best way to identify something good? Know your supplier. And so we found our saving grace in Papa's Grove, a family-run business that presses for pure, unadulterated olive oil. Andreas Papaspyrou, its co-founder, tells us more.
What's the story behind Papa's Grove?
It all started out as a little joke and really out of necessity. The idea of producing Papa's Grove was born at the height of the Greek economic crisis in 2014 that cost my older brother, Petros, his office job. With unemployment at 29 per cent, getting another job in a sinking economy proved impossible. Wondering what the steps were and over endless Skype calls, we identified the lack of tasty, healthy and reliable extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in the world, particularly in Asia. Going back to our roots, we decided to finally take full advantage of our invaluable inheritance, and produce our very own from our family's olive groves in the Peloponnese. Our first bottles arrived at Singapore's shores early last December and that's when it all began.
What are these Koroneiki and Manaki varieties you talk about?
While most olives look the same to the common eye, there are different varieties that differ in colour and size. It is all based on climate, and this is very similar to wine and grapes. Koroneiki is the most famous Greek variety that delivers a stronger and more intense olive oil, while Manaki is more delicate, grassy and sweet.
What's the difference between Greek and Italian olive oils?
Climate aside, there are different ways of growing, let alone harvesting and pressing. Each olive oil is unique. In reality, Italians import a significant volume of their olive oil production in bulk from Greece, Spain, Tunisia and even as far as Peru. (You should be able to note this on the fine print of the labels.) Because they have been brilliant at marketing, most people assume that Italian olive oils are the best. Up to 2000, 90 per cent of Greek olive oil was exported in bulk. Now this percentage has decreased to 78 per cent. Why sell and export a good product instead of bottling it and labelling it as your own? We are happy to be part of this change in philosophy of Greek EVOO.
What does a medium blend mean?
We take these two varieties of EVOO and blend them together in a certain proportion that delivers our award winning "medium blend". This ensures you get a smooth olive oil of medium aftertaste intensity.
Olive oil is so easy to doctor. Is this industry-wide fraud still rampant today or is it getting less?
The scandal with fake EVOO came to light in 2011 when the University of California discovered that 69 per cent of all USA-imported olive oils and 10 per cent of American olive oils failed to meet sensory standards and quality requirements. Thankfully, there has been been a constant growing attention in the media ever since, and checks and awareness have spiked throughout the world. However, there have been seizures due to mislabelling and failed quality checks discovered in Italy early this year. This shows that we still have a long way to go.
What is the the most common form of adulteration?
Well, what's labelled Extra Virgin Olive Oil may not be "extra virgin". Some brands bottle lower grades of olive oil (third press for example) or even worse, dilute the oil with water or other kinds of oils. There are also possibilities of mislabelling the product in terms of origin and content.
How can you tell if an olive oil is fake? It's so hard to distinguish by taste.
For the average consumer, I admit it is. However, a simple sensory know-all like smell, taste and brilliance of colour should give a good indication. People try our Papa's Grove and say they never knew olive oil could taste like this. This isn't surprising if you have been used to what's sold at the supermarket. Also, price point is a good measure. It is practically impossible to have a 500ml bottle of real EVOO even in a harmful plastic bottle shipped to Singapore for less than $12. The safest way is to know your producer. Don't buy it just because it's branded.
What are some of the big brands we should avoid?
There are some that have gotten into trouble. Make a quick search online, you will be surprised how many there are.
If we come across an obscure brand, what should we look out for?
Read the labels! Look out for low acidity. To qualify as an EVOO, it should have less than 0.8 per cent in acidity. Ours has 0.21 per cent. When it is bottled is important too. It should be kept up to a maximum of two years - this is how long the nutrients, polyphenols (the antioxidants) remain alive in a bottle. Note that the harvest window happens from mid-October to January, so when a bottle has an expiry date of September 2017, it means it was bottled in September 2015. The earliest it was harvested would be in 2014.
Is it safe to expose olive oil to high heat?
Not to worry, its burning point is high enough to accommodate most cooking techniques. By using it in baking, marinating and light frying, it isn't only tastier but healthier. Olive oil isn't only meant to be used as a dressing.
What is your favourite way of using olive oil then?
I'd use it to fry an egg or as a dip for freshly baked bread.
Alright. Now where can we buy Papa's Grove?