Oils on the cheap
The price of olive oil has never really bothered me before but recently things have changed. A couple of months ago we looked into buying a property which had a few hundred Olive trees merrily producing olives (and potentially oil) on it. My little eyes lit up and my brain went into over-drive researching the price of oil, the price of an oil extraction plant, the quality required to market such a product and so on and so forth. I quickly discovered that the 500 or so trees on the block were unlikely to make me rich or even that moisturised. Well, not for a profit anyway.
We didn’t buy that property, we opted for something else but a spark of interest was alighted and for the last two months the price of oil has been on my mind.
I noticed tonight that Olive oil can be purchased pretty cheaply in the supermarket with some going for less than $5 per litre for what is labelled as Extra Virgin! This is ridiculous when you look into the cost of raising, harvesting and pressing a crop. I started to smell a rat.
Way back before Realize Beauty I worked in the supply chain for a company that supplied oils to the food industry (amongst other things. I was involved in cosmetics, surprise surprise!) Trying to get a legitimate source of Virgin Olive oil at the right price for some of our clients was no easy feat. I know that my foodie supply chain friends had to jump through several hoops to get the oil approved and not every batch would make the grade. But there would always be someone else who would take the dud stock…….
In 2009 and 2010 Choice magazine looked into the Olive Oil market and found that not everything was as it should be. Several brands failed to meet the International Olive Councils standard for ‘extra virgin’ oils even though that is how they were being sold. In this round of testing more than 80% of the imported oils tested failed to meet the labelled quality (less than 25% of Australian oils tested failed). Issues varied from the oil being too old, of poor quality and /or refined. I guess it is hard for oils coming from Europe to maintain their freshness at a cheap price here in Australia. Europe is an 8-12 week boat trip away across the equator – not great for a product that requires careful handling and a temperature controlled environment.
I have a feeling that the terms ‘virgin’ or ‘extra virgin’ have just become things we expect to see on something like Olive oil with most people giving little thought to what that actually means. Virgin oil is extracted from Olives without excessive heat and meets an internationally respected quality. Extra virgin is as above but has a very low acidity and a tighter specification. Like many things in life these terms are a private, industry standard and not strictly legally binding although intentional deception and false advertising is always wrong.
When we are making cosmetics the quality of our oils does matter. Olive oil with a high acidity will not only smell a bit stronger and have a darker colour it will also be more irritating to the skin and could act as a strong penetration enhancer which may be a good thing (anti-ageing) but may be terrible (for eczema sufferers or those with very sensitive skin). Our formulations might turn rancid more quickly, we might lose our desired smell or the product might become discoloured. Bad oils are not a good idea.
So what can you do?
Olive growers and oil producers are a passionate bunch and those that are in it for the quality will be happy to re-assure you of the process their oils have been through to entitle them to wear the virgin or extra virgin badge. Those that are in it for the money will stack them high and sell them cheap. Often.
The longer I’m in this industry the more and more passionate I become about good, no GREAT quality ingredients. I think that a bit of logic paired with a healthy Q&A session with your supplier plus a bit of hands-on education (know what a good oil looks, smells and tastes like) will keep you in good stead.
Live the olives, feel the olives, taste the olives.
And enjoy beautiful skin care.