What to Buy? Organic Olive Oil?

January 14th, 2008

DH’s question was ever more insistent: “Are you sure you want the organic olive oil?”

It wasn’t until I visited Whole Foods that I realized why he was asking. Organic olive oil is $12.99 a bottle versus $7.99 for the conventional, store brand 365 Everyday Value line of olive oil. At the rate we plow through olive oil (close to two bottles per month), that’s a price premium of $120 per year for organic versus conventional olive oil. And with recent price increases pushing the price of just a half gallon of organic milk to $4.19 at our local Giant grocery store, it’s important to make sure we’re spending money on the right types of organic foods.

That’s when I was reminded of a fantastic resource: the Environmental Working Group’s list of the “dirty dozen” most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables – the ones you should always buy organic. Olives don’t even make the broader list of 43 fruits and veggies surveyed. That made my decision easy – pass on the organic olive oil and save the money for our ever increasing organic milk bill!

Check out the “dirty dozen” and the “cleanest 12″ lists here – you can download a wallet card to carry with you to the market.

– Lynn

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12 Responses to “What to Buy? Organic Olive Oil?”

  1. MamaBird on January 15, 2008 8:00 am

    Ah, so sorry to be the expensive naysayer (go to Safeway, they have the best deal on organic olive oil around here, better than Trader Joe’s even, and it was on special a couple days ago) — but toxins accumulate in fat. You know, persistent organic pollutants like pcbs? the reason they are more prevalent higher up the food chain is that they stick in the fat of each animal, we gobble it up, bingo, we are stuck with it. until our poor babies get the highest possible load of toxins (first baby gets mom’s lifetime burden). It’s why Sandra Steingraber is so concerned about enviro pollutants as they impact breastmilk. Here’s a link about mother polar bears that explains the basics: http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/essay_calder.html

    Thanks for pointing this out. Funny, when I researched the benefits of organic olive oil, taste came up as the primary benefit. Of course the EWG “Dirty Dozen” list only talks about pesticide residue on fresh fruits and veggies, not PCBs in olive oil, or even phtalates – which I found turned up in one study as well. Yeesh. You shouldn’t need a research degree to figure out what’s healthy to eat — but that’s back to one of the reasons I started OrganicMania. Thanks, Mamabird, for being such a loyal and attentive participant in this community! — Lynn

  2. Sue on January 15, 2008 12:26 pm

    On the other hand, most of us have a difficult choice when at the grocery store. It is extremely helpful to know just when the purchase of organics is important and when ‘traditional’ foods will suffice. I wish our income structure and our food economy was such that we were not always balancing affordability against real health concerns.

    Thanks Lynn, your links to the dirty dozen was extremely useful and now I’ll be extra careful about my peaches!

    You know, getting a listing of when grocery stores are running organics specials would also be helpful. If I run across any information like this, do you have a place for me to post it?

    Hi Sue, thanks for your comments. I agree about the terrible balance between health concerns and affordabilty – and it’s been even worse in the auto industry! I hate the way safety features seem to always be introduced in luxury cars before trickling their way down to the masses. And YES re the specials – just email me! — Lynn

  3. Allison on January 16, 2008 10:38 am

    Hey~ Speaking of organic milk— Trader Joe’s sells a gallon of organic whole milk for $5.69 (a right bargain compared to Horizon half-gallons); any thoughts/reviews/reasons why TJ’s brand may not be as good as Horizon (or any other name brand)?

    Hi, Allison, thanks for stopping by. Actually, as Sue pointed out – boy, it’s EXCITING to see that readers are responding to each others comments!! – TJ’s house brand ranks higher than Horizon on the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Dairy Report. See: http://cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/index.html . For me, the choice between TJ’s and Giant often boils down to the traffic patterns on our clogged local roads. I had been going to MOM’s for organic milk – there’s was the best deal at $4.99 per gallon, but recently the price was raised to the same $5.69 level (give or take a dime) that you found at TJ’s. — Lynn

  4. Nicholas on January 16, 2008 12:39 pm

    Speaking of Whole Foods, not all Whole Foods sell local produce when they claim they do.

    “Tuscaloosa farmer sues Whole Foods over local supplier campaign”
    http://www.al.com/business/birminghamnews/index.ssf?/base/business/1200475053208030.xml&coll=2

    Hi Nicholas, thanks for stopping by. Well, I read the article, which discusses how a farmer claims pictures were taken of his farm and posted on the Whole Foods site but Whole Foods allegedly never purchased his crops. I find it hard to believe that WF would intentionally risk their brand image over something like this. If in fact this is true, my bet is that it was a (gasp) mistake in the WF marketing department that caused the pix to be posted before the deals were consummated to buy his crops. — Lynn

  5. Sue on January 16, 2008 1:14 pm

    Hey Allison,

    I found this website helpful in evaluating organic milk labels:

    http://cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/index.html

    It does seem to indicate that TJs organic milk is slightly better than Horizon but this may be a sliding scale.

    Sue – thanks for passing along the tip to Allison! — Lynn

  6. Allison on January 16, 2008 3:40 pm

    Thanks~ Sorry I missed Sue’s link the first time! :)
    ps- I do like this blog an awful lot!!

    I’m glad you like it, Allison! Please pass the word along to your friends! — Lynn

  7. Organic and Green Mom Blog | Organic Savings on the Fly: Organic Milk & Organic Berries at Organic Mania on October 11, 2008 6:11 am

    [...] a huge savings compared to the $4.19 a half gallon some supermarkets command, as we discussed here. (When you consider that post was written back in January, the price now is surely above $4.19 in [...]

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  9. Jodi on November 18, 2009 10:48 am

    I just ran across this blog today. In olive oils, it is the brand you need to watch out for many imported olive oils are notorious for being only partially made out of olives, and sometimes made out of other fatty nuts and toxic chemicals to make them resemble olive oil. Big name brands too, such as Bertolli, Sasso, and Cirio. It is best to do your homework on olive oil.

    “A 1996 study by the FDA found that 96 percent of the olive oils they tested, while being labeled 100 percent olive oil, had been diluted with other oils. A study in Italy found that only 40 percent of the olive oil brands labeled “extra-virgin” actually met those standards. Italy produces 400,000 tons of olive oil for domestic consumption, but 750,000 tons are sold. The difference is made up with highly refined nut and seed oils.”

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/08/13/070813fa_fact_mueller

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/23/italy.fooddrinks

  10. R Flood on April 29, 2010 11:04 am

    I once thought organic was unimportant for olive oils, too. Then a couple of friends came back from a long trip working in european farms (mostly organic). Their report was that many non-organic growers spray the s**t out of their trees. Since in reality, you can find organic EVOO at very competitive prices if you look hard enough, I would stick to organic. As someone above pointed out, many toxins love oils. And while the “dirty dozen” is helpful, I would not take it as the final word on food safety. Personally, I take the eyewitness report of “lots or spray” as good enough to mandate “organic”.

  11. Lynn on April 29, 2010 5:21 pm

    Thanks so much for weighing in on this issue and sharing your thoughts. I wrote this a long time ago, but I often think about the olive oil issue!

  12. Raleigh Myers on August 6, 2010 12:13 pm

    Thanks for addressing this subject. From EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides FAQ http://www.foodnews.org/faq.php:
    “EWG’s Shopper’s Guide is based on laboratory tests done by the US Department of Agriculture Pesticide Testing Program. The program tests several kinds of foods for types and amount of pesticide residue.”

    On the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service website, which is linked to by the above webpage, is a list of all commodities (fruits and vegetables) tested from 1991-2009. Olives are not listed. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3003972

    To me, this indicates that we cannot conclude that olives (or olive oil) do not have a high concentration of pesticides. Olives are not on the EWG list because they aren’t one of the commodities tested by the USDA. The fact is we don’t know how contaminated olives and olive oil are. Therefore, I buy organic olive oil.

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