Last week, we were milling some Mission and Manzanillo fruit with Blood Oranges as we are now done making extra virgin olive oil. This process reminded me that last November, Curtis Cord wrote in Olive Oil Times what I thought was a very good piece about flavored oils. The gist of it was that flavored olive oil should not be labeled as extra virgin. I think he may have taken it a bit far saying it should not be labeled as olive oil at all as the percentage of the flavored oil that is flavoring falls in the low single digits, but that is splitting hairs. One thing for certain, flavored olive oil should not be labeled as extra virgin.
When I cook I prefer to use the actual ingredient such as basil or lemon zest or whatever. I can, however, think back to more hectic days when my wife and I did not have as much time to cook and flavored oils would have added a nice element to a lot of the routine weekday meals with no additional time spent. The same goes for flavored balsamic vinegars I think so there is a place for both of them in many kitchens. In addition, it's not always possible to find the original flavor ingredients at the market if they are not in season, like blood oranges for instance.
Cord goes on to argue that the degree of distrust that currently surrounds the veracity of extra virgin olive oil is exacerbated by calling flavored oils extra virgin. The problem is that flavored oils cannot be tested for their integrity due to the addition of the flavoring components and so, much lower grade oil can be used with impunity. There is no incentive for a producer to use extra virgin olive oil since they can get away with using less expensive oil and increase their profit margin.
I have to say that calling flavored oil extra virgin is a pet peeve of mine too. Something else that really caught my attention on this subject this week was I saw some of our competitors' price lists and noticed their flavored oils are running as much as 30% less than some of their extra virgin oils. If this does not raise alarm bells for customers, it should. It is more costly to make flavored oils than extra virgin olive oil whether you are milling the ingredient with the olives or adding a flavoring to unflavored oil already produced, whatever grade of oil you are producing. At The Olive Oil Source, all of our infused oils are made with certified extra virgin olive oil and we routinely do random sampling of the oil we use to make sure it meets that quality standard. We do not, however, label an oil once it is flavored as extra virgin olive oil.
Just as with extra virgin olive oil, if the price seems too good to believe, don't.