Two of my kitchen’s heaviest lifters are honey and extra virgin olive oil and I strongly encourage them to become a main player in your conscience eating efforts as well. But as with all things food related, it seems lately that both of these ingredients must be selected carefully, because all honey and olive oil are not created equal.
HONEY: In order to be considered “honey,” food safety organizations require that honey have pollen in it. This seems really reasonable, because when you get honey from bees and put it in a jar it has pollen in it. Delicious. All is well.
But here’s the sticky part (pun intended), food safety organizations can tell where a honey comes from by analyzing this pollen. Who cares? The food safety organizations do. Because if they can’t tell where it came from, they can’t deem it safe. And that is apparently why MOST companies selling honey are taking it out. Because they are buying cheap ultra-filtered unsafe honey from China (where antibiotics are often found in honey) and selling it to their US customers in cute little bear containers. This is illegal by the way, but unregulated.
VOCAB WORD OF THE DAY: Melissopalynologist – an investigator of pollen in honey.
A “premiere” melissopalynologist (is there really more than one in the world!?!) took samples of honey from grocery stores, big box stores and drug stores and found that 76% of them had no pollen in them. Whoops. That’s a big fail. This included 100% from the drugstore honey samples – no pollen, 77% from the Costcos, Sams Clubs, Targets – no pollen, 76% from the grocery stores – no pollen. And I should mention that 100% of the fast food sample packets had none, but then who is that surprising at this point?
Honey is GOOD. Creepy de-pollened secret honey from China is, well CREEPY. So do me a favor and find a farmers market and buy yourself some honey from a real person who took care of the bees and smiles and thanks you personally for your support. If you can’t do that, the study showed that 100% of the honey from natural food stores and Trader Joes had the full amount of pollen. So there’s another option for you.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL: The highest quality of all the olive oils, extra virgin means the oil is defect free, produced without chemical solvents and should have the taste of fresh olives. This is all a lot of work to comply with, and thus extra virgin olive oil costs a bunch more than the other grades. Turns out it is also rather unregulated and easy to slip in other oils (either lesser grades of olive oil or other oils altogether – cheap canola, sunflower, for example.)
The University of California at Davis Olive Center (did you know they have an Olive Center – how cool is that!?) conducted tests in 2010 and found… wait for it… 2/3 of the olive oils they analyzed were not what they claimed to be. Some even had nut oils mixed in, which seems horrendous given the nut allergy situation these days. One article I read implicated the Italian Mafia in this mess and stated that 80% of the oil in some bottles of extra virgin olive oil is something else. I’m not sure which of those statements is more alarming.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a beautiful fat, and the number one oil I’d recommend you use for your salad dressings, final drizzles over pastas and rustic bread dipping. So if you have access to a farmers market with an olive oil table, go find out all about their oils, enjoy a tasting and purchase your favorite. Whole Foods and the Nugget also have olive oil tastings sometimes. If you don’t have this option, check out this link by Truth in Olive Oil for more than you ever wanted to know about selecting an olive oil. Or if you find yourself becoming a little olive oil obsessed you can read Tom Mueller’s book Extra Virginity.
Sometimes eating real (good) food seems remarkably challenging. But if we just break it down into little steps, and clean things up a thing or two at a time, pretty soon our kitchen is rather transformed. Perhaps honey and olive oil could be your little step for now.