[00:00:48] About this Podcast
[00:02:48] Podcast Sponsors
[00:05:05] What Makes Olive Oil So, Efficacious to Our Health
[00:18:16] Guest Introduction
[00:20:13] How T.J. Robinson Became Acquainted W/ The Olive Oil Mafia
[00:33:48] Things to Know About Olive Oil
[00:42:48] The Pressing Report and Olive Oil Production
[00:48:24] Podcast Sponsors
[00:51:08] Inspection and Selection Process of Olives
[01:00:22] Assessing (and Enjoying) Olive Oil
[01:19:06] Out of the Box Uses of Olive Oil
[01:23:05] Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil
[01:28:35] Recent Olive Oil Selections
[01:33:12] Closing the Podcast
[01:34:33] End of Podcast
Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
T.J.: I've been kept from this. I'm a chef, I'm a foodie, I know a lot about food and wine, I've traveled the world, I've eaten in great restaurants, and I had no idea that this existed, God's given delivery system, everything flowing right into your system using this fat as a conduit. “T.J., is it a one cough oil, a two-cough oil, or three cough oil?” That's a hallmark of really fresh high-quality oil.
Ben: What's an olive oil mafia?
Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
Well, welcome to the show. I hope you like Mediterranean things, specifically olive oil because you're going to be feeding olive oil through the firehose today. We're even doing an olive oil tasting, getting into bioactive compounds in olive oil, the fat profile of olive oil, myths about olive oil, should you cook with it, shouldn't you, what's the difference between extra-virgin and regular, what kind of certifications to look for, how do you store it. You're going to learn a lot. I'm personally a huge fan of olive oil. I use it every day and I really, really think you'll dig this podcast if you want to get on the olive oil bandwagon and become a true olive oil ninja.
Everything that I mention in today's show you can find at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/oliveoilpodcast. That's BenGreenfieldFitness.com/oliveoilpodcast. My guest on today's show, who I'll be chatting with after I actually fill you in on a lot more about olive oil, on the science of olive oil, his name is T.J. Robinson. And the dude travels all over the world visiting olive oil farms and making customized olive oil blends, and literally just like lives and breathes olive oil. I actually get a shipment from him every quarter with different olive oil bottles from Australia, and Chile, and Italy, and France. And he has this awesome brochure that comes with the olive oil that walks you through all of his visits with farmers and his adventures around the globe. I get jealous of this guy. He literally just travels around the world visiting olive oil farms and tasting and experiencing not only amazing olive oil, but amazing recipes that the olive oil is used in. So, plenty more about him, his little special olive oil club, and more on olive oil coming up. But in the meantime, you can go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/oliveoilpodcast to learn more.
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Alright. So, when it comes to olive oil, before I interview T.J. on today's show, I'd like to get into some of the science because it actually is fascinating and I think a lot of people are confused about the actual composition of olive oil. And what the compounds in it are that tend to make it such a standout when we look at some of the systematic literature reviews, what are called meta-analysis on olive oil, particularly as part of the Mediterranean diet because if you actually look at systematic literature reviews of olive oil, and I'm going to lead to a bunch of them in the shownotes, we find a fascinating host of information.
For example, one of the biggest meta-analysis showed that olive oil actually leads to a distinct drop in blood pressure with no change in cholesterol or triglycerides. And at the same time, olive oil consumption will decrease triglyceride count and also increase HDL count. That's something known as the atherogenic index. So, what that means is that a bigger predictor of cardiovascular disease is the HDL to triglyceride ratio over and above something like total LDL. And it turns out that one of the best ways in addition to fish oil to improve your HDL to triglyceride ratio is the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil. So, that was another big meta-analysis that was in the Food and Science Nutrition Journal.
Well, we also have seen research on depression and mental health. Specifically, a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil cause a direct decrease in symptoms of depression and an improvement in mental health, type 2 diabetes. We know that high olive oil intake is associated with decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, and also kind of like Ceylon cinnamon, and apple cider vinegar, and bitter herbs and spices. You actually see better stabilization of blood glucose during the day when little bits of extra-virgin olive oil are used on meals throughout the day. I almost consider many of my meals to be almost like delivery portals for extra-virgin olive oil. And occasionally, it'll also be something like an avocado oil, which can have some similar benefits.
But the stabilization of glycemic variability is also very, very profound with olive oil. We know that it will decrease markers of inflammation and improve endothelial function. So, if you're including things like turmerosaccharides, or curcumin, or fish oil, or things like this in your diet, they'll manage CRP and other markers of inflammation. Extra-virgin olive oil falls right into that category as well. Rheumatoid arthritis, very interesting study showed a decrease in the progression of rheumatoid arthritis via some of the fats that are in extra-virgin olive oil.
And then finally, we know the Mediterranean diet is associated with improvements in telomere length, anti-aging, longevity, et cetera. Now, that being said, I will readily admit that a huge part of that is not the modern bastardized version of a Mediterranean diet, which involves, whatever, copious amounts of goat cheese and guzzling olive oil and massive amounts of fish like we see in a traditional Mediterranean diet periods of time where there's fasting, certain days where there's less intake of oils and proteins and some of these heavier foods. But ultimately, if you are engaged in things like intermittent fasting, maybe less protein on days where you're not working out, less overall calorie intake from things like olives and extra-virgin olive oil on days where you have lower activity levels, a properly comprised Mediterranean diet with things like compressed feeding windows and some things that improve autophagy like exercise, or sauna, or cold, or sunlight, it's actually one of the best diets. I think a properly comprised relatively low-carb extra-virgin olive oil rich Mediterranean diet is one of the best diets you can consume.
I get some pushback on the fiber that you see in some Mediterranean diets, everything from whole grains to leafy greens because of this whole paleo and carnivore movement that decry a lot of these built-in plant defense mechanisms. But I think two things about that. A, if you're fermenting, soaking, sprouting, using a lot of these tactics from, for example, Sally Fallon's book “Nourishing Traditions,” you can deactivate a lot of those plant defense mechanisms. And furthermore, yeah, if you have diverticulitis or a leaky gut, compromised gut villi, et cetera, you might have to go through a period of time where you're eating something like a paleo autoimmune diet or a fiber-restrictive, plant-restrictive carnivore diet to get rid of some of that inflammation and heal the gut. But that would be a short-term diet. And once you're done with that, I think you could begin to eat more plants and vegetables and properly prepared grains and legumes along with lots of these Mediterranean fats and extra-virgin olive oil because frankly, your goal should not be to place yourself on a restrictive diet for life but use those type of restrictive diets for healing.
Now, that all being said, what is it about the profile of olive oil that is causing all of these benefits? Well, the primary fatty acid that we find in extra-virgin olive oil is called oleic acid. And in chemistry, it's known as C18:1. Meaning, it's a monounsaturated fatty acid, one unsaturated bond or only one double bond in the chemical structure. When there's only one double bond in the chemical structure of fat versus a polyunsaturated fat which has multiple double bonds, the one double bond makes that fat far less susceptible to oxidation, which contributes to the high stability of extra-virgin olive oil even under heat.
And that's something T.J. and I will talk about is cooking with olive oil, but a little preview of this is it's okay to cook even at higher temperatures with extra-virgin olive oil, not only because of its stability but also because of some of these phenolic compounds they have to protect that fatty acid from oxidation. So, it's the oleic acid. That's the primary component. That's really the big one of all in olive oil. And I tell people for the brain, there's really two fatty acids that are the most important for neural tissue, for the nerve, myelin sheaths, and for the brain, and it's that C18:1 oleic acid. And then also, the docosahexaenoic acid, you would get from fish and fish oil. Man, if you have good Mediterranean fish, you're eating a SMASH diet, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, and herring, SMASH diet, and you're combining that with high intake of extra-virgin olive oil, it's one of the best things you can do for your cardiovascular health.
Now, there are other bioactive compounds in olive oil that go beyond that oleic acid. So, some of the most important ones that you should know about, especially if you like to geek out on this stuff, one are the biophenols. So, these are phenyls that you find in the olive fruit that can specifically impact your cardiovascular health and help to scavenge as antioxidants free radical species with some of the biggies being things like caffeic acid, and phenolic alcohols, and tyrosol, and hydroxytyrosol. These are all examples of biphenyls that are in olive oil. And the cool thing is if you heard my podcast with Dr. William Li, the author of the book “Eat to Beat Disease,” he gets into the concept of anti-angiogenic foods, foods that can specifically inhibit cell growth and vascular growth to cancer. And it turns out that one of the biphenyls in olive oil called oleuropein or oleuropein, and oleacein to a certain extent, these are both biphenyls that can do just that. They're anti-angiogenic for cancer.
We also know about another biphenyl called oleocanthal, and that actually has direct anti-inflammatory activity through the same pathways, ibuprofen. So, it inhibits COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes very similar to a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, but without all the gastric side effects. So, it can be used as an anti-inflammatory as well. And then finally, there are flavones. These also fall into the category of biophenols. You may have heard of flavones, but there's a lot of research now ongoing on flavones like apigenin, one of the primary ones in olive oil that these things can act as cancer chemoprotective agents, and also anti-inflammatory agents, and may play a role in reversing some cognitive disorders as well, things like dementia and Alzheimer's. So, that's what the biophenols in olive oil are.
Then we also have what are called phytosterols. And these are things like β-sitosterol and campesterol. And what phytosterols do is they reduce levels of plasma cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. And I in no way think that your goal in life should be to get your cholesterol levels as low as possible. But when it comes to the actual LDL particle size and particle count, this is where these phytosterols can step in, and they also have been shown to have some anti-tumor activity just like those biophenols. Now, we also have squalenes in olive oil. These are triterpene acids. Olive oil is actually–and especially extra-virgin olive oil, it's one of the only foods that has extremely high levels of the squalenes. It's almost 1% squalene. That's an antioxidant that has a very chemo-protective effect specifically against skin cancer, right?
So, if you spend a lot of time in the sun, if it's a summer, et cetera, one of the best things you can do is consume extra-virgin olive oil to protect the skin. It's kind of similar to another compound that I really like for that called astaxanthin, which you'll actually find a lot of DHA-rich fish oils. But if you have things like astaxanthin and extra-virgin olive oil in your diet, it's wonderful for your skin. I'll even use extra-virgin olive oil as a skin moisturizer sometimes. Just smear some on my face as I'm making a salad. And so it's amazing for skin glow and skin health as well. There are two other chemical components of olive oil you should know about. One is alpha-tocopherols. Those are also known as vitamin E. But the blend of tocopherol specifically in olive oil is a blend that limits lipid oxidation, damage to your cell membranes. And these specific tocopherols actually scavenge free radicals in a manner that directly protects your cell membranes.
And then finally, there are hydroxyterpenic acids in olive oil. These are things like oleanolic acid and maslinic acid, and these things have direct pharmacological effects to lower inflammation to reduce risk of cancer, to reduce cardiovascular pathology. They cause a direct increase in nitric oxide causing vasorelaxation, which decreases blood pressure and almost acts like Viagra for your entire body. So, these bioactive compounds in olive oil, biophenols, the phytosterols, the squalene, the tocopherols, and the hydroxyterpenic acids, when you combine these with that fat profile rich in that oleic monounsaturated fatty acid, you almost have this cocktail that's absolutely amazing for your health. And again especially what I'm talking about is extra-virgin olive oil, which is the highest grade of olive oil. It's the fresh use of the olive, natural olive oil with free acidity, free oleic acid. They tend to have very high oleic acid content, higher levels of those natural antioxidants, higher levels of vitamin E, higher levels of phytosterols. So, listen closely as I interview T.J. because we'll get into the different grades of olive oil and the different certifications to look for on olive oil. But man, extra-virgin olive oil is top of the totem pole for a lot of these effects that I talk about, especially if it's been packaged properly, if it's been stored properly, if it's been produced properly, and that's what T.J. and I are going to get into as well.
So, we're going to dig into a lot more. But what I'll do is I'll link to some of this research that I just discussed over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/oliveoilpodcast. And if, as you hear T.J. and I talking, you want to get a complimentary full-sized bottle of his extra-virgin olive oil, you just go to getfresh32.com. It's going to automatically get you into his olive oil club. You pay $1, one buck, and he ships a full-sized bottle of his finest extra-virgin olive oil straight to your house. I've been a member of his club for seven years. For seven years, I've gotten three bottles from a different area of the world delivered to my house every quarter and it's like Christmas when these things arrive. My boys and I gather around. We do olive oil tasting and we read the brochure from T.J., and we have these wonderful mild, moderate, and bold olive oil flavors because either there's three different flavors to choose from that we can use for everything from fish to salads, to marinades from me and beyond. So, check out getfresh32.com if you want to be part of the same olive oil club that I'm a member of.
So, that being said, let's go talk to T.J.
Alright, folks. Well, now that you've got just a little glimpse of the science behind olive oil and why I freaking love it so much and drink oodles of it every month, it's time for me to step aside, so to speak, and introduce you to my guest. His name is T.J. Robinson, but he's also known as The Olive Oil Hunter, which is a pretty badass name, probably not as good as The Crocodile Hunter, but it's still up there, The Olive Oil Hunter. And T.J., I've had the pleasure to meet multiple times at conferences now, after reading his lovely newsletters for years, I finally had a chance to meet him.
He's one of the world's most respected authorities on all matters olive oil, but what I like about him is he's not coming at this from like a white lab coat guy in a university setting studying lipids. No, he's traveling all over the world, all these farms, coming back and bringing olive oil to us in a very special way. He's got this platinum palate. He judges in these prestigious Italian olive oil tasting competitions. He imports super rare fresh-pressed olive oil. He's got something called a Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. And I'll link to that in the shownotes if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/oliveoilpodcast. That's the club I've been a member of now for I think going on eight years. Three bottles from around the world every quarter delivered to my house all independently, lab-tested certified for 100% purity, and probably most important, wonderful on fish, chicken, steak, salad, you name it.
So, T.J. has a fascinating life and I'm super stoked to talk to him today. And T.J., I guess my big burning question for you is, what the heck, dude? How did you actually get into traveling around the world being an olive oil guy?
T.J.: Wow. That was quite an intro. Thank you, Ben. It's really just such a pleasure having the opportunity to be on your podcast and help get the word out about this mission, about bringing the world Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil, and educating palates and consumers. And yeah, it's people like you that are helping get the word out. So, I definitely appreciate it. I have my own epiphany. I'm a southern boy. I grew up in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. I was first a chef. I went to culinary school and hospitality school and made a great connection with a chef who was on the Food Network. So, my first job out of school was a job with the Food Network, and it was amazing. It was a great opportunity.
I spent about eight years in New York working with a wine food and travel writer. And on one of my expeditions, I was sent to Sicily. And when in Sicily, I got invited to a harvest party by a gentleman named Matteo. I was a complete idiot really now that I look back when it comes to olive oil. Growing up in the south, I didn't grow up around olive trees. I had no idea what a really high-quality olive oil was or should taste like. I had been —
Ben: Well, to interrupt you, I grew up on the big plastic bottle of Costco olive oil. That was pretty much my understanding of olive oil.
T.J.: Yeah. Well, about the same for me. Really, I mean, I remember it more going to church, honestly, and use more in like ceremonies at church for anointing, then I did in the kitchen as a kid. But as Americans, we grew up tasting fresh apples so we know what great fresh apple cider tastes like. We understand orange juice, for example, fresh-squeezed versus tetra packed and cooked. So, we understand those kind of things, but I never really knew that there was this theme in Italian culture and in Spain and in Greece where there was a whole celebration around the harvest of olive fruits because it's very important to remember that olives are fruit and it's very deep in the culture and at harvest time.
Hippocrates called olive oil the great therapeutic. The Italian families have just been using this for generations. For me, I was invited to this party and I was like, “Yeah. There's no way I'm missing it.” So, I go to this party and we spent the day gathering all of us with the family, a beautiful seaside farm grove. Yeah. Just incredible. Spent the day and then in the evening, we took the fruit that we had picked that day, this beautiful green fruit, and I didn't–we'll get into this, why green fruit is important, but we took this green fruit to the mill and this community mill and all these Italian families were standing around and they were all tasting and talking about their harvest and comparing their fruit to the other farmer's fruit and which varieties they started to harvest.
And basically, when it was time for our turn, we all stepped up to the decanter there with our tasting cups in hand. And this green, this really vibrant green, a lively olive juice just poured out into my cup. And I stuck it to my nose, and I knew at that moment, my life was changed. I was like, “Whoa, I've been kept from this. I'm a chef, I'm a foodie, I know a lot about food and wine, I've traveled the world, I've eaten in great restaurants, and I had no idea that this existed. I didn't know that there was an olive oil mafia, an agro-mafia. I didn't know. I mean, this was back in 2000 before.
Ben: Wait, wait, I got to interrupt. I don't want to derail you, and I want you to get back to this story, but what the hell? What's an olive oil mafia?
T.J.: So, in Italy, there's the agro-mafia. And really, there was a great article in The New Yorker. I think it was titled The Slippery Business of Olive Oil, written by a great writer named Tom Mueller. And as a follow-up to that article in The New Yorker, he wrote a book called “Extra Virginity.” And “Extra Virginity” follows kind of the scandalous world of olive oil from the Roman times. Essentially, there's a lot of fraud. Olive oil was always highly valued. It was very precious tree and people are using it for the health benefits. It was one of those things that was highly sought after. Well, they learned even back then and more recently, you could cut olive oil with cheaper oils to produce and not actually go to prison for it.
Ben: And when you say cheaper oils, what would be an example?
T.J.: Like a seed oil, or in one case in Turkey, a nut oil, which could really be an issue.
Ben: Canola oil would fall into that category?
T.J.: Exactly, because that's much cheaper to produce, but you could sell it for olive oil prices. So, anyway, I again–when I tasted this oil for the first time, it was hyper-fresh, it was bitter, it was spicy. And then from then on, I've basically been on a mission. There was this problem in the U.S., there was a lot of low-quality oil around–about a decade ago, UC Davis did a study. They actually went out on the store shelves in California, three different locations. I think they purchased around 30 oils. They sent them to an independent lab in Australia, and what they got back is a lot of these oils did not live up to their labeling. So, there's been a lot of fraud in olive oil. And we can definitely talk more about that in how that's been covered up.
Ben: Was that the one that they reported on in The New Yorker magazine?
T.J.: Yes. New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, they actually did an expo about two years ago, I believe, on 60 minutes, and actually had a member of the agro-mafia come in and show on video how they actually blend the oils with colorant and those sort of things. Now, we're talking about bulk quality, low-quality bulk oil here. That's a commodity and that's very different from the olive oil that I sell and procure and it's very artisanal. But bulk oil is mostly what's in supermarkets in the U.S. So, if you look at a bottle, you see all the countries of the origin on there. And we can go into shopping tips and how to learn how to educate your palate and all that on this podcast.
Ben: I definitely want to ask you about that, but basically, that New Yorker investigation, they basically decided that it was like the most adulterated agricultural product in the entire EU at the time. And I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, because I read this somewhere else and I'd love to hear your take on this, apparently, even in like fine restaurants in Napa Valley, that same problem with oil being labeled as extra-virgin olive oil or advertised on a menu as extra-virgin olive oil, much of it is adulterated with sunflower seed oil or soy oil or canola oil. Is that true?
T.J.: Well, I know they're working hard to clean up their act. They're doing a much better job as an industry, as a whole. They're doing a much better job than they were, say, back in 2004, 2005. The problem is there's not really anybody watching this. The FDA has definitely gotten better and there's some independent groups who are doing, but they're most focused on getting people that are producing meat, people that are bringing in shellfish. Those are things that will really kill you. And maybe having an olive oil that's blended with canola oil in most cases isn't like a high priority for them. And I know they're working on it and we can go into some of the things they've done to help. But yes, it's been an ongoing problem. Unfortunately, it's a very big business. And yeah, it's a little scary as a consumer. So, there's people like you and me that are out there trying to educate because we've been told these health benefits, right? I know you talked to all about that in the beginning, but if you want these health benefits, you really have to go for the high-quality stuff.
Ben: Meaning that unless you're doing that, basically, you're getting lubrication and a lipid one might be able to cook in albeit a less heat-stable lipid, and potentially, more inflammatory lipid combined with other adulterated oils, but you're missing out on the actual health benefits. The polyphenols, the flavonols, many of the other things that I talked about earlier, you're simply not getting that?
T.J.: Absolutely. And we'll dig into why that's happening. So, essentially, I'm part olive oil sommelier and I'm part olive oil concierge. So, what I do, I travel around the world, as you've already mentioned, and I actually follow two global harvests. There's the northern hemisphere harvest, which happens in our fall in the U.S. So, that's Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, that region. And then in our summer in May, there is a harvest that starts in the southern hemisphere, Chile, Argentina, and Australia. There were actually immigrants who took cuttings of olive trees and stitched them in their ties, because this was very important when they left their country of origin to, say, move to Australia or from Spain to Chile. They had heard about the climate there and they actually have had tested some olive trees and had other family members who had taken cuttings from trees and stitched them in their clothes and taken them to those countries and actually started to grow these olive trees so they could have a little piece of their homeland with them in the New World.
So, it's really fun for me. And the olive oil club for my members, they get four shipments a year. Each of them direct from the harvest flown in by jet. So, that flown in by jet is very important for control and also time to just–
Ben: You mean just to get it here more quickly?
T.J.: Yes, absolutely, because those polyphenols and antioxidants that you wax poetically about, those deplete by about 50% in the first six months of production. I mean, just thinking about American distribution system and olive trees themselves are alternate year bearers. So, essentially, one year you have very high fruit load, the next year less. So, a lot of times, there's big stockpiles of olive oil one year that are just kept in tanks for subsequent years. So, the problem is, and most of the time, how things are dated, and we can talk about that when we talk in shopping tips, but how things are dated. It's dated not with the harvest date, but with an expiration date, and you don't know when that oil was pressed.
Anyway, that was part of the problem. So, I had never really tasted fresh oil. I knew I had to do something about this. I brought some back to my friends and family. They freaked out about it. They ran out and they were like, “T.J., I want some more of this.” And then I started to do some research and learned about these plantations happening in the southern hemisphere and the northern hemisphere. And I'm like, “We can have fresh, amazing, alive olive oil four times a year. Let's do this thing.” So, yeah, I started the club in about 2005 with roughly about 1,000 members, and I've been growing the club ever since. And now we're up to around 17,000 members. It's just amazing that people have latched onto this concept. And honestly, I become kind of like your olive oil dealer because you kept very spoiled and like you can't go back to just the store-bought stuff like —
Ben: No, I can't. It tastes like water. It's nuts compared to like the herbaceous character notes that I get on every single bottle I get from you. And I have so many questions. I might jump around a little bit here, but first of all, one of the things that perked up my ears when you were talking about the shipping and the shelf stability and what to look for on the date, two questions on that. What do you look for in the date? And then B, when the olive oil gets your house or when you get it from the store, how should we be storing it to ensure that it's going to stay fresh as long as possible? I know that the refrigerator might not be the best option because that seems to just turn it into this annoying solid that doesn't come out of the bottle.
T.J.: Yes, yes. Well, we'll break that in a few parts. So, the first question is related to shopping. And number one thing to look for on a bottle is harvest date. So, you want to find the harvest date of the oil, not just an expiration date. You want to look definitely for dark glass bottles or dark bottles. It's one of the improvements that even bulk olive oil producers have made. They've gone from clear bottles to glass to dark plastic or glass bottles because light destroys olive oil. So, light destroys olive oil, time destroys olive oil, and temperature destroys olive oil, especially if it starts out as low-quality bulk olive oil.
So, harvest date is very important, definitely looking for a store that has high turnover. I personally like a store where I can taste it before I buy it so we can–we're going to actually do a tasting together so we can all train our palates on what to look for very clearly when you're tasting olive oil for freshness and health qualities, which is–I think the real takeaway of this podcast is education.
Ben: Okay. So, stores would come down to what then when we get into our homes?
T.J.: So, you have high-quality oil, you have it in your home. You never want to store it above the stove, like never store it in a spot where it's warm.
Ben: Which is where I've seen it in many kitchens like in the shelving, that's above the stove or on the counter. For me right now, it's bottom shelf of the pantry in the dark.
T.J.: That's perfect. Now, that's very important. In the light, you don't want it near the window where it's getting light. So, definitely, in a pantry is good. Cool is good. Especially if it's bottles you're not using at the moment, definitely keep them in a cool spot bottom of the pantry like you said. Once you're using it, of course, you can have it closer by in your cabinet. We actually have a rule in my house. We are kind of Italian in this way. When we set the table at our house, when we put the salt and the pepper and the napkins and all that on the table, we take our olive oil out of the pantry and we put that on the table as well because a super high-quality olive oil, like the ones that we have, are sauce that Mother Nature has made for you. So, you find all [00:36:48] ______ creative way.
Ben: That's the same thing in my house. When you have dinner at our house, there's three things on the table. I have a really, really good salt. It's a Colima salt from the Mexican Coast. That or Celtic salt are my two favorite salts. So, I've always got a little porcelain bowl of salt out on the table. We always have a few selections of the Mark Sisson's Primal Kitchen dressings like his Thousand Island or a little bit of his mayonnaise. I'm not saying my wife's not a great cook, and my kids can turn out some pretty good recipes too, but we're into our sauces and spices as well that kick things up a notch. And then there's always a bottle from your shipment that we set out. And I'm always looking at–because you send out these tasting notes, what you call it the pressing report with each quarter. So, I'll look over your pressing report and see whether it's a mild or a medium or a bold and then choose accordingly based on what kind of dish that we're eating. But I hear it's the same way at our house, like there's not just food on the table, there's different kinds of sauces and spices and the olive oils right in there.
T.J.: Awesome. And the thing is when you're using a high-quality olive oil with a very high polyphenol count, those polyphenols are having an antioxidant property that actually keeps the oil from oxidizing. So, you can, like these oils have a built-in protection just because of the polyphenol counts. And we can get specific. I have the lab reports in front of me with the polyphenol counts for the three oils. But with the oils of super high-quality oil, they will be–like most my club members, they use about a bottle a month. If they cook at home and have a small family, they use the three larger bottles. If they're just a couple who eat out frequently, they go for more of the small set because I have three different sizes–or sorry, two different club sizes of the three oils. A lot of people actually take them to restaurants with them these days.
Ben: So, I travel with my fanny pack and people are always like, “What's your fanny pack, Ben?” So, I've got a Ziploc bag with the salt that I was talking about. And then now I have the four-ounce TSA-friendly travel bag. And granted, all I have is the little BPA-free plastic container that I shove into my fanny pack, which is dark, nonetheless, and I'll bring the olive oil to the restaurant now and use that, especially if I don't know the sauce or the dressing that they're using, I'll just have them bring out a dish without the sauce and the dressing. Once I toss the olive oil and the salt on there, it kicks it up a notch and it's amazing. So, yeah, I'm traveling with it now as well.
T.J.: Fantastic, because the problem with these restaurant dressings and those sort of–they're all filled with like GMO soybean oils that are really [00:39:41] ______.
Ben: MSG, canola oil, yeah.
T.J.: Yeah. So, I stay. I'm like, “Can you bring me extra lemons to go with my water?” They have no idea, B-Y-O-E-V-O-O out of my pocket, but yeah. It's because I have a feeling that it combats some of the bad oil that I'm ingesting in restaurants just vicariously or whatever.
Ben: It does a little bit–I mean, some of the antioxidants will help with the lipid oxidation and some of the free radical damage from the oxidized oils, although admittedly–I actually talked about this in my book, how to undo the damage if you have had a hefty dose of canola oil or you've decided to eat the Whole Foods hot salad bar or something like that. And the top two things that you can take to protect you from that, number one are spirulina, and number two is glycine. Both of which are readily available supplements. But if you have those as kind of like a back-up first aid kit for canola oil in your bag or in your pantry, spirulina and glycine are the two things that seem to protect the cell membrane the most from oxidized oils, oxidized seed oils.
T.J.: Oh, that's super cool and a great tip. Extra-virgin olive oil, and I don't think you mentioned this as part of your science, but I'm sure you know this, but olive oil is a very similar fat makeup to human breastmilk. It's actually–
Ben: No kidding?
T.J.: Yeah. It's the same ratio of omega-3 and omega-6, and also has the same percentage of linoleic acid. So, in Italian families, when a child is six months old or whenever they start to give them some food, or puree food, they typically put in a little bit of olive oil, about a teaspoon of olive oil or tablespoon as they get a little older in the puree, and that becomes like this delivery system for the food you're eating to actually get more nutrients out. And it works for us, too. It's not only for babies. I mean, basically, this fat is made in harmony with our bodies, like it's very God-given–
Ben: It's amazing. Especially when you look at the rate of myelination of nerve fibers and brain development and the fact that the linoleic acid, the oleic acids it's also called, is crucial for that. That and DHA, yeah. I mean, if you feed your babies when they're getting off of breastmilk and transitioning in the regular food some extra-virgin olive oil and some SMASH diet, right, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, herring, and salmon, and you'll have a smart baby with good nerves.
T.J.: Absolutely. And it's great for like–I know in Italy when I hang out with Italian families, I'm always quizzing them like, “What?” They're like it helps with colic and digestion issues. They're Italians. I don't know if you saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” with the Windex. Well, they're kind of that way with olive oil for everything. Now, it's pretty cool. You mentioned the pressing report before and I did want to dig into that a little bit.
Ben: Yeah. And then the pressing report is this, this printed multi-page report with like the recipes in the history of the different oils that are arriving for that quarter.
T.J.: Absolutely. So, the pressing report for me is a way for me to share these relationships because getting access to the best fruit is key to my success. So, these farmers who know how to manage their growth, who know just the perfect time to harvest the fruit when it's super green, and know how to handle it so that it doesn't break down in this process, they have great milling equipment. So, in the pressing report, I share pictures of me with the families, like their challenges of the season, why I selected these oils, and the hunt basically because for me, I land in a country of origin and then Mother Nature, she owns 51% of the company, basically. So, I'm at the will of Mother Nature, but I find the best farmers, I find the best fruit, I find the best mills, and they know how to use those mills to attain the best fresh-pressed olive juice possible.
Ben: And when you say mill, what do you mean?
T.J.: So, a mill today, I'll explain it at kind of like–I'll use kitchen equipment analogies. So, the olives are picked immediately from the tree. Sometimes they shake them, sometimes they use rakes and combs. And when an olive fruit is very, very green, it typically has about 10% of oil inside. So, they lay these nets down under the tree, they shake, they rake, whatever, and they fall to the net. From the net, they go directly into these small bins and then move into the shade. And then as the day goes on, they get sent over to most of the farmers I work with on their own mills, on their own farms.
So, I work with single estate farmers, which gives them complete control and lets them expedite the process from tree into the mill. So, the olive, the bin of olives gets taken to the mill, it is deleafed, desteamed, and washed. The next step is a crusher. And this crusher, imagine the crusher as a food processor. So, it essentially chops the olive fruit into a paste. It kind of looks like pesto, seeds and all, pits and all. So, that's step one of the process. Step two, it goes into something called a millaxer. So, this paste gets pumped into this, kind of like, I would imagine it as a KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook in there. And what it's doing, there's an enzymatic activity that's happening in this paste that's all-natural.
There's nothing added in this process. But as it spins for about half an hour, if you're going for super quality olive oil, at a very low temperature during this process, this is sitting in there spinning. And what happens is this paste starts to break into different parts. There are solids, there's water, and there's oil. So, this paste, after 30 minutes, goes through a centrifuge, is pumped through a centrifuge. So, it's literally dividing those things we talked about into three different parts, water, solids, and oil. And then there's a final separator that takes that oil and spins it again. It's a centrifuge cell gravity. And then that's when the oil comes out into the tasting cup.
It sounds quite simple, but I have to tell you that there are a gazillion things that can happen between the tree and the final product that can destroy it. So, as a professional taster, that's what we're trained. The final product [00:47:11] ______ is the story. It tells what maturity rate the fruit was when it was picked, whether they were left in the sun, whether they had to wait at the mill, whether the mill was dirty, whether it was millaxed at a high temperature and cooked, so you can't really taste much. So, there's a lot of tricks that you can use in this process if you're going for more bulk quality oil to achieve more oil.
Ben: So, T.J., what do they do with the solids? Are those used for something, the olive solids?
T.J.: Yes. They're working on different scientific studies to make biomass, like energy creation. But typically, it's dried out. They put it in a large like cement, not cement, but like a large pond or they take it back. Typically, what happens is it goes back onto the grove because it's good nitrogen. So, they use it as organic fertilizer in the groves. So, it's spread and then it's just worked back in the earth. So, that's typically what happens to any type of waste from the olive mill.
Ben: Hey, I want to interrupt today's show. And when you're hearing all this stuff about olive oil, of course one very common and popular delivery mechanism for olive oil is bread. And I eat my wife's lovely slow-fermented sourdough bread, which predigests a lot of the gluten. That's what that sourdough fermentation process does. But when I go out and about, when I go to my favorite steakhouse [00:48:47] ______ pretzel rolls of bread or I go to the local bakery that's got the homemade cheesy bread rolls or the restaurant wild sage downtown has these popovers with lavender butter. Well, those have a lot more gluten in them than my wife's world-famous slow-fermented sourdough bread.
Anytime I'm in a situation like that, guilt-free, I can pop about four to five of these Gluten Guardian capsules. They predigest all the gluten, just turn it into soup, get rid of all the issues with that large protein that you otherwise might not be able to digest, and you feel like a million bucks and you don't have diarrhea, or constipation, or gut issues, or brain fog, or anything like that after you eat gluten. It's amazing. So, the supplement is called Gluten Guardian. The active ingredient is dipeptidyl peptidase. That's the stuff that breaks down gluten. And you get a 10% discount on this stuff. You just go to glutenguardian.com/greenfield. That's Gluten Guardian, just like it sounds, glutenguardian.com/greenfield, and use code GREENFIELD to get 10% off of your Gluten Guardian.
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So, when you're visiting an olive farm, or you're visiting a production facility, obviously, you're paying attention to this type of mixing and the process via which they're milling and extracting the oil. But of course, if you look at the wine industry, I know that folks are looking at the tirar (ph) and where the grapes are actually grown. In some cases, the actual geographical environment, the amount of hydration in the soil, et cetera. So, when you're walking through one of these farms, I'd love you to kind of walk us through the process of what you're doing when you're out there wandering through the olive trees or over your doughnut.
T.J.: Yeah. That's one of most fun parts of my job. So, I've been following this guide called Flos Olei, F-L-O-S O-L-E-I. It's an Italian guide. It comes out every year. Flos Olei ranks the top 500 olive oil producers in the world. And so when I start out on a hunt, I always check my current edition to see what new farms and I look at competitions. So, it starts before I get to the farm. I basically start doing my research. And then step two is I have boots on the ground that actually go and gather samples from farms. So, they'll go and gather samples for me, and I may have up to 100 olive oil samples from 15 different farms, and I do what I call a big grand tasting. So, if I'm in Italy, I'm normally in Rome, or if I'm in Spain, I'll be in Madrid. And so everything usually starts with the grand tasting.
That gives me an idea of what's going on so far in the quarter. And usually, this process of collecting samples takes several weeks because in Italy, there are 550 olive varieties alone and they don't all ripen at the same time. And depending on which region they're in, if they're further south in Sicily, the harvest will start earlier than it does up in Tuscany. So, first of all, I do this large brand tasting. And then I identify the fruit, the microclimate, and the potential individual fruits because typically, I ask my suppliers, my producers to keep everything individual. So, I like an individual tank of one olive variety and another, so then I can go in later and create a blend.
So, I assess the quality. I narrow it down. I only narrow it down to about six farms that I want to visit personally based on my grand tasting. And then after that, I visit these farms, I go out and I go into the fields, I actually look at the fruit, I see if they have any fly damage, I look at the maturity index, I look at what the rainfall was like this year, like you were talking about the humidity in the soil. Actually, olive trees that are a little stressed pre-harvest. So, there's not as much water inside the fruit will give you a more aromatic oil. Of course, it's a balancing act, right? But it'll typically give you higher polyphenols because polyphenols aren't getting washed away in the milling process because inside the actual fruit, there's higher levels of polyphenols.
So, I basically inspect the tree and look at the quality of fruit. And then I check out the mill and I see, okay, they can do–look how clean it is, look at whether the millaxer [00:54:50] ______ phase we talked about, whether those are covered. If they're covered, no oxygen can get inside while this millaxing is going on to deteriorate the quality, the aromas, the texture of the oil. So, that is important, and really just being there and continuing that relationship with them because they may not be having the best year this year, and I may say, guys, this year we're not at the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club T.J. standard and you don't have the right fruit. I'm not a fan of that olive variety, but I'll be back next year. I've been knocking on doors for over a decade now. So, I've developed these relationships with these Flos Olei winners and they are just super excited to be in the club, and they work really hard for us.
Ben: Now, when they're producing these olive oils, because this is something I don't quite understand yet, I kind of have my head wrapped around this now with wine grades, but as far as olive oil, when you're looking at a bottle or you're looking for a certain certification or something like that, are there different grades of olive oil? Or even when it comes to extra-virgin olive oil, which is different obviously than other forms of olive oil, are there even different grades or certificates of that?
T.J.: That's a big problem actually in our industry because you have the single estate artisanal producers who are producing the quality of level of oils who are used to consuming from our club. They're able to label their product, extra-virgin olive oil, the same as someone who sells it on the shelf at Costco, for example, who may have a third-party certification that it is extra-virgin. Extra-virgin as a term is a very wide playing field. It's definitely an issue for people that are like these real passionate family companies like —
Ben: So, when you look at like oleic acid content or phytosterol content or anything like that, there's not an actual certifying body that says, “Okay, well, here's the oleic acid content, here's the phytosterol and the vitamin E, or the natural antioxidant content,” and then put their stamp of approval as being true extra-virgin?
T.J.: Well, it would be impossible for them to certify every olive oil produced at every farm. So, there is the International Olive Council and they do set standards. Most of these are created as their lab tests for–and really, let's talk about what really happens. What really happens for an oil to be considered extra-virgin, it should meet two qualifications. One, it has to meet a chemistry panel that says, “This was great fruit and it wasn't deteriorated and it meets these quality parameters.” So, A. B, an extra-virgin olive oil is supposed to go through an organoleptic process. So, it has to be placed in front of a panel of tasters who score the oil, who look for defects, and defects such as whiny, briny, musty, fusty. All these as a professional taster, you learn anything that happened in that process of production shows itself in the final product.
So, for an oil to be labeled extra-virgin, it should have zero defects and it should have some level of what we call fruitiness. And we can talk more about fruitiness. So, the problem is in the U.S., most oil does not go through the tasting panel. Some California has a certification that it's gone through the tasting panel for California produced oils. And so you'll have oils on the supermarket shelf labeled as extra-virgin. They will have maybe been there for a year. We don't know how long they've been on a shelf. But if the FDA were to pick that up and show that to that producer, the producer could show a lab test from back then when they sold the product and say, “Look, back then, the numbers show that it was extra-virgin.” So, it's a game, yeah.
Ben: So, it could even be extra-virgin, which produced by the time it gets to you has been stored improperly and maybe heated, maybe had too long a shelf time or a shipment time, it might not be extra-virgin anymore even though it might have been in the first place?
T.J.: Absolutely. And there's no way to prove it. And as I said, the bulk industry is getting better. They're using the darker containers. They're upping, they're trying to speed up by getting the shipping containers and boats coming faster. And I think just because of the public outcry and the coverage in major media, they've had to have upped their game. Otherwise, they were really going to get slapped. Especially if it was blended with a nut oil and turkey and you have a nut allergy and you bought this cheap olive oil that you thought was extra-virgin olive oil and then it turns out that it's not, you can make people really sick.
Ben: But what's important to me I think is we can almost train our palates. Obviously, there's things to look for, things that you should be tasting, things that you should be smelling. And I do have a few other questions that I want to ask you about cooking with extra-virgin olive oil and maybe a few other outside-the-box uses of it, but I also have three bottles here in front of me that you sent me in anticipation of this podcast. It looks like all three I believe are Italian. I've got a Colli Etruschi, early harvest Amfissa, and Frantoio Hermes. And I thought maybe it'd be fun for you to walk me through what I should be looking for as far as tasting notes, flavor aroma, et cetera, and maybe kind of teach people how to assess their own olive oils. And not just assess, but more importantly, enjoy.
T.J.: Yeah. Well, where I can taste them and evaluate them. So, this is really just getting back to the education. And honestly, because I'm into olive oil for health, I'm not interested in virgin olive oil, light olive oil, which has been refined with hexane gas and stripped off its any aroma or flavor. It's the clear one that's labeled light in the store. I'm not interested in that. I'm not interested in virgin. I'm only interested in extra-virgin category, and then I want the very best of extra-virgin. If my goal, if I'm seeking health, high polyphenol fresh olive oil. So, yes. So, you've got your three oils. Actually, the first one we would taste would be the NOAN. It's actually from Greece. It's a single varietal olive oil from a variety called Amfissa.
Ben: And when you say single varietal, that means it's just got one olive fruit, Amfissa being natural olive fruit versus it being a blend?
T.J.: Exactly. And blend can have a tricky–it can be tricky because some restaurant or some bottles you may look at in the supermarket would say like olive oil, but if you look really lower on the label, you'll see it's actually a blend of other oils. So, you really have to be a good label reader. So, blend can have bad connotations or good. In this case, this is a single varietal olive oil that was actually harvested super green. When an oil is very green, it's got very low yield and maximum flavor. And this was produced about a week. So, over that week, the olive did mature a little bit, so it's given in a little bit more complexity. And this is from several farms on the Pelion, Peninsula. It's actually from a small family coop. I think there may be 10 farmers involved in this single varietal oil. I was there and met Costas and his family and it's just an amazing product.
But this oil is a mix of those different days of harvest, so where you have it going from a little more spicy and robust to a little more buttery and that sort of thing. And this variety itself is typically made into table fruit. So, most olives are divided into two camps. So, table fruit would be like brined olives or cured olives, and then oil-producing olives. And most olives that are used for table fruit typically have even lower oil inside the actual fruit, which is why they don't usually make olive oil out of them. Amfissa happens to be one of these dual-use olives that grows on the Pelion.
So, I have a small tasting cup. And as a professional taster, I would typically taste in a blue glass. And why blue glass? Because it disguises the color because color of olive oil is not necessarily an indicator of quality. If an oil is quite green, you could potentially see that it's from very green fruit. And most of my oils do tend to have chlorophyll in them, so they are more on the green side, but color is not necessarily an indicator of quality. So, I have a small cup. And before we actually taste it, the first step is actually smelling the oil. So, what I've done, I've got a little three-ounce white solo cup. And in the bottom, I have about a tablespoon of oil. And as you pour it in, it already starts like olive oil perfuming you.
Ben: I'm going to pour this into my cup here.
T.J.: Yeah, pour it into your cup. So, as a professional taster —
Ben: It smells good.
T.J.: It does, it smells really good.
Ben: It smells almost like minty.
T.J.: Yes. Actually, yes. It's one of my descriptors on this one. Great nose. So, what we're looking for here, first thing we do is we set this small cup in the palm of our hand and we swirl the cup. And when we swirl the cup, it's warming the oil. And when you warm the oil, that releases all the aromas. So, what we're looking for here is an oil's fruitiness. We want to make sure it's fruity and fresh. And by fruity, I mean, grassy green banana, herbaceous, fresh and clean, like I'm looking for defects because then I can see if anything happened in the process of making this oil, and this oil is beautiful and clean.
So, we're taking a sniff of this. And like you said, grassy, minty, a little bit of pressed or rubbed oregano. It smells Greek to me in a way. Even though it's just olives, there's nothing in this and people oftentimes, when they read my tasting notes, they'll be like, “What is all this stuff?” I was like, “Is that in there?” And they're like, “No, that's just the aroma, the tasting notes.” So, step one is aroma identifying defects and taking its fruitiness. So, that's step one. Man, that's really beautiful [01:06:42] ______.
Ben: I woke up a little bit congested this morning, as our listeners might be able to tell, but I can still get a lot of notes out of this. It's very herbaceous, it's got some of that mint going for it.
Ben: Maybe almost like a basil?
T.J.: Mm-hmm, absolutely, absolutely. A little pesto note. So, the next step we're going to do is we're going to take about a teaspoon of this tablespoon of oil we have in our cup. We're going to take about a teaspoon and put on our palate and just chew it a little bit. You could suck a little air through it if you want, but that's a little hard on a podcast. So, maybe just chew it a little bit. And what we're looking for, and these are the hallmarks of high-quality olive oil, so here are your takeaways. One, the fruitiness. Two, the bitterness. You want an olive oil to be bitter. It tells you it's from green fruit that are high in polyphenols. Three, we're looking for spiciness. You want a little pinch or a tickle in the back of the throat. So, that's what I want you to look for, Ben, bitterness and spiciness and flavorfulness.
Ben: Yeah. It sounds super spicy. It's definitely got a little bit of a bitterness to it.
Ben: And I know this is, from what I understand, one of the milder of the oils that you sent me. So, I'm probably not even mentally primed to anticipate a whole bunch of spiciness compared to some of the bolder flavors that I've tasted.
T.J.: That's right.
Ben: But it's very mild. You earlier used the word buttery, and I would say that it's got a little bit more to me like a minty herbaceous buttery type of flavor.
T.J.: Yes, absolutely. So, this is the mild oil in the trio because every club member gets a mild, medium, and bold every quarter fresh from the harvest flown in by jet. And this oil pairs nicely with mild foods. So, definitely lighter foods like drizzled over yogurt, like Greek yogurt, over fresh cheeses, grilled halloumi, chickpeas, eggplants, potatoes, rice, if you're into those carbs. If not, delicate fish, chicken, veal, mild pork fishes, but definitely lighter pasta, lighter salads that you would use citrus on, like an orange type of salad. Those are the kind of foods that I would pair with this oil. And it did give me a little cough.
And on one of my first tastings there in Sicily and later in Tuscany, we were tasting right out of the mill there, right out of the press, and I actually coughed, like it was really spicy. And the Tuscan guy said to me, “Oh, T.J., is it a one cough oil, a two cough oil, or three cough oil?” And I'm like, “What do you mean? I've never heard this.” But that's a hallmark of really fresh high-quality oil, this spicy pinch in the back of the throat, and potentially even a cough. As you'll see, we may cough later as we move to a higher polyphenol count. The polyphenol count in the NOAN is almost 300, which is still considered pretty high polyphenol olive oil. I would say most commercial olive oil is probably low quality, I don't know, 150-ish maybe. So, those polyphenols give it a lot more structure in the mouth and give it a flavor boost.
So, the bitterness that we talked about is kind of like the sensation of over-steeped tea, green tea, for example. So, that would be like if you're trying to find bitterness in olive oil, or walnut skin, or radicchio, or bitter greens, and the spiciness we're talking about would be kind of akin, not for this oil, but for some oils would be more like arugula or black peppercorns or almost like a ginger-like spiciness. So, those are a couple of the things to be thinking about. So, the next one we have to taste is from just north of Rome, this Colli Etruschi oil. This is an area where the Etruscans were first–they actually predate the Rome, and it was an area, beautiful area north of Rome.
Ben: And is this one also a single varietal?
T.J.: It is, it is. It's kind of rare that that has happened. We actually mentioned earlier, I talked about this guide called Flos Olei. And Flos Olei every year ranks out of the 500 producers that it ranks per year, they actually have a Flow Olei Top 20. And these 20 producers have the top score and are elected an award. They all fly to Rome. It's kind of like the Oscars of the olive oil world. They're very proud of what they've produced, and their heritage, and their family, and their product, and how great it is. But each year, 20 are selected and NOAN, the first oil we tasted, has been Top 20 Flos Olei winner. Colli Etruschi has also been Top 20 producer in Flos Olei. So, these are really from the best farms in the world and curated —
Ben: I'm excited.
T.J.: –flown in by jet. Anyway, it was a great year for this variety, [01:12:17] _____. You'll notice right away–I know you don't have blue cups. I actually have these white solo cup so I can see how green this oil is. It's beautifully green in color. It smells much darker, more like a dark leafy green. It's definitely more intense. It was the medium oil of the quarter. Let me see if I made some actual notes on the nose on this one. So, yeah, dark green in color, very complex and vegetal on the nose, microgreens, juiced wheatgrass, some floral notes, and a sweetness of vanilla bean and green apple.
Ben: Yeah. I totally get like a little bit of that vanilla appley type of scent from it. That's amazing.
T.J.: So, it's straddling the savory and the sweet, and it's got a little fennel green banana, green almond, and a touch of white pepper. I said in my notes it's bright and voluptuous on the palate. My tasters and I detected shaved raw artichoke, Swiss chard, rubbed sage, apple peel and hazelnuts, slightly bitter, reminiscent of walnut skins, Belgian endive, and cocoa nibs, expect a long white peppery finish.
Ben: Awesome. I love cocoa nibs.
T.J.: I'm going to have a little sip of it myself. Wow. It's so good.
Ben: I'm making salmon cakes tonight for dinner. This is going on the salmon cakes for sure.
T.J.: Oh my gosh, yes, yes. It's the perfect sauce that Mother Nature just prepared for you. So, it's perfect. Exactly. I was saying on my tasting notes I thought it was perfect with mackerel tuna, salmon, sardines, kale, carrot top pesto.
Ben: This might not even make it to dinner. This might be coming on with my sardines at lunch.
T.J.: Well, you know, it's funny. Olive oil has this very high level of satiety, and people are actually using it for weight loss and to help them extend their fasting window. I mean, it is a fat, so I guess you are breaking your fast. But technically, you can speak more to this, but have you ever leveraged olive oil in that way to help you stay fuller, longer, and kind of extend your eating or non-eating window?
Ben: Only when at a restaurant or I have people over and I know there's not going to be enough food to go around, I use olive oil as like the extra calorie punch. My wife makes some fantastic dish and we wind up having like 10 people for dinner. I'm like, “Yeah, I'm going to get like a four-ounce piece of that trout.” I'll just drown it in olive oil.
T.J.: I love it, I love it. Well, I'm sure it's a very happy trout to be swimming in fresh-pressed olive oil. It's pretty awesome. So, the third one, I'm going to grab a little water. Professional tasters would typically have a little slice of green apple because that bitterness is on our palates now and that little pinch of spiciness is still in the back of my throat, so I'm going to take a little water. Polyphenol count on the Colli Etruschi was 319.
T.J.: In this last oil, it goes up to 451 polyphenol count.
Ben: This is the other, Hermes?
T.J. Yes, yup.
Ben: And this one's also Italian. Is it a blend or a single?
T.J.: It is a blend, actually. This producer produced–it's mostly a variety called Drita. It rhymes with Rita. We think it's part of the Frantoio family, which is a very prolific olive oil or olive that's grown in Italy. And it was kind of made famous by the Tuscans, and the Tuscans were actually producing very–because of the weather and how quickly the weather changed in Tuscany being north in Italy, the Tuscans actually got to be known as producing the best olive oil in the world. And the reason why is because they were picking very green, very early harvest. The fruit actually didn't ripen very well up in Tuscany or doesn't ripen very well. Global warmings kind of helped with that.
So, that's how Tuscany, when people are like, “Oh, you want the best olive oil? Go get the oil from Tuscany.” Well, it was really just a style they created of an early, early harvest olive oil. So, this is done in a Tuscan style. It's mostly Drita. So, I'm going to take a whiff of this one. So, this was the bold. This is from an amazing producer. Slow Food Italy I think ranked him the number one producer in Italy last year. He had the top score. It's so clean and fresh and herbaceous.
Ben: I feel like I'd almost eat it through my nasal cavities. I get so much flavor out of it just through this scent, oh my gosh.
T.J.: I know. Well, it's like a great brandy, like you really want to enjoy the nose as much as you do the palate. I said in my pressing report, we caught the aromas of chopped baby greens, fresh-cut grass, kale, snipped culinary herbs such as thyme, oregano, and mint along with celery. Asian pear and tomato leaf, a hint of cinnamon and black pepper, this oil is sophisticated, verdant and exciting on the palate with hints of rosemary, lime zest, Tuscan kale, radicchio, hazelnuts, oh my god, we're really long-winded, dark chocolate and black pepper. On the finish, anticipate the bitterness and spiciness of arugula and the hallmark sign of abundant polyphenols, a mouth-watering, tingling sensation that lingers.
Ben: Dude, I love this. I already beat you to the punch and I tasted it. It's spicy, it's spicy, oh my gosh, in a good way, but it hits the back of your throat. It's amazing.
T.J.: Oh, your wife's sourdough bread, that's [01:18:22] ______ off the hook.
Ben: That's going to happen. That's going to happen.
T.J.: Oh my god, oh my god.
Ben: Like the sourdough bread with a pinch of salt drizzled with olive oil, oh my goodness.
Ben: Oh, this is going to be so good. She just made a cannonball loaf last night.
T.J.: Oh my god, what perfect timing? Well, see, a super high-quality oil will be very calibrated. You can't just pick your fruit green, run it through the mill and get amazing olive oil. You're never going to win these competitions. These are competition level olive oils you're tasting. These are mostly kept in country. These are not exported typically. So, these oils are very low yield. So, the greener the fruit, the less oil inside. So, as a farmer–
Ben: Right. You know what I'm doing right now? I do this a lot. I'm smearing the excess from the cup onto my skin and onto my hair. I use olive oil a lot as like a facial moisturizer. I put in my hair for a little bit of shine. It didn't feel so good going into my skin right now.
T.J.: Yeah. Well, the antioxidants and polyphenols in there are probably great sun protection, too. I mean, I don't know its SPF qualities, but it's one of those —
Ben: Yeah. I don't think it's as high as coconut oil, but as a skin healer, it's amazing, the antioxidants in it.
T.J.: Yes. So, I know that they extract the olive oil polyphenols for skincare products. So, there's definitely, for some of these byproducts, they're creating like olive leaf extracts and tea, olive —
Ben: Yeah. We have some very similar extracts in our Kion Anti-Aging Serum in.
Ben: When you put it on, you get oregano and these sense of like rosemary and thyme. It almost feels like you're smearing olive oil on your skin.
T.J.: Wow. Awesome, awesome.
Ben: I should probably discontinue that product. Just tell people to drink your olive oil and spill the leftover on their face.
T.J.: Oh, I love it, I love it. Well, you asked me about out-of-the-box uses and that's definitely an out-of-the-box use. In my home, I'm much more conventional, I guess. I love olive oil and we don't do this very often, but when we make baked goods, so any type of quick bread or chocolate cake or mousse or any kind of baked good uses olive oil. We never use canola, soybean, anything like that. It's an automatic substitution of fresh-pressed olive oil.
Ben: My wife uses it to clean the tile in the stone portions of our house. She'll use olive oil as a cleaner.
T.J.: Oh gosh. Man, that's going to be a nice smelling kitchen if it's fresh-pressed. So, we definitely use it for baking. Also, like for a quick dinner party if you're eating dairy, you can pull a little ice cream out of the fridge, vanilla ice cream, and drizzle over a little fresh-pressed olive oil.
Ben: Oh my gosh, I had forgotten about that, like olive oil on dark chocolate gelato or ice cream, oh my goodness.
T.J.: Yes. That's a great one, too.
Ben: It's so good. It's like right up there at the affogato put in the espresso on the ice cream. I've never tried an affogato with olive oil. That might be next level. But yeah, I'm glad you brought up the ice cream part. It's amazing on ice cream.
T.J.: Yes. And in the morning, for people who eat like Greek yogurt and granola, like fresh olive oil on that, this takes it to a whole new level. And like I said, it kind of gives you this God's given delivery system of wonderful, everything flowing right into your system using this fat as a conduit. It's pretty spectacular in that way.
Ben: Yeah. Shoe polish, aftershave, you name it. So, this pressing report is wonderful because what we do is when the bottles come from you, I sit down with the boys with my–I do this with wine. So, I get wine from Dry Farm Wines, and then I get the olive oils from you, and I really am trying with my kids to do a good job training their palates and helping them to appreciate fine foods. And so every time your shipment arrives or the Dry Farm shipment arrives, I actually sit down with them and go through all the tasting notes, and we get out little shot glasses and cups and try out these wines, these oils, and it's a ton of fun as a family. So, we can do this during dinner and we can take the extra, the leftovers, and put it over our food. So, it's amazing for kids too, if you're trying to give your kids a good palate.
What I like is I can go through and read this paper. I love paper because I hate burning out my eyeballs staring at a screen. Just having this paper that's always stained with oil marks by the time we finish with it. And then you have all the recipes. You've got like five pages of recipes like in this one from this latest varietal. There's a Greek eggplant spread and a white bean bruschetta, pork with a green sauce, turkey roulade, monkfish with olive oil and tomato, a shaved fennel salad. I mean, just the recipes alone that you can use with these oils is also amazing. That actually leads me to another question I wanted to ask you because I get this one a lot. I think I already know the answer, but I'm going to ask you anyways. People still out there say, “Why, Ben, are you cooking with extra-virgin olive oil? It's going to oxidize, it's not heat stable, you're going to destroy the oil, it's going to be rancid.” Can you help me out here? Because from what I understand, it's just fine because assuming you're using a good quality oil with a high polyphenol content, which protects you from oxidation —
T.J.: Absolutely. Now, you hit the nail right on the head. It's all about the quality of the olive oil when it starts, right? If you cook with a subpar product, you're going to get a subpar result. But there is, I'll send you a study that happened in Australia, an independent study by Leandro Ravetti in Modern Olives. They actually tested the stability of olive oil against other oils commercially available, soybean, canola. Olive oil won the test as being–because of these polyphenols that actually protect the oil. So, I'll send you that study to put in the shownotes because it's totally fascinating. And you can absolutely cook with it. In the Mediterranean household, they only cook with olive oil and you have these 90, 100-year-old women in the kitchen who are cooking with this their entire lives. They do everything in it. When I have fritters, for example, fried fritters at Hermès house, they would have fried those in fresh olive oil.
Ben: Yeah. And by the way, and I've been doing this more because you know which one is the mild, the moderate, and the bold, I tend to use the bold just to play it safe because I've got–what was the polyphenol content on that last one we tasted which was the boldest?
T.J.: Four hundred and fifty-one.
T.J.: It's really high.
Ben: So, theoretically, you'd want to use that if you wanted–the most stable compound for cooking would be the highest polyphenol content?
T.J.: Absolutely. And in my house, I typically try to stay like medium-high. I love eggs, farm-fresh eggs. So, I always fry my eggs or make olive oil scrambled eggs. I always use fresh olive oil. And the oil that I fry my eggs in, when it gets on my plate–Megan, my wife, is a great home cook and she makes my eggs usually in the morning. But when I get it on my plate and I taste the oil, it's still vibrant, green, fresh. The flavor is still so–like nothing happened to it really. It's just so stable. So, yeah, I would be able to tell if it somehow had gone defective by the time it was in the bottle to it was on my plate after it touched the heat. And no, it tastes totally clean and totally–I've had the same experience you have.
So, I'll definitely send you this study and you can absolutely cook with it in every way that you please. I mean, it's an expensive product, right? So, it is something you want to invest in like you would a supplement. I would say that it's just the right amount for most families where they use it up each quarter when they get their three bottles fresh from the harvest. So, it's kind of timed with usage in mind because you really–when you have a fresh oil, you want to use it up within six months ideally. You don't want it lingering around. These oils, because of their polyphenols, the dark glass and how loved they are, because there's a lot of love in every bottle of the family and myself and our team, they're way more stable than most oils. So, I've even had one buried in the back of the pantry that I didn't know was there and tasted a year later. And I only date my oils out one year from the moment they're harvested. But it was still fantastic and better than anything I could go out and buy locally. They hands-down still was better than most. But ideally, use them up quickly. Don't buy big jugs and put it in the cabinet and let all that air in there for weeks or months or a year.
I was talking to Dr. Pompa recently and he was saying that —
Ben: Yeah, Dan Pompa.
T.J.: Yeah. He's amazing. He was saying that this habit change of incorporating olive oil in your everyday life, this high-quality, high polyphenol extra-virgin olive oil is such a simple change and it can become the backbone of your healthy cooking, that everything else just flows through. And I was like, “You're right. It's not like I have to go to the gym for an extra –” I know you would love that, but I think you don't have to go to the gym for an extra hour. I just get to enjoy this amazing product that also just happens to have all these crazy health benefits. It's pretty unique in that way from my perspective.
Ben: Yeah. It's amazing. And I'll link to that study if you send it over at the shownotes at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/oliveoilpodcast, which is where I'll also give you guys a link if you want to be a part of this Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. We have a special URL you can use to get a bottle for a buck. You can try a bottle of this for a buck. It's just getfresh32, like the number 32, getfresh32.com. That's our special link. That is an affiliate link. Meaning that if you click on that, it's going to help to support the show. And I'm hoping that you're willing to do that to get your hands-on good extra-virgin olive oil. I don't mind too if you just go straight to T.J.'s website and order that way. But if you use my link in the shownotes, it helps to support the show. So, it's getfresh32.com.
And what I would love to hear from you, if you're game to spill the beans and open the kimono a little bit, T.J., if people were to join when they hear this podcast, it means they'd be getting in on whatever the next quarter is going to contain. Do you have any idea what your guys next shipment is going to be?
T.J.: Yes. So, what we just tasted was the December selection. So, mid-December, this went out. People had it for the holidays. This was Italian and Greece, my trio from there. And so right now, I typically purchase extra cases of oil that I use as samples in this quarter. So, right now, if people were to join the club over and get their $1 sample bottle–because again my mission, I want to educate your palate and I want you to share it with your friends so they then can go out and recognize in the world what super high-quality extra-virgin olive oil is. People join for $1. They would get this Italian oil, most likely the Colli Etruschi because it's the one we have in stock that I got extra of and produced extra of, to use as samples.
And in March, mid-March, they would automatically get a three-bottle set from Spain and Portugal. So, I've just returned from Spain and Portugal and I selected three amazing oils from incredible producers to Flos Olei Top 20 winners as well included in the trio, but the one from Northern Portugal is super cool because it's from the Douro Valley. And in this Douro Valley, which is where port wine comes from, they're these really old Portuguese varietals that are not suited for–if you were planning a grove today, you would not plant these because they're difficult. They're finicky trees, but I love this family, and what they're doing, and how they're preserving these trees, and there are three varietals in this blend of this Portuguese blend. It's actually my mild oil for the trio, but it is incredible. You're going to love it. It's like olive oil perfume, it's green and fruity, and it's got like dried fruit. It's kind of sweet. It's got a little banana note to it, but then it's very fresh and, like you said, kind of minty.
So, that will be the mild selection for the upcoming quarter that ships in early March. And the medium selection is Picual from the south of Spain. And I've identified I've actually worked on the blend for this oil with the producer using multiple harvest date of Picual. Picual is a very big Spanish production. It's one of those varietals that when he picks it super green for my oil, it has about 10% yield. If you were to leave that same fruit on the tree to go from green to black and let it hang or even fall to the ground, you might be able to get up to 30% oil–in a bulk quality olive oil with it. But he picks it really green at 10%. Crazy people like me come along and say, “I'll pay for that.” So, he's all focused and he's a Flos Olei top winner.
And then the bold one is from a Spanish varietal from the south of Spain near Cordoba called Hojiblanca, and it's very spicy and very high in polyphenols. So, I'm hoping it calibrates a little bit over the next month or so as it's working its way through FDA and customs and flights into the U.S. I'm sure it will. I've worked with this company in the past. So, that would be their first trio they would get in early to mid-March.
Ben: Amazing, amazing.
T.J.: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on the show and educating your listeners because this is very important to see it as a tool, a very easy-to-use tool in your arsenal.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Well, it's absolutely amazing. And you've been a bigger part of the Greenfield home than you probably realized for the past eight years, and I've been wanting to do this podcast forever, written articles about it. I've talked about your olive oil club before, but I've never actually taken a deep dive with you on the show. So, this has been absolutely amazing. Remember to send that study to me. I'll put it in the shownotes and I'll also link for you guys if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/oliveoilpodcast to everything else that I talk about in today's show. And then you can also go to getfresh32.com. If you just want to get a bottle for a buck, try it out, taste it with yourself, with your family, smear it on your face, clean your floor with it, whatever you want to do.
So, T.J., thanks so much, man. I'm mildly jealous of your adventures around the globe and perhaps someday I can join you on a trip to one of these farms.
T.J.: I would love that. The kids would love it, too. We'll put them to work. They can harvest. The families would love it.
Ben: Let's do it. We'll do a Go Greenfields episode. Alright, man. Well, take it easy and thanks so much.
T.J.: We appreciate it.
Ben: Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned, over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also know that all the links, all the promo codes that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. So, when you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that they generate because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
I drink oodles of extra virgin olive oil.
My kids and wife do too. It's a crucial staple in our diet…yet there's plenty of confusion around olive oil…
- Can you cook with olive oil?
- How should you store olive oil?
- What should you look for in a good olive oil?
- How do you differentiate between all the different certificates and grades of olive oil?
- And much more!
So in today's podcast, I interview T. J. Robinson, aka “The Olive Oil Hunter ®” who is one of the world's most respected authorities on all matters olive oil.
Known for his “platinum palate,” he is one of the few Americans invited to serve as a judge in prestigious Italian olive oil tasting competitions.
These days he is dedicated to importing rare fresh-pressed olive oil via The Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, the most flavorful and healthiest extra virgin olive oil on the planet, until now virtually impossible to obtain year-round in the U.S. All his oils are independently lab tested and certified for 100% purity.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-What makes olive oil so beneficial to our health…5:13
- Science database of olive oil research, including studies Ben mentions
- Olive oil leads to a distinct drop in blood pressure w/ no change in cholesterol; increased triglyceride, decreased HDL count (atherogenic index)
- Bigger predictor of C/V disease is the HDL to triglyceride ratio (more so than total LDL cholesterol)
- Research on mental health and depression
- Stabilization of blood glucose w/ small amounts of olive oil throughout the day
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Mediterranean diet associated w/ improvements in longevity (not the modern bastardized version)
- Sprouting, fermenting, etc.
- The primary fatty acid in olive oil is oleic acid (C18:1)
- It's a double bond (less oxidation); safe for cooking at high temperatures
- Two fatty acids for the brain: Oleic acid, and fish oil (sardines, mackerel, salmon, herring)
- Other bioactive compounds:
- Bi0phenyls (found in the olive fruit that scavenges free radical species)
- BGF podcast w/ Dr. William Li(author of Eat to Beat Disease)
- Oleocanthal has the same anti-inflammatory pathways as ibuprofen (sans the gastric side effects)
- Squalines (extra virgin olive oil has high amounts) to protect the skin
- Alphatocopherols (Vitamin E)
- Hydroxy terpenic acids (lower inflammation, risk of cancer, decrease blood pressure)
-How T.J. Robinson became acquainted w/ the olive oil mafia…20:18
- Grew up in Asheville, NC
- Scored a gig w/ the Food Network; was sent on assignment to Sicily, Italy, where he became acquainted w/ olive oil
- Harvest of the olive fruit is celebrated widely in Italy and Greece
- New Yorker article: Slippery Business — The Trade in Adulterated Olive Oil
- Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oilby Tom Mueller, author of the aforementioned New Yorker article
- Rampant fraud: It is easy to package cheaper, lesser quality oils as olive oil and sell at olive oil prices
- Olive oil sold in bulk is far more susceptible to adulteration than an artisan oil
- Polyphenols and antioxidants deplete by up to 50% during the first 6 months after distribution
-What you need to know about the dates on the package and how to store your olive oil…33:52
- Three killers of olive oil: light, time, temperature
- Look for the “harvest date” rather than the expiration date
- Look for dark plastic or glass bottles
- Don't store olive oil above the stove or in the fridge
- Store in a pantry at room temperature, away from light
- Polyphenols and antioxidants prevent the olive oil from oxidizing
- Restaurant olive oils are often adulterated w/ GMO's, soy, etc.
- Spirulina and glycine protect the gut from oxidized oils
- Ben discusses this in his book, Boundless
- Olive oil has similar fat makeup as human breast milk
- Olive oil is used as a delivery mechanism for food to babies
-How olive oil is actually produced…44:07
- Olives are picked from the tree, contain 10% oil when they're green
- Deleafed and washed at the mill
- Crusher (like a food processor) turns it into a paste
- Goes into the millaxer (paste begins to break into parts: solid, water, oil)
- Oil is spun via centrifuge, then goes into the tasting cup
- The solids are dried out and reused as organic fertilizer for the crops
-The process by which T.J. inspects and selects the olives he uses for his customers…51:08
- Flos Olei(website is written in Italian)
- A Guide to the World of Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Flos Olei(2019 edition)
- Samples are collected, big tasting party
- Identify the farms to visit (5-6)
- Trees that are stressed (less water) produce a higher quality oil, higher polyphenols
- Developing relationships: A farm that's not the right fit at a particular season may be in the future
- Two criteria for extra virgin olive oil:
- Meet a chemistry panel for quality parameters
- Panel of tasters looking for taste defects
- Most oil in the U.S. doesn't go through this tasting panel
- Oils labeled as extra virgin may not pass the criteria by the time it's purchased
-How you can assess (and enjoy) olive oil on your own…1:00:51
- “Single variety” refers to one olive fruit used
- Watch out for oils that are labeled as “blends”
- Color of the oil isn't necessarily an indicator of its quality
- Smell the oil
- Swirl the cup (to release the aromas)
- The taste test:
- Fruitiness (flavorfulness)
- Bitterness (high in polyphenols)
- People are using olive oil as a tool for weight loss
- It's great as a skin, hair, and face moisturizer
- Can be used as protectant from the sun and skin healer
- Used to clean tile
- Drizzle fresh-pressed olive oil over vanilla ice cream for dessert
-How to cook with extra virgin olive oil…1:23:27
- If you cook w/ a subpar product, you get a subpar result
- Article: Research Finds Extra Virgin Olive Oil Safest, Most Stable for Cooking
- Purchase small amounts
- Don't use olive oil that is older than one year from the harvest date
-And much more…
Resources from this episode:
– Boundless, Ben's newest book
– Article: Don’t Sleep On This Game-Changing Ingredient
– New Yorker article: Slippery Business — The Trade in Adulterated Olive Oil
– Book: Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller
– Flos Olei (website is written in Italian)
– A Guide to the World of Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Flos Olei (2019 edition)
– Book: Eat to Beat Disease by Dr. William Li
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