Avoid cheap oils and keep them away from heat sources, advises expert at Dubai expo

Maria Paola Gabusi urges people to look at ‘harvest year’ and not the ‘best before’ date when buying oil


Lamya Tawfik

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Published: Thu 15 Dec 2022, 5:48 PM

When buying extra virgin olive oil, remember, the more bitter it is, the healthier it is, says an oil expert.

Maria Paola Gabusi, who owns Leone D’oro, an independent international competition that evaluates the quality of extra virgin olive oil, was conducting “olive oil tasting” sessions for industry professionals at a stand in the Italian pavilion during the Organic & Natural Products Expo, that's taking place at Dubai World Trade Centre until December 15.

During the competition, Maria, who is a panel leader, trains other tasters to accurately give a sensory evaluation of all the oils they have taste based on three attributes – if the oil is bitter, pungent or fruity. Her role as a panel leader is to have everyone aligned so that the evaluation is similar.

Healthwise, she said that bitter oil is linked to polyphenols and has more antioxidants. “The bitterness has to be pleasant. This decreases with time. So, when people want sweet oil they want the fat – good fat – but the oil isn’t alive with antioxidants,” she explained.

In fact, she stressed that the smell of supermarket olive oil which is similar to vinegar is not a good thing. “People think is good because it smells like salad dressing. Olive oil has to smell like fruits or of chlorophyl. You have to feel emotions when you taste it,” said Maria.

Extra virgin olive oil must be stored in a dark container and kept away from any source of heat. The cap must always be closed. “Never keep the oil near the stove and preferably buy it in small containers. If you buy a 5-litre bottle, the empty space created once you start using it will fill up with oxygen and this will cause the oil to get rancid in a week’s time,” she said.

All oils rancid sooner or later, just like how humans age. But first you have to be born strong and healthy so that helps.

Cheap oil from the supermarket should be avoided, but if one must buy it then it’s best to look at the ‘harvest year’ and not the ‘best before’ date. “If they care enough to tell you about when it’s harvested it means that this oil doesn’t have a mix of old and new or it may even be just old oil. The younger the oil, the better,” she said.

During the exhibition, Maria said that her goal is to show the culture of high-quality extra virgin olive oil. In Italy, she said. There are nearly 540 varieties of olives. “I speak about biodiversity, the different smells, taste, landscapes and different people who have to survive. They won’t survive if they charge supermarket prices for their oil. All kinds of oils deserve to exist but people must know the difference,” she said.

At Leone D’oro, Maria said the focus is not about giving medals but to help producers improve their oil. “If it’s not perfect, we tell them ‘you can do better’,” she said, adding that the evaluators are all government approved.

The panel leaders make the rules to align them all. “For example, if you wake up in the morning and you drink five coffees and you come to taste the oil, your perception of bitterness is different than others,” she said.

She said that they are trained to recognise through the smell of the oil for other possible defects. “Not just rancid oil but it could be musty or the olive itself might have had worms,” she said. What does ‘wormy’ oil taste like? “It’s sweet, tastes like old candy, and in the mouth, it feels like old lipstick on the inside of your lips. Almost like old chemical strawberry candy.”

Before being gifted the competition from the founders, Maria was an extreme sports photographer. She inherited a house which has olive trees and so started to learn more about taking care of the trees and about oil. After an intensive week of study, she decided to become the best taster of olive oil in the world.


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