Potential Dangers of Pomace Olive Oil: Cheaper is Not Always Better
During my mother’s most recent search for olive oil at a local grocer, she selected a cheaper option she had never purchased before. This oil was shelved with dozens of other well-known, respectable olive oils, packaged in an attractive glass bottle, adorned with a hearty olive tree and wavering Italian flag, and beneath it all, the mysterious label “pomace olive oil.”
Unsure of what this meant exactly, but pleased with the price and the promises of various hype words and advertising jargon, my mother made the buy. Later she realized she had purchased a lesser grade that lacked the expected flavor in her recipes with olive oil.
The imposter’s smell, taste and texture were nothing like an extra virgin. Upon further inspection and a quick consultation of some sources, we discovered that my mother and many other consumers complaining vehemently over the internet had unwittingly purchased a bastardized product that wasn’t even olive oil — but something called “olive pomace oil.”
Further research revealed that the Spanish government, notorious for its strict regulation of olive oil products, had temporarily banned the sale of this grade of olive oil in July 2001.
I had never heard of pomace olive oil, and after a quick survey of friends and family, I discovered I was not alone. I was astounded by my own ignorance of this product and that of the general public, especially considering the potential dangers of consuming pomace oil from unregulated producers. So, just what is pomace olive oil, exactly?
While extra virgin olive oil is often denoted as being “first cold press,” what is termed “pomace oil” cannot even qualify as being “second press.” Once the typical, mechanized extraction of olive oil from the olive fruit is complete, some 5 to 8 percent of the oil remains in the leftover olive pulp or “pomace.” Although the extracted pomace oil is still technically oil that comes from olives, this is done via chemical solvents and, therefore, should never be termed, directly or indirectly, as “olive oil.”
The International Olive Council (IOC), the intergovernmental organization responsible for outlining quality standards and monitoring olive oil authenticity, clearly defines olive oil as “oil obtained solely from the fruit of the olive tree, to the exclusion of oils obtained using solvents or re-esterification processes.” The amount of oil contained in the leftover pomace, which consists of the solid remains of the olive, including skins, pulp, seeds, and stems, is so minimal that it cannot be extracted by pressing but only through the combined use of chemical solvents (like Hexane) and extremely high heat.See Also:International Standard for Olive Oil (IOC)
This process, the same high heat technique used in producing canola, sunflower, and other vegetable oils, is why unregulated olive pomace oil sometimes contains harmful components known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) like benzopyrene, which research has shown to be highly carcinogenic and mutagenic. Benzopyrene results from the incomplete combustion of the fats present in the olives. Benzopyrenes are likely to be produced when fats are exposed to high heat levels, like in the pomace oil extraction processes where there is no complete combustion and no smoke is produced.
The process to extract olive pomace oil is as follows: a chemical solvent is first administered to the olive pomace, which can dissolve the fats but not the rest of the solid pomace. This application extracts the oil, and then the product is heated in a refining process. Hence, the solvent evaporates completely and cleanly without leaving any harmful residue — so long that this heating method does not exceed 90 degrees Celsius (194°F). Using this system, the final product will not likely contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) like benzopyrene.
The risk of benzopyrene contamination occurs when the heating method used to evaporate the solvent exceeds 300 degrees Celsius (572°F). In these instances, the fat is liquefied into fluid and then drips out of the olive pomace, but the problem is that the insanely high heat results in the partial combustion of the oil with the rest of the physical pomace. This can cause the rapid accumulation of benzopyrenes in the final product.
In heat applications above 300°C, the resulting oil comes with a definite health risk for consumers, which depends entirely on the aggressiveness of the heat treatment and the amount and frequency of the pomace oil consumed. Because the degree of contamination depends on the type of treatment used, health authorities must clarify what kind of treatment has been applied to produce particular pomace oils and establish a permissible limit on the amount of benzopyrenes present.
Benzopyrenes, being highly reactive fats, can dissolve easily into cellular membranes and enter a cell’s interior. This resulting action has been shown to cause either intracellular oxidation – the ageing and death of cells – or an intoxication which results in the mutagenesis of the genetic material in the cell’s nucleus. In some instances, this spreads as an uncontrolled multiplication of damaged cells which can result in a cancerous tumor.
Concerned about the levels of PAHs like benzopyrene in pomace oil, the Spanish government introduced a temporary ban on pomace oil in July 2001 and halted all exports of pomace oil until tests were conducted and limits of the allowable amounts of PAHs present in the oil were made concrete.
Other countries followed suit: the New Zealand Health and Food Safety Authority recalled olive pomace oil from several manufacturers, and the German ministry acted similarly, issuing this warning: “As a preventative health protection measure, the ministry for consumer affairs, nutrition and agriculture has appealed to the German states and industry to review the remains of the 170 tons of Spanish olive-pomace oil and products containing this oil.”
It later became apparent that other affected batches were produced in Greece (Bevelini Olive Pomace Oil) and others from Italy (Dentamano Olio di Sansa de Oliva). In the Bevelini product, for example, a batch was reported to contain 100 parts per billion of benzopyrene — over 50 times the limit advised by the International Olive Council. And although human exposure to PAHs is something of the quotidian — as they are also created with the combustion of fossil fuels, burning trash, agricultural fires, industrial processes, tobacco smoke and vehicle exhaust emissions — our exposure to PAHs should be as limited as much as possible, especially when ingesting food.
As a result, specific standards have been set in various regions of the world limiting the allowable amount of benzopyrenes in pomace olive oil. As mentioned previously, within the European Union and in member states of the IOC, the limit is two parts per billion or two micrograms per kilogram, as decided in Resolution RES‑1/93-IV/05 Madrid in November of 2005.
With that said, however, in other olive oil-producing countries which are non-IOC members (India, emerging Middle Eastern producers, several Latin American states, and even the United States, where retail grades have no legal meaning), such stringent standards are not enforced. Therefore the purchase of pomace oil products from these regions is not advisable.
Even with the regulation of PAHs in pomace oil, culinary aficionados and olive oil connoisseurs worldwide are still highly resistant to using olive pomace oil as a worthy cooking agent. From a sensory standpoint, it lacks extra virgin olive oil’s flavor, delicacy, and bountiful healthful properties. If used in the kitchen at all, pomace oil is mostly used in industrial settings or restaurants as a deep frying agent because of its high smoke point (240 degrees Celsius).
Unfortunately, we sometimes buy olive pomace oil unintentionally, thanks to unethical producers known to commit fraud by mislabeling cans or bottles of olive pomace oil.
See Also:Trade Group Sues Olive Oil Producer for Deceptive Labeling
But it’s also important to note that the process by which pomace oil is extracted is no different to the process used to extract other conventional cooking oils such as corn, soy, sunflower, safflower, canola, or cottonseed and in comparison to these oils, pomace oil still retains olive oil’s basic lipid profile and therefore boasts high levels of oleanolic acid which have been proven to relieve states of hypertension and high blood pressure.
If you do happen to accidentally buy a bottle of pomace oil and are still resistant to the idea of using it as a cooking agent, you need not throw it away as there are a number of uses for it. Because it is monounsaturated fat, it is a better choice for cooking than other seed oils like canola, sunflower or peanut. Unwanted pomace oil can also create soap or lubricate grill racks or pans. But with all of the available olive oils on the market today, it’s in your best interest to stick to extra virgin from a health and culinary standpoint. Your taste buds will thank you.
April 22, 2023 00:43 (UTC)