World Olive Oil Consumption Hasn't Risen Since 2003, Even With 1B More People

Countless studies have proved the health benefits of olive oil. Why are we consuming less today than we did 14 years ago?

By Curtis Cord
May. 9, 2018 14:21 UTC

You can say what you want about the proven health ben­e­fits of olive oil. How it’s the cor­ner­stone of the famous Mediterranean diet. How count­less stud­ies over the past decade have shown it helps com­bat can­cer, Alzheimer’s, dia­betes, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. People who eat olive oil even have larger brains. They tend to be hap­pier.

Yet even with the health ben­e­fits of olive oil firmly estab­lished and with more high-qual­ity olive oils avail­able to us now than ever before, humans choose less-healthy seed oils 97 per­cent of the time.

Olive oil con­sump­tion has­n’t budged in 14 years. This accord­ing to the International Olive Council (IOC) whose job is to pro­mote its con­sump­tion world­wide. Even with nearly 1.2 bil­lion more mouths to feed, we’re eat­ing less olive oil now than we did in 2003 — when they still made Volkswagen Beetles.

In 2003, the world­wide per capita annual con­sump­tion of olive oil was 452 ml. Today, it’s around 391 ml. That does­n’t say much for the size of our brains.

And we can’t blame this one on social media. In fact, Instagram is ablaze with food porn fea­tur­ing streaks of green gold which we flip through as we reach for that big yel­low bot­tle of Canola or corn oil. (By we’ I mean you.)

Celebrity chefs have been out-hyper­boliz­ing each other into a frenzy — one even coined the term EVOO’ (then promptly proved she knew almost noth­ing about it).

And yet here we all are, eat­ing on aver­age about 2/10 of a tea­spoon a day of olive oil (even with the help of our Greek friends). We eat at least 30 times as much rape­seed oil.

The IOC declined a request for com­ments on the return of olive oil con­sump­tion to Nokia-phone-era lev­els. The inter­gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion has been strapped for cash ever since the European Commission, under pres­sure from the seed oil lobby, pulled much of the IOC’s fund­ing, accord­ing to Fausto Luchetti who ran the IOC from 1987 until 2002.

Luchetti, who was recently cleared, after 15 years, of charges of finan­cial impro­pri­eties stem­ming from his tenure in Madrid, led the IOC dur­ing its hey­day when olive oil con­sump­tion nearly dou­bled. It’s been flat ever since.

© Olive Oil Times | Data source: International Olive Council

When I took office in 1987, olive oil con­sump­tion in the U.S. reached 25,000 tons, half of which were ester­i­fied oils,” Luchetti told Olive Oil Times. I real­ized that the first thing we had to do was to improve qual­ity. If we wanted con­sump­tion to increase, we needed a prod­uct that really cor­re­sponded to what we said about extra vir­gin olive oil with its nutri­tional prop­er­ties, organolep­tic and bio­log­i­cal val­ues, and so on.”

Until the mid-80s the typ­i­cal American con­sumer of olive oil was still the immi­grant from the Mediterranean area, espe­cially Italian, who did not pay atten­tion to qual­ity and con­sumed a prod­uct that had very lit­tle to do with extra vir­gin olive oil,” Luchetti added. For years, con­sump­tion was sub­ject to stag­na­tion, around 15 – 20,000 tons, because con­sumers were those poor peo­ple unable to afford high costs for fats in their diet.”

Luchetti set out to improve prod­uct qual­ity while the group engaged researchers. We cre­ated a net­work of researchers who stud­ied the prop­er­ties of extra vir­gin olive oil and led to results which have been widely accepted.”

Basically, since the mid-80s until the early 1990s, we tried to sen­si­tize poten­tial con­sumers, espe­cially Americans, through the dis­sem­i­na­tion of sci­en­tific knowl­edge,” Luchetti recalled. We finally started to reap the rewards of our work with the International Conference on the Mediterranean Diet at the Harvard School of Public Health, in 1993, which defin­i­tively pop­u­lar­ized the prop­er­ties of extra vir­gin olive oil.”

Today, the IOC no longer does sci­en­tific research, and, in this sense, I would like to stress the Organization’s atti­tude that (pro­mot­ing sci­en­tific research) is no longer nec­es­sary since (they believe) what has already been done was suf­fi­cient,” Luchetti said.

The IOC might be right about that. Studies on the health ben­e­fits of extra vir­gin olive oil — and the Mediterranean diet — have piled on top of one another since Luchetti’s tenure at the Council, with or with­out the group’s fund­ing.

It might be right to assume that the health­ful­ness of extra vir­gin olive oil is com­mon knowl­edge by now. Unfortunately, just as per­va­sive is the con­fu­sion. Consumers are sus­pi­cious of olive oil qual­ity and most are unable to deter­mine whether the oil they are buy­ing is authen­tic or not.


People know extra vir­gin olive oil is healthy. They also watched the 60 Minutes seg­ment on Mafia’s role in Italian agribusi­ness with images of police trained in olive oil tast­ing. They read the now infa­mous New York Times info­graphic — the one that no writer would admit to pen­ning — that con­tained so many inac­cu­ra­cies, the Times redacted much of it, albeit long after the dam­age had been done.

And they heard about the bomb­shell UC Davis study, financed by California olive oil pro­duc­ers, that called out imported olive oils as frauds (though some domes­tic ones were too), issu­ing a 2010 report that has been twisted, dis­torted and overblown in sen­sa­tional media cov­er­age ever since.

In the oil aisle, peo­ple are hear­ing in one ear how healthy the EVOO is, while the other ear rings with mis­trust and sus­pi­cion: Leave the olive oil, take the Canola.

I believe we are see­ing the effect of neg­a­tive sto­ries about olive oil qual­ity and reli­a­bil­ity,” said Joseph R. Profaci, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the North American Olive Oil Association.

The begin­ning of the sharp decline in con­sump­tion growth cor­re­sponds with the release of the UC Davis reports and has con­tin­ued to today as those reports and oth­ers have been regur­gi­tated ad nau­seam — usu­ally by mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion, inten­tional or oth­er­wise — in the form of click­bait and mis­lead­ing pro­mo­tional sto­ries,” Profaci said. The neg­a­tive news is cre­at­ing a bar­rier to get­ting new users into the cat­e­gory.”

Those new users, how­ever, would­n’t be as sus­cep­ti­ble to the mis­in­for­ma­tion if they were empow­ered to decide for them­selves if an olive oil is as good as it should be. The basic prob­lem is that most don’t know how a good extra vir­gin olive oil should taste in the first place.

In fact, there are more high-qual­ity olive oils avail­able to us now than at any time in his­tory. High-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil should have aro­mas of fresh fruit; it should be bit­ter on the sides of the tongue; it should sting in the throat.

Here are 521 brands, from 22 coun­tries. They are this year’s award win­ners at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. Find a few, buy them and learn how great an extra vir­gin olive oil can be. Then com­pare it to the oil you were using and tell some friends. And feel your brain get­ting big­ger.


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