By Tom Mueller
Norton, $25.95, 238 pages
Olive oil has many health benefits and those adhering to the Mediterranean diet are known to have a low incidence of heart disease, cancer and other health problems. But how would you feel if you found out the extra virgin oil you cook with in good faith was anything but? In Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, author Tom Mueller exposes a fraudulent industry where profits are comparable to cocaine trafficking; an industry so corrupt that an honest olive grower hardly stands a chance to make a profit. Speaking with artisan producers, chemical analysts, and the big businessmen themselves, Mueller asserts the sad truth that what is commonly found in grocery store bottles bearing the Italian flag and old-world sounding family names is in fact, low-grade, even rancid oil that has been chemically deodorized; thus stripped of its health benefits and sold under the extra virgin label. Lampante, or lamp oil, as the Italians call it.
Mueller romantically describes the history of olive oil and poignantly outlines the lamentable state it finds itself in today. Extra Virginity is an unsettling yet fascinating combination of culinary delight and true crime.
Reviewed by Alicea Swett