The following ideas are taken from Larry Olmsted’s book Real Food, Fake Food published in 2016. Mr. Olmsted is a food and travel columnist at Forbes.com, a writer, and teaches nonfiction writing at Dartmouth College. He loves food, gardening, travel and trying exotic new foods. He became perplexed at why food in other countries did not taste the same when he came home to America and ordered the same thing, such as Kobe Beef, Italian Olive Oil, and Parmesan Cheese. It initiated for him an extensive investigation into food where he discovered a lot of fake food. He wrote this book to tell about it.
In our main article today we talked about the likelihood of getting fake fish and fake olive oil. Here are some of his suggestions for seeking out the real stuff:
- Look for third party outside and non-profit evaluators certifications. Several to look for include Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP for farmed fish),Blue Ocean Institute ratings by the Safina Center at Stony Brook and the Gulf of Main Research Institute’s Gulf of Main Responsibly Harvested certification. For those of us who are Houstonians, The Gulf Wild seal is a reliable assurance of the authenticity of wild-caught seafood from the Gulf of Mexico and is ideal for shrimp.
- “Alaska Seafood: Wild, Natural, Sustainable” is one of the most reliable seafood logos you will find. The state has completely outlawed fish farming, and has a constitutional by-law requiring sustainability. Fisheries are regarded as well managed against overfishing, pollution and habitat damage. Alaskan Salmon has little or no traces of contaminants, low levels of heavy metals and organochlorines. Other than Alaskan Salmon, look for pollock, king crab, snow crab, black cod and pacific halibut as well as all five species of Alaskan salmon: king/chinook, sockeye/red, coho/silver, keta/chum and pink.
- Here’s some good news: According to Michael Bell, director of the California Coastal and Marine Program for the Nature Conservancy, “Fishery management in the U.S. is the best in the world.” Since our supply chain is less contorted and our domestic monitoring of environmental factors is better, buying American is usually a good choice. This applies especially to Alaskan as well as Mississippi gulf fish, Maine Lobster, scallops and fish as well as domestically farmed catfish, assuming they are labeled honestly.
- Wild Caught is usually a best choice, though there are some exceptions. Especially avoid farmed raised, foreign shrimp.
- When eating out, if you order white tuna or red snapper, you will almost without doubt get something fake. Salmon will be farmed, crab will be imitation. Be wary of grouper too. Your best shot is to eat at some of the nation’s very best (and expensive) seafood and sushi eateries and otherwise, as Larry Olmstead says, assume the worst and you will most likely be right.
- Large grocery retailers including Walmart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco were named as reliable sources for seafood, fresh and frozen. According to Olmsted, he was surprised to hear the consistent message from industry experts that the big box stores with enormous buying leverage often force adherence to higher standards. At Walmart, over 90 percent of their seafood is either certified or in a fishery improvement program.
- Olmsted’s top three brand picks: California’s McEvoy Ranch, Australia’s Boulder Bend-Cobram Estate and Spain’s Oro Bailen.
- Reliable retailers include T.J.Robinson’s Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club, Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Oliviers & Co. and Tom Mueller’s extravirginity.com
- In terms of labels, some concepts that may help in selection of a good, real olive oil include:
- The more information the better
- A harvest date, no more than one year old
- Know that there is no regulatory significance to terms like “first cold pressed, or “extra virgin” so don’t let that lead you.
- Look for third party certifications that promise higher standards such as “COOC Certified Extra Virgin”( California Olive Oil Council) or EVA (the Extra Virgin Alliance) and “100% Qualita Italiana”, by UNAPROL, the association of actual Italian olive growers. Interestingly, little stock is put in a USDA organic certification!
- Chile and Australia have better practices and stricter standards in general according to the U.S. International Trade Commission report on the quality of extra-virgin olive oil followed by the United States. So these may be the best “go to” source of origin when in doubt.
- Newer oils are always better. Be sure to buy small quantities (a six week supply) as it is highly perishable. It should not be exposed to heat or light and is best stored in a cool, dark cabinet. Tins do the best job of blocking the light, followed by an opaque bottle. Oxygen is also an enemy of olive oil so once opened, the oil quality is going downhill quickly.
¹ Real Food/Fake Food by Larry Olmsted, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2016.