Observant visitors will notice something in common between many wine farms, apart from the elements that constitute wine making. That is the presence of olive trees. Some wine farms have only a few olive trees, for example, Jordan. These olives will normally be pressed into olive oil reserved for use by family and friends. For other estates, olives constitute a large portion of their business, for instance, Tokara. The olives at Tokara are either turned into one of the range of olive oils they offer, or are sold as table olives and both can be tasted when doing a wine tasting.
But olive trees are not limited to wine farms. Few locals realise that there is a substantial olive industry in South Africa and it has potential for enormous growth. The industry has grown over the past decade as the awareness of the health benefits of using olive oil has increased. Some of the big South African producers which are focused on olive production are producing in excess of half a million litres of olive oil a year.
However, most South Africans still seem to believe that imported olive oil is superior to our local oils. The truth is quite the opposite. South African oils are regarded internationally as among the best in the world. In addition, while there are excellent oils to be found in countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain, those are not the oils that we are importing for our supermarket shelves.
There is a reason the imported oils are often cheaper than local oils, and that is because the quality is inferior. According to a test conducted by the SA Olive Association, the majority of them are not even extra virgin (the highest grade of olive oil) even though they are labelled as such. Unfortunately there is no enforcement of the labelling so the contents could be far from extra virgin and the consumer would have no way of knowing.
People purchase extra virgin olive oil at a premium price over other oils because of the proven health benefits. But if the oil is old, diluted or inferior for any other reason, the health benefits are lost. Olive oil is a fruit juice, the goodness is greatest straight after pressing and declines from that point on. Olive oil should be consumed within 1 year to 18 months after harvest for maximum impact.
Not only do the health benefits decline, but the flavour becomes muted too. Nothing beats the fresh, vibrant, spicy flavour of recently pressed olive oil. Fortunately the SA Olive Association monitors our local oils and certifies that they are what they say they are. To protect yourself, buy local oils and look out for the SA Olive Commitment To Compliance Seal.