Although consumers are increasingly using olive oil in the foods they prepare, they are hazy about the three different grades typically found on the market.
Therein lies an opportunity to educate consumers about the choices available to them as well as improving packaging and marketing, according to a survey conducted by the University of California, Davis, Olive Center.
The online survey, which wanted to gain an understanding about consumers' attitudes about olive oil, involved 2,200 individuals during spring 2012.
Results showed that more than 70 percent of respondents used olive oil for a variety of culinary purposes, from making salad dressings to drizzling and baking.
A surprisingly large number—86 percent—also used olive oil to saute or deep-fry foods.
Dan Flynn, center executive director, said he found the figure interesting because some believe olive oil has a low smoke point.
In reality, it has a much higher smoke point and can be used in most applications.
Where the survey showed opportunities is with the responses to questions concerning olive oil grades and color.
Olive oil is typically sold in three grades: extra virgin, pure and light.
Only one in four survey participants answered correctly that extra virgin was the highest grade.
Most thought pure was the highest grade, when in reality it is applied to much lower grade oil blends.
Similarly, most respondents said they believed that refining was done to make good olive oil even better.
The process is actually used to make inferior olive oil edible.
And most responded incorrectly that olive oil is an accurate indicator of quality.
Flavor was the primary reason for selecting olive oil over other oils, according to the survey.
The survey coordinators found this importance because earlier studies found that two-thirds of top-selling olive oil brands they analyzed were rancid or had other defects.
As a result, they recommended olive oil producers to develop strategies to introduce more consumers to the taste of high-quality extra virgin olive oils.