In general, olive oil is one of the more sustainable ingredients that consumers can buy. Olives being the only ingredient combined with the fact that olive trees can be effective in offsetting carbon emissions means consumers should never feel bad about buying some olive oil at the grocery store. With that being said, California Olive Ranch’s hesitancy to become fully organic in the production of their olive oil as well as their lack of complete transparency make them a less-than-ideal option in the olive oil industry.
As one would expect, olive oil is the only ingredient in this product. When compared to other cooking oils, olive oil is generally one of the more sustainable choices. As it is generally a “desert-dwelling” plant, the olive tree is one of the most water-efficient, low input crop to grow. Unfortunately, California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil is not organic, and therefore it comes with some sustainability concerns. In Mediterranean countries, reports have shown that the non-organic production of olive oil has led to large scale soil erosion. This erosion has lead to considerable run-off of soils and agro-chemicals into water bodies. These are issues that contribute to climate change. On their website, California Olive Ranch is open about the fact that they are not currently organic, and they claim to be testing organic production methods and working hard to employ sustainable production practices. As of January 2021, they have begun the transition of more than 320,000 olive trees to organic farming practices.
To their credit, California Olive Ranch uses drip irrigation to water their trees. This system saves water and nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface. After olives are harvested, they are then crushed and churned without the addition of extra heat (hence why they are Extra Virgin). The oil is then spun in a centrifuge to separate out the water, leaving the product in its final form. There is nothing about this process that is inherently unsustainable, other than potentially the transportation of the olives from where they are sourced. Unfortunately, California Olive Ranch does not seem committed to the sustainable packaging of their products, with the majority of their olive oil coming in plastic bottles. While these bottles are made from BPA-free HDPE and PET plastic, there are still a long way away from being sustainable.
Despite their name, California Olive Ranch Olive Oil does not come exclusively from California olives. While they do sell a version of their olive oil that is derived solely from California olives, much of their products contain olives from Chile, Argentina, Portugal, and Peru. They do not offer any reports on the working conditions or pay of the farmers that are actually harvesting these olives. This lack of information can only be interpreted as a lack of willingness to be transparent on the part of California Olive Ranch.