Olive Oil Crisis – Spain’s “aceite de oliva” prices are through the roof

October 17, 2023

I just spent 9.25€ for a liter of olive oil.

This was the store brand, extra virgin, at the Sorli supermarket around the corner from my house in Barcelona.

A few weeks ago it was 8.50, which was scandalous.

Several months ago it was breaking 7.00, which was wild.

I can go back and remember when I moved to Spain many years ago, and it was around 3.50 for a liter of extra virgin, which seemed like a great deal.

But time passes, and with the massive inflation starting in 2021 the price of everything went up. Recently – although the official inflation rate has gone down – the price of olive oil has done nothing but rise.

Maybe I’ve just picked the most expensive supermarket in town? Nope.

Olive trees, somewhere.

Around the neighborhood, the situation isn’t much better. Mercadona’s store brand is also 9.25. The Lidl a few blocks down has some unheard-of brand for 7.69. And you can always go for lower grades of olive oil if you want. But these days, even Amazon seems to have prices hovering around 10 euros a liter.

What’s going on with the prices of olive oil in Spain?

Olive oil, of course, is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. Spanish people use it for everything. The amount of oil they’ll use to fry a single egg has always seemed (to me) somewhat wasteful. But since it was always so cheap, it didn’t much matter.

About those grades: “extra virgin” should refer to the first pressing of the olives. After that there’s virgin, which is a second pressing, and other (lower) grades, which involve heat or chemical extraction.

The lowest grade is aceite de orujo de oliva, which I’ve always avoided. But maybe not for long.

Now, at 9 or 10 euros a liter, we’re thinking twice before pouring a half inch of extra virgin oil into our collective skillet.

The problem is a drought in the south of Spain that reduced last year’s harvest to about half the usual level: instead of the usual 1.2 million tons, the 2022 harvest was a mere 664,000 tons. This is no small thing in a country that produces by far more olive oil than any other.

According to industry predictions, the 2023 harvest (starting in a few weeks, down south) should be somewhat better, and prices could begin to stabilize by next spring.

But the amount harvested isn’t the only problem producers are facing: there’s also the rising costs of electricity (used in chopping and pressing the olives) and fuel (used in the harvest and transport of the finished product) driving up the prices that consumers pay.

You can see the inside of a modern olive oil factory in Jaén here.

It’s nothing too surprising – although I have a feeling this video might be leaving out some large amount of backbreaking immigrant labor somewhere in the process.

What to do in the meantime?

While we’re waiting for the price of olive oil to go down, I guess we could explore some alternative oils and fats in our cooking.

Spanish people are often shocked and horrified at the mere suggestion of sautéing anything in butter. And I don’t know if butter is any cheaper than olive oil, these days. But it is delicious, and I recommend you use more of it.

Then there’s lard. Rendered from pork fat, it’s not too expensive, but it does have the tendency to make your food taste a bit porky. This is okay in some recipes, but not in all.

My wife Morena’s South Indian culture is heavy on the coconut oil – coconuts, in general, are a big part of their economy. And coconut oil has a fairly neutral flavor and high smoke point, so you can do a lot of different kinds of cooking with it.

Here in Spain, my coconut oil comes from Amazon. It’s liquid in summer and solid in winter. No problem. And at about 10 euros a kilo, it’s no longer an expensive luxury – just a reasonably priced substitute.

If you’re feeling really creative, you can start saving fat from cooking other meats: roasting a chicken will give you some fat you can refrigerate and use in future recipes, and making pork belly will give you more lard than you probably want to eat with your plate of lentils. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for years.

But isn’t fat bad for you?

No, it’s not, but not everybody’s gotten the memo yet.

If you want the story behind the vilification of fat, check out Gary Taubes’ infamous article What if it’s all been a big, fat lie? Short version: the case against saturated fat was always very flimsy and all real evidence points to other culprits for obesity and heart disease: looking at you, sugar.

Also, scientists engage in group think just like other people, and will often pretend to believe whatever bullshit happens to be popular in order to protect their careers.

I’m serious, though, read the article, and prepare to go paleo.

(Also, don’t get me wrong: trans fats, AKA anything hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated, are terrible. As are oils chemically extracted from seeds humans have no business eating. I hate to break it to you, but cottonseed oil, shortening, margarine and the like are more byproducts of other industrial processes than they are foods fit for human consumption. Don’t even get me started.)

That’s about all I’ve got for today.

Hit me up with your favorite paleo recipes, right here in the comments.

I might take a while to get back to you, though. I’m busy rendering tallow from bits and pieces of cattle left over at my local butcher’s.

Yours,

Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.

P.S. While I’m rendering my own tallow, I’ll probably be listening to the Revolutions podcast, in which a guy named Mike Duncan goes into great detail about various world revolutions. I’m listening to Russia, which is about 100 episodes long, and it’s really good. Only 40 episodes in, things are about to get ugly for ol’ Czar Nicholas II. Listen on Spotify or wherever.

P.P.S. If you like fat, you might also like my article about my love for Spanish cuisine. As an ex-vegetarian, I’ve been on both sides of this debate, and it took me a while to get where I am now. Enjoy!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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