Worrying about counterfeit or fake olive oil doesn’t seem like it would be a real headline. But it is a constant issue. In fact chances are the olive oil in your cabinet isn’t pure olive oil. Most of the olive oil that is sold in the US is counterfeit. This completely contradicts the entire reason olive oil has become so popular. While we are all trying to do the healthiest thing possible, we are actually buying something that we have no clue what is.
Have you ever even tasted true, virgin olive oil? I can tell you from experience it tastes nothing like most olive oils on the market. My run-in with real olive oil left me puzzled and curious as to what was going on. It had never occurred to me that the expensive bottle of extra virgin olive oil in my kitchen was likely diluted vegetable oil.
We as a nation have become all too accustomed to grabbing something in the grocery store without a second thought. It’s in stores and convenient; so, why give it a second thought? That is no longer the case. Olive oil is something we should all consider paying a lot more attention to.
The Scandal Behind Olive Oil
While consumers believed they were buying quality olive oil products, manufacturers were actually being quite sneaky. They were taking low quality oils from Spain and North Africa and altering them in Italy. The lower quality oil is then bottled, labeled, and shipped globally to consumers.
Alleged counterfeit olive oil
Many of the alleged counterfeit olive oils are brands that most of us know and trust. Research and testing have shown that many top brands have been passing off inferior olive oil for an uncertain period of time. In May of 2015, an Italian consumer magazine made allegations of the fraud. The allegations were later investigated by authorities and they found that out of the 20 olive oil brands that were tested by the Italian customs agency, 9 of them turned out to be of lower quality oil.
The controversy and chaos prompted the University of California to test 124 different samples. They were from eight different major retail brands of extra virgin olive oil and more than 70% of those tested failed. Some of the failing brands included: Bertolli, Carapelli, Colavita, Star, Pompeian, Santa Sabina, Primadonna, Antica Badia, Sasso, and Corellia. While some of the passing brands were California Olive Ranch, Cobram Estate, Lucini, Kirkland Organic, Lucero, and McEvory Ranch Organic.
Many of the olive oil brands have been added back to The North American Olive Oil Association quality seal list of authentic olive oils. Every crop and every season is different. You should check seasonally for changes based on testing results. Though the data collected and the testing on each brand have been public knowledge for some time and appear to come from an entirely reputable source. The olive oil companies listed still claim that the claims and test results are fraudulent and maintain that their product is authentic.
The Different Types of Olive Oil
While there are many different varieties of olive oil, they tend to fall into only a few categories:
Extra virgin olive oil
- Commonly used, it has grown in popularity due to its medicinal and health properties. It is produced by cold pressing without chemicals during refinement.
Virgin olive oil
- produced during the second pressing of riper olives. It is considered to be a good quality olive oil despite its lesser reputation.
Light olive oil or pure olive oil
- Is a refined olive oil often chemically processed and then mixed with lower quality oils.
- The lowest quality olive oil and in Italian translates to “lamp Oil”. Not intended for consumption, it is made from old or decaying olives. These olives contain free radicals and impurities that are not good for your health.
Just Because the Label Say’s, Doesn’t Make It So
When shopping for true olive oil there are any indicators that you should look for. Taking the time to observe your bottle of olive oil is extremely important. Unless of course, you like wasting your money on diluted olive oil, that Is most likely a form of vegetable or sunflower oil.
One of the key indicators of a true olive oil is right on the bottle. For instance, a plastic or clear bottle is never a good sign. Olive oil should be stored in a tinted glass bottle or a metal can protect it from light because light can make it go bad or rancid quickly.
- Look for Cold Pressed Olive Oil
Cold pressed olive oil is produced using a minimal heat process because overheating the oil can affect the flavor, longevity, and quality of the finished product. Every country has their own set standards for the cold pressing process. To be labeled as cold pressed it must meet certain guidelines. Purchasing cold pressed olive oil isn’t just about the overall flavor. Oil that isn’t cold pressed tends to be overheated during the extractions process. This can compromise the nutritional value of the olive oil. Which is typically why most people use it.
- Check for A Date
Examine your bottle of olive oil for a harvesting date. The harvest date is not the same as the best by date. Neither of these dates should be more than 2 years in difference from the purchase date. Olive oil has a fragile taste that can begin to break down over time. Not to mention the risk of it going rancid. A harvest date may be hard to find on a bottle and will most likely be in small to tiny text.
How to Tell if Your Olive Oil is Fake or Not
Approximately 70% of the olive oil sold around the world is fake; The problem is figuring out if your olive oil is real or counterfeit. There are many different methods to self-test your olive oil. The most popular way to test olive oil is a simple taste test. Even the most mature palate can’t always tell the difference between real olive oil and fake. This is especially true when you don’t know for sure if you have ever even had real olive oil or if every bottle you have purchased has been a fraud. The taste test theory was debunked because experts couldn’t tell real olive oil from the altered ones.
The refrigeration method to test olive oil
The next olive oil test that many people depend on is the refrigeration method. Since olive oil is mainly monounsaturated fats, It should begin to solidify when refrigerated. If you place your olive oil in the refrigerator and it doesn’t become cloudy or solidify, it is fake. After the fake olive oil distribution, the method was found to be unreliable. Low-grade olive oil would still begin to thicken during refrigeration. This is due to the small amount of olive oil that it does contain.
The oil lamp method to test olive oil
One other method is the oil lamp method. Extra virgin olive oil should be potent enough to keep an oil lamp burning without producing any smoke. This method is considered unreliable. Other oils are also capable of keeping a wick lit without the production of smoke. Thus, leaving this method to be just as unreliable as the others. The bottom line is that there is no foolproof way to check your own olive oil at home. The best way to guarantee that you are purchasing authentic olive oil is to look for an authentic seal of approval or purchase your olive oil from a farmer you know and trust.
Quality Seal of Approval
Look for a quality seal on the olive oil bottle. There are several quality seal programs that have been set into place to provide customers with an additional measurement of quality control. The oils go through a sensory testing and muss pass chemical testing. Some of the individual agencies have other forms of monitoring in place to ensure their standards are met. Purchasing olive oil that has a seal of approval from any of following agencies is one of the best ways to verify that you are in fact purchasing high quality, authentic olive oil.
USDA Quality Monitoring Program
- A voluntary seal program that monitors products via random sight samples and chemical testing that includes fatty acid composition.
North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA)
- Certifies its oils by completing random testing of its member’s oils. The NAOOA uses a stricter chemical testing gauge than the USDA quality monitoring program. The NAOOA program is also voluntary.
California Olive Oil Council
- Test samples that have been submitted for quality and authenticity. They test olive oil through sensory procedures and chemical analysis. However, they test fewer chemical analyses than the NAOOA and the USDA.
Extra Virgin Alliance (EVA)
- A non-profit trade association aimed to restore consumer trust in the olive oil market. EVA’s seal program is world-wide and they receive their samples directly from store shelves.
Nearly all alterations of olive oil happen from the middleman, not the farmers. Farmers sell their olive oil in bulk to corporate buyers. This way it will bring in more money. Cutting out the corporation and buying from a small family-owned farms or co-ops can typically guarantee a good quality oil. Knowing your farmer and source means no middleman and likely no fraudulent alterations to your oil. During studies and testing, researchers have found that artisan and locally produced oils have always passed every test of authenticity.
Being able to purchase olive oil locally is not a luxury that everyone has. Unfortunately, local olive oil is not available in every area. That leaves consumers still searching for an alternative to purchasing olive oil from mass distributors. The best way to combat this issue is to research online farm direct distributors.