How Authentic is Your Olive Oil?

Various Brands of Olive Oil

“Much of the oil sold as Italian olive oil does not come from Italy, but from countries like Spain, Morocco and Tunisia.  After being picked, the olives are driven to a mill where they are cleaned, crushed and pressed.  This oil is then pumped into a tanker truck and shipped to Italy, the world’s largest importer of olive oil.  Meanwhile,  shipments of soybean oil or other cheap oils are labeled olive oil, and smuggled into the same port.  At some refineries, the olive oil is cut with cheaper oil.  Other refineries are even worse.  They mix vegetable oils with beta-carotene, to  disguise the flavor, and chlorophyll for coloring, to produce fake olive oil.  Bottles are labeled “Extra Virgin” and branded with “Packed in Italy” or “Imported from Italy.”  (Oddly, this is legal, even if the oil does not come from Italy–although the source countries are supposed to be listed on the label).  The “olive oil” is shipped around the world to countries like the U.S., where one study found that 69 percent of imported olive oil labeled “extra virgin” did not meet, in an expert taste and smell test, the standard for that label.   To combat fraud, a special branch of the Italian Carabinieri is trained to detect bad oil.  Lab tests are easy to fake, so instead the policy rely on smell.  Police officers regularly raid refineries in an attempt to regulate the industry.  But producers–many of whom have connections to powerful politicians–are rarely prosecuted.  All this fraud, however, has created a drop in olive oil prices.  Corrupt producers have undermined themselves, effectively committing economic suicide.”

 – Excerpt from The Extra Virgin Suicide: The Adulteration of Italian Olive Oil by Nicholas Blechman

A study conducted by the University of California, Davis collected various “extra virgin” olive oils sold in 3 locations within California and performed laboratory tests to determine if they met the standards, as mandated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and International Olive Council (IOC), necessary to be considered “extra virgin”–the highest quality of olive oil.  69 percent of tested imported “extra virgin” olive oils failed IOC/USDA sensory (smell and taste) tests, whereas 10 percent of California olive oil samples failed.  31 percent of samples that failed sensory tests failed UV absorbance tests (for oxidation), and 83 percent failed German/Australian  DAGs (1,2-Diacylglycerol content) tests, which “indicates that the samples were oxidized, adulterated with cheaper refined oils, and/or of poor quality” due to being “made from damaged and overripe olives,” or improperly storing or processing the oil (Frankel et al. 2010).

Brands that failed to meet organic, extra virgin olive oil standards:

  • Bertolli (All locations)
  • Carapelli (All locations)
  • Colavita (2 of 3 Failed)
  • Star (1 Failed)
  • Pompeian (All locations)
  • Filippo Berio (2 of 3 Failed)
  • Mazzola (All locations)
  • Mezzetta (All locations)
  • Newman’s Own (2 of 3 Failed)
  • Rachael Ray  (2 of 3 Failed)
  • Safeway  (2 of 3 Failed)
  • Whole Foods  (2 of 3 Failed)
  • Walmart (Great Value 100%) (1 Failed)
  • Bariani (1 of 2 Failed)
  • Also indicated by additional report: Braggs, Goya, Trader Joes

Brands Met organic, extra virgin olive oil standards:

  • California Olive Ranch
  • Corto Olive
  • Lucini
  • Kirkland Organic
  • Lucero (Ascolano)
  • McEvoy Ranch Organic
  • Also indicated by additional report: Cobram Estate

This report may not be new to some of you, but it just further confirms the deception that occurs with food and other product labeling.  Many don’t solely use olive oil for cooking, but for cosmetic purposes on their skin and hair.  Knowing that olive oil, particularly organic, can be contaminated with genetically modified soybean oil or corn oil is troubling.  It is also troubling that extra virgin and/or organic oils are more expensive, despite not truly living up to quality standards.  I have a bottle of extra virgin olive oil from Trader Joe’s and a bottle of “Pure Olive Oil.”  The extra virgin oil states packed in Italy, whereas the pure olive oil states the various countries of origin and that the oil is from refined and virgin oils.  Sometimes buying organic does not unequivocally indicate the highest quality, though you may be avoiding pesticides and GMOs.

Reference:

Frankel, E. N., Mailer, R. J., Shoemaker, C. F., Wang, S. C., and J. D. Flynn.  2010.  “Tests indicate that imported “extra virgin” olive oil often fails international and USDA standards.”  UC Davis Olive Center.

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4 thoughts on “How Authentic is Your Olive Oil?”

  1. Very interesting and enlightening post. I used EVOO all the time. I will be more vigilant now with my selections. Thanks so much and thanks for stopping by my blog.

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