The first time I heard about fake olive oil I thought, “How could it be fake? I buy high-quality olive oil and the only ingredient on the label is olive oil!” Olive oil is olive oil, right?
Well, apparently not. There are many issues in the olive oil industry. It is impossible to rely solely on the nutrition facts label for assurance. In fact, color and taste are also unreliable. So, how can you know if your olive oil is fake or not? First, let’s expose the lies in the olive oil industry. Who's involved? And why? Are you ready for this? The olive oil industry has been corrupted by the Mafia.
It sounds like some kind of conspiracy theory, yet it’s true. In fact, arrests were made in Italy where the Piromalli clan -- part of the 'Ndrangheta criminal network -- was discovered exporting adulterated olive oil to the United States (source
). The reason? Money, of course. It’s been reported that the Mafia has profited approximately $16 billion a year through this fraudulent process (source
)! (These guys are also in the wine and cheese game, so be careful there as well.)
Inflammatory Oils In Olive Oil?
In many instances, olive oil is adulterated and mixed with other oils. However, in some cases, the olive oil is completely replaced by an inferior oil. The most frustrating thing? Not only are we being swindled, but the oils used in place of olive oil are also unhealthy, inflammatory oils that many of us try to avoid. Incidentally, this not only affects our pocketbooks -- it’s impacting our health, too! The oils used to “cut” olive oil include:
- sunflower oil
- canola oil
- soybean oil
- nut oils, such as hazelnut oil (which could be extremely problematic for those with nut allergies!)
In the case mentioned above, the Piromalli clan labeled and sold olive pomace oil as extra virgin olive oil. The first and second pressings of olives (to produce olive oil) leave behind a pulp. Then, this leftover pulp is pressed to make olive pomace oil -- a very low-quality oil. To make matters worse, the process of extracting the oil from the leftover pulp often involves chemical solvents. The end result is far from extra virgin olive oil!
How Fake Olive Oil Is Made To Look & Taste Real
Lest you think this is a far-off, never-going-to-happen-here kind of story, the oils in the Piromalli clan case sold in stores throughout New York and Chicago. So, yes, it is happening stateside. Companies have other tricks, too. For instance, beta carotene is often added to fake oils to make them look and taste more like the real thing. Fraudsters also add chlorophyll (for color) to make fake oils look like real olive oil. (Source
.) Sadly, things get even worse. Independent testing at UC Davis found that over 60% of store-bought olive oils did not meet standards and should not be labeled as extra virgin (source
). In fact, many well-known brands failed the test -- brands you may have in your pantry right now. The report concluded,
[T]top-selling imported brands of 'extra virgin' olive oil sold in the United States and purchased at retail locations throughout California often failed the IOC’s [International Olive Council] sensory standards for extra virgin olive oil. ...[T]esting indicated that the samples failed extra virgin olive oil standards for reasons that include one or more of the following: (a) oxidation by exposure to elevated temperatures, light, and/or aging; (b) adulteration with cheaper refined olive oil; and (c) poor quality oil made from damaged and overripe olives, processing flaws, and/or improper oil storage.” (Source)
Unfortunately, even unadulterated oils often don't meet standards
because of issues with quality. True extra virgin olive oil tainted with mold or ruined by oxidation is no longer a healthy oil. Is your olive oil fake? Here's how to spot an imposter:
#1 -- It is labeled “Bottled in Italy”.
Brands label oil with "Bottled in Italy," to make you think it's true Italian olive oil. The term, "Bottled in Italy" explains where oil is packaged, not where the olives were grown and pressed. It's not the same as "Made in Italy." If it says "Bottled in Italy", Italian olives were probably not
used. Italy imports, packages, and exports oil to other countries. So the label “Bottled in Italy” means very little. Speaking of labels, the term "pure" doesn't mean anything either. There is no standard for "pure" olive oil.
#2 -- Country of origin is not listed on the label.
The country of origin should be on the label, but you can't always rely on this either. Cheap oil is often mislabeled. Can't find a country of origin on the label? The olive oil is likely a fake.
#3 -- It’s ridiculously cheap.
Be suspicious of extra virgin olive oils that cost a mere $6. Olive oil mixed with cheaper oils is generally less expensive. Real, quality olive oil is much more expensive. However, fake oil masquerades as the real thing (including price); so that is tricky, too.
How To Find Real Olive Oil
There are 2 ways to be certain that your olive oil is the real thing. 1.) Learn how to spot the fakes. 2.) Know what real olive oil looks like. To keep from being tricked, we must do both.
#1 -- The origin is easy to determine.
You shouldn’t have to dig too hard to find out where your food comes from. Investigate the origin of your olive oil. Then, determine where it's produced. The olive oil produced by small farms or co-ops is more likely to be real. Alternatively, adulterated oil is more likely to be purchased in bulk from different farmers, then funneled through corporate buyers.
#2 -- The olive oil is tested.
Companies wishing to produce pure, unadulterated olive oil will usually test their oils. At the very least, they will make their oil available for testing.
#3 -- Learn companies' production practices.
oil is produced is just as important as knowing where
oil is produced. For this reason, you can and should call companies and ask: Is the oil made from young olives? Does it come from a small farm? On the other hand, is it mass-produced? Is it bottled near where it is made? Furthermore, how is it transported? What criteria are used for selecting olives for oil? How soon after harvest are the olives pressed?
#4 -- Check the packaging.
Olive oil should be stored in glass or metal containers to maintain its integrity and freshness. Exposure to air and light, as well as poor storage practices, lead to oxidation and rancidity. Consequently, olive oil stored in plastic bottles is likely not high quality. Companies who are producing real, quality oil know this and use opaque glass or metal bottles. In any case, even real olive oil which has oxidized or gone rancid due to poor storage practices is no longer healthy.
#5 -- Taste it.
Real olive oil should have a strong, clean flavor. Conversely, bland or musty-tasting oil is likely rancid, fake, and/or adulterated.
#6 -- Buy from a trustworthy company.
Yes, it's really that simple. Once you find an honest, transparent company, you can source high-quality olive oil from them!
Wilderness Family Naturals' Olive Oil Is The Real Deal!
WFN's Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
is produced by a co-op of small farmers through an extremely careful and rigorous process. Most importantly, WFN is open and honest about where and how their oil is made. WFN's Extra Virgin Olive Oil is produced by centrifuge, so it is never exposed to heat. Furthermore, the farmers are very particular about the olives they use and discard any that do not meet the highest standard. After production, WFN's olive oil is stored in dark glass bottles to preserve freshness and integrity. Finally, WFN's Extra Virgin Olive Oil is certified organic and non-GMO verified.
What brand of olive oil are you using? Have you checked it out? Is it a fake or the real deal?