You may be surprised to learn that all extra virgin olive oil is not made the same, even though they are marketed as being the same. In fact, the majority of the brands on your grocery store shelf are not even truly extra virgin olive oil at all. They may just be a cheaper oil made to appear as olive oil.
Currently, Italy is the second biggest producer of olive oil behind Spain. In 2008 it was discovered that something fishy was occurring within the Italian olive oil industry. The smell of deception was so strong that an operation called “Operation Golden Oil” was conducted. The operation resulted in 23 arrests and the confiscation of 85 farms. The reason behind the confiscation was that companies were found to be adding chlorophyll to soybean and sunflower oils, but instead of labeling it as soybean or sunflower oil, they were selling it as extra virgin olive oil instead. What potentially made it even worse was that some of the oils didn’t even come from Italy but instead came from other Mediterranean countries.
The president of the Federconsumatori, a consumer association was quoted as saying “The damage caused by this deceit is enormous, not just for consumers but also for the entire country and for the image of products that are made in Italy”. The issue is something that is not taken lightly in the global food industry.
Afterward, the Australian government decided to establish some extra guidelines. Olive oil companies were to submit samples of their olive oil for a lab test, but after sending them in they all failed to pass before 2012. As a result of these scandals coming to light, the University of California ran tests on 124 different samples from eight brands of extra virgin olive oil. Unsurprisingly, a little over 70% of the samples failed the test.
The problem with olive oil manufacturers faking their product comes from the fact that extra virgin olive oil is supposed to be of the highest quality. Extra virgin olive oil is made by crushing olive oils in a process that is entirely organic, free of chemicals and industrial refining. Regular Virgin olive oil is cheaper and tends to be more acidic. The increased price is an incentive for shady farmers to try and turn an extra profit each year. Another incentive is that in years that olive harvests are down, olive oil farmers try to supplement the lost supply with other cheaper and more abundant oils.
These samples didn’t fail the tests because they were bad samples of olive oil, but because they were not actually olive oil at all. They could be a combination of lower grade oils like canola or sunflower oil that is manipulated to appear as olive oil. A technique used to fake the olive oil could involve deodorizing the cheaper oil to rid the oil of its unique properties, coloring the cheaper oil to mimic the olive oil look, and giving it artificial flavoring to mimic the olive oil taste. It may not even be the brand itself doing the faking, as the supplier could instead be truly at fault.
If you are worried about your extra virgin olive oil being fake after reading this article, luckily it isn’t too difficult to find out. Unless you are a chef, it is going to be very difficult to taste test. Instead, you can try refrigerating the olive oil. If it solidifies, it means that it is full of monosaturated fat and is likely to be extra virgin olive oil. If it does not solidify, it could be indicative of some trickery at play. There is a level of doubt that remains, even if it does solidify as olive oil that is cut with cheaper oils could also do the same. If it doesn’t solidify at all, however, it is sure to be a fake oil. Another method that can be used to tell if your olive oil is fake or not, is to test it out as fuel for an oil lamp. Extra virgin olive oil can keep the flame burning, so if it quickly burns out, it is likely that the oil you used was a different oil.
The brands that failed to meet the standards and pass the testing include Bertolli, Star, Carapelli, Colavita, Pompeian, Primadonna, Santa Sabina, Antica Badia, Coricelli, and Sasso. Alternatively, some of the brands that are known to be certified are California Olive Ranch, Cobram Estate, Lucini, Lucero, Kirkland, McEvoy Ranch, Barliani, Corto Olive, Omaggio, Olea Estates, and Ottavio.Related: Safest Cooking Oils
If you want to make sure that you are getting the best and most authentic olive oil, it may be in your best interest to only buy from a short list of trusted brands or from local farmers. If you are in California for example, try looking for a seal that says “COOC Extra Certified Virgin”, as that is proof of it being rigorously tested. There are other seals that may indicate authenticity, but that could depend on your region.
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