The Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fraud

olive oilThe Italian consumer protection magazine II Test conducted a study of 20 bottles of extra virgin olive oil. Nine of the twenty didn’t meet EU standards for extra virgin olive oil labeling rules, such as degree of acidity. Popular olive oil brands were implicated and are now being investigated by prosecutors in Turin, Italy. Among the brands under fire for misrepresenting their olive oil as “extra virgin” are Carapelli and Bertolli—which are actually owned by the Spanish company SOS Cuetara—Santa Sabina, Coricelli, Sasso, Primadonna, and Antica Badia.

This isn’t the first study to implicate olive oil producers in selling poor quality product. A study out of UC Davis revealed that 69% of imported extra virgin olive oil failed to meet international standards. To avoid the extra virgin olive oil fraud, perhaps it’s time to get local? The UC Davis study also showed that 90% of California manufactured extra virgin olive oil passed international standards.

How Does Olive Oil Earn the Extra Virgin Label?

Extra virgin olive oil is at the top of the olive oil hierarchy, with virgin olive oil following, and plain olive oil holding last place. Extra virgin carries a 30-40% higher price tag than its virgin relative because it comes from the first press of the olives and supposedly has a higher concentration of antioxidants and nutrients.

Extra virgin olive oil carries a distinct taste and smell and color, but the average consumer typically doesn’t know what to look out for. This is made worse by the masking efforts of olive oil producers, who lace the olive oil with chemicals to cover up poor quality. Numerous studies have shown that olive oil is likely cut with colorants and less costly oils like sunflower seed oils, which are rich in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs).

How to Get Your Money’s Worth

Extra virgin olive oil should always be stored in a dark bottle, such as dark amber or green, in order to protect the oil from going rancid and losing antioxidant power. Don’t get roped in by labels that don’t really mean anything but that sound good—such as “cold-pressed.” This label used to carry weight when olive oil was manufactured using hydraulic presses and there was a difference between first (cold) pressed and second (hot pressed). But this process is now outdated, and doesn’t really clue you in to what you’re getting.

To get a better idea of how fresh and nutrient concentrated your olive oil is, look on the back label for the harvest date. The farther it is from the two-year expiration mark, the fresher your extra virgin olive oil is.

Don’t get lured in by romantic geographic locations like Greece, Spain, or Italy. Chances are high that the bottle of extra virgin olive oil you’re holding is actually made somewhere else and then shipped to these countries for export. Instead, try to buy domestic. You can even taste test local olive oil from farmer’s markets, or from stores that sell authentic olive oil from drums.

You can also try the fridge test. Stick your bottle of extra virgin olive oil in the fridge for a day or two. If it solidifies, you might not know for sure that it is pure, but you will know that it isn’t tainted by PUFA-rich oils.