Did You Know… Your Olive Oil is Probably Fake?

Olive oil is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and polyphenols shown to help lower the risk of heart disease. Rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, olive oil can help protect against oxidative stress, cancer, and diabetes, and promote a healthy inflammation response.Sliced bread Ciabatta and extra virgin Olive oil on wooden background

But all these health benefits don’t apply if the olive oil you are using isn’t really the premium olive oil you thought you were getting when you paid that high price. Recent research is blowing the whistle on the unscrupulous, profiteering tactics of the olive oil industry.

Food Fraud

A full 10% of the world’s food supply is tainted by food fraud deception. According to a 2014 report from the United States Congressional Research Service, olive oil accounts for 16% of food fraud deceptions. America imports more olive oil than any other country, but studies show that 70-80% of imported olive oils are actually counterfeits!

In 2010, UC Davis researchers revealed that 69% of imported extra virgin olive oils weren’t extra virgin at all…and in some cases contained very little actual olive oil.  They failed testing for 1 of 3 reasons:

  • They were adulterated with cheaper refined oils, such as sunflower or canola oil.
  • They had lost flavor and were described as “rancid, fusty, and musty” due to oxidation.
  • They were of poor quality and harvested from overripe olives, and not processed or stored appropriately.

The study did, however, show that 90% of domestic California varieties of extra-virgin olive oil were authentic and unadulterated, good news for Americans with access to California-produced olive oil.

Earlier in 2016, 60 Minutes ran a segment on Italy’s olive oil industry, highlighting its Mafia connections. Olive oil producers have come under fire for flavoring up an industrial seed oil, like safflower oil, with chlorophyll and beta-carotene, and then selling it as extra-virgin olive oil! Some manufactures run the con by mixing rancid oil with deodorizing chemicals. Consumers are none the wiser, and manufacturers enjoy a nice profit.

Don’t Get Duped 

While you can’t entirely trust a first cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil label, expert’s say its your best bet. If you’re purchasing extra-virgin olive oil from Italy, Guy Campanile, the Italian-American producer of the 60-Minute exposé, suggests buying a bottle made in Sicily or Puglia. Price point is a worthwhile consideration. A bottle that costs just $7 or $8 is most likely too cheap to be true, Campanile points out.

It’s also best to purchase local and seasonal. If you’re in the States, consider purchasing California extra-virgin olive oil with a stamp of approval from the California Olive Oil Council: COOC Certified Extra Virgin.

If imports are your only option, then Larry Olmsted, author of Real Food, Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It, recommends olive oils from Chile or Australia as your purest option.

Grove of olive treesOnce you get the bottle home, there’s always the fridge test. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil cause it to solidify at 39° F. If your olive oil doesn’t solidify, then it’s been mixed with vegetable oils, which contain mostly polyunsaturated fats. The test isn’t foolproof, however, because high-oleic fatty acid versions of seed oils will solidify in the fridge as well. So, just because it’s solid doesn’t ensure it’s 100% authentic. But at least you’ll be able to rule out some impostors.

Perhaps nothing beats the taste test. Authentic olive oil will taste subtly like olives and travel down your throat with a pungent kick.