I love my olive oils. From flavored-infused to straight up, I use them for cooking, on my salads, my fried eggs – seriously, just about everything and anything. It’s wonderfully versatile and imparts a beautiful taste to my foods, and I can’t envision cooking without it. Problem is: Up until a year ago, I’m not sure if I had ever really tasted the real stuff. You know: Olive Oil. What it clearly says on my label here:
Imagine my disgust when I found out last year that most of the olive oil, including some sold at my favorite grocery store Trader Joe’s likely contains oils other than 100% Olive Oil. At first, I was incredulous that such a scam could be pulled on such a large scale. But the more and more I read, I realized: most of the olive oils my parents…and their parents, parents were buying… were likely adulterated – a lot. How much? Well, today it’s been estimated that over 70% of the oils on our grocery shelves are fake!
The present-day scam is now linked to seven well-known Italian olive producers including those sold in the US under the Bertolli and Santa Sabina brands. These companies were knowingly involved in mislabeling their bottles and diluting whatever Olive Oil they were using, with cheaper oils like vegetable, soy and sunflower oil. Some for many, many years. Understandably this has elicited a major public outcry as olive oil consumers and lovers seek to find, what they thought they were getting – authentic, 100% olive oil.
With the revelation that this food fraud and scam has been going on for millennials, how can we, as consumers, tell if the olive oil in our kitchen is fake?
Tips on Finding Authentic Olive Oil:
- If the olive oil seems too cheap to be real (like that $8.00 bottle of Bertolli), chances are extremely high it’s a fake.
- Be very wary of any bottle that says something like “100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil – – bottled in Italy”. Yeah maybe it’s bottled in Italy, but it ain’t from Italy and it’s not Extra Virgin. Additionally Italy seems to be the source for much of the illicit olive oil trade.
- Find local producers or Co-ops available near you and purchase directly from them. Here in Raleigh, we buy our oils directly from Mid-Town Olive Oil which purchases only fresh, unblended oils from Mediterranean climates around the world. I continually amazed by the differences in tastes each region’s oils have.
- Real Olive oil does not taste bland. While each region has its own distinctive palette, all olive oil is going to have a pungent, peppery, taste. I always cough when I try a taste test. Blended oils, on the other hand, are going to be bland.
- Avoid buying olive oil labeled “olive oil” or “olive pomace oil” “pure” and “light” oil, because they have been chemically refined. Also purchase olive oil labeled “extra virgin,” if possible. It doesn’t guarantee quality, but it has more chances of being an extra virgin olive oil than if it is not labeled at all.
- Good olive oil goes bad after a couple of months. Like essential oils and beer; a good manufacturer will use dark amber, brown, blue or green bottle will keep light from deteriorating the oil.
- Buy from producers in the U.S. While not perfect, growers and manufactures in California and Washington has a great track record for authenticity as well as the right climate to grow the olives.
- Good olive oil doesn’t have to look like the canola oil your mom used to cook with. Real olive oil come in a bunch of different colors from a light green to pale yellow.
- Purchasing an olive oil with the International Olive Oil Council certification, which is supposed to audit the grove-to-store shelf supply chain, is a definite YES!
Keep in mind: a complete fail-proof test to determine olive oil does not exist. Even experts have a difficult time discerning real 100% olive oil from the fake stuff (Check out this article on the subject from the Guardian blog). However by following the tips above, you can significantly cut down the chances of buying another fake bottle of olive oil and supporting this disgusting scam.
Thanks and good luck!