Fake Olive Oil?

Over the past 35 years the consumption of olive oil has increased more than 10-fold in the U.S.  It has gone from 29 metric tons (MT) in 1980 to 327 MT in 2015. Oil became more widely used with the popularity of the Mediterranean diet and made the oil a $16 billion a year industry.  It has also led to fraud and corruption.

Larry Olmsted, an investigative journalist and food critic reveals in his book, “Real Food/Fake Food,” a dark side of this normally healthy food.  Tests reveal that anywhere for 60 to 90% of the olive oils sold in American grocery stores and restaurants are adulterated with cheap, oxidized omega-6 vegetable oils.  Some of these are sunflower oil or peanut oil and non-human grade olive oils that are harmful to health in a number of ways. The extra virgin is often diluted with other less expensive oils as hazelnut, soybean, corn, sunflower, palm, sesame, grape seed and walnut.  They will not show on the label, but it will be difficult for most people to discern that their olive oil is not 100% pure.

We can no longer think the extra virgin olive oil if high quality just because it comes from Italy.  Most of what is now exported from Italy is not their best product. The mafia has infiltrated virtually all areas of the olive oil business, including harvesting, pricing, transportation and the supermarkets.  They’ve infiltrated the entire food chain from farm to fork. At least half of all the extra virgin olive oil sold in Italy is adulterated as well. 

In the U.S. the chances of getting the real McCoy is even slimmer, with as much as 90% of it being adulterated.  

Pure olive oil that’s minimally processed contains health-promoting antioxidants and phenolics, providing it hasn’t been oxidized. If it has been, it might already be on the verge of going bad. The “use by” or “sell by” date on the bottle doesn’t mean a lot, as there is no regulation assuring that the oil will remain of high quality until that date.  You really need to know the “pressed on” date or “harvest” date because olives go bad almost immediately after being picked. Those dates should be less than 6 months old when you use it.

Consider buying olive oil from countries besides Italy that also produce very fine, high quality oils.  Some countries are Australia, Chile, South Africa and even California produces some high-quality oils. Look for the stores, such as gourmet stores, where taste testing is allowed and encouraged.  Once you taste a good olive oil, you can never go back to the bad stuff.

Keep your olive oil in a cool, dark place, purchase smaller bottles to ensure freshness and immediately replace the cap after each pour.  Putting one drop of astaxanthin into the bottle will help to protect it from oxidation. You can identify defective olive oil by rancidity, fusty flavor, moldy flavor and wine or vinegar flavor. Some tips in choosing your olive oil are:

  • Harvest date-choose early or fall harvest
  • Color and flavor-an almost luminescent green color
  • Labeling terms-ensure it’s labeled “extra virgin”
  • Storage and tasting-find a seller who stores oil in a clean, temperature-controlled stainless steel container topped with an inert gas as nitrogen
  • Storage and use-keep in a cool and dark place, replace cap immediately
  • Bottles-those that protect against light
  • Quality seals-Organization like California Olive Oil Council and Australian Olive Association
  • Prolonging freshness – by adding the astaxanthin to the bottle.

Now that you know the facts between the fake and the real, just get out there and enjoy everything you cook with your “real” high-quality extra virgin olive oil!

Dr Fredda Branyon