The olive oil in your kitchen is likely not what you think it is. Fake olive oil is literally everywhere on the market – up to 70% of all store-bought extra virgin olive oils in the US are fake. And by fake I mean cut with cheaper oils.
In 2008, more than 400 Italian police officers conducted an operation called “Operation Golden Oil,” which resulted in 23 arrests and confiscation of 85 farms. Companies were adding chlorophyll to sunflower and soybean oil and selling it as extra virgin olive oil. As a result of these raids, the Australian government decided to allow olive oil brands to submit their oils for lab tests, allowing them to certify companies as pure “extra-virgin olive oil.” Alas, every company failed to gain certification in 2012.
Prompted by all of these olive oil scams, researchers at the University of California decided to test 124 different samples from eight major brands of extra-virgin olive oil. Over 70% of the imported oils failed the test.
What does it mean when an oil fails an extra-virgin test? It essentially means that all of these oils claiming to be “extra-virgin” are actually cut with cheaper, lower-grade oils (like canola oil, sunflower oil or cola oil). The oil is them deodorized, coloured, and then flavoured and sold as “extra-virgin” oil to a producer. So it isn’t actually the company brand who is at fault here – it is the sneaky supplier at work.
Fake Olive Oil: Which Brands to Steer Clear of
Brands That Failed to Meet the Extra Virgin Olive Oil Standards:
– Santa Sabina
– Antica Badia
Filippo Berio, Mazola, Mezzetta, Newman’s Own, Safeway, and Whole Foods are also selling fake olive oil.
Brands that Can be Trusted:
– California Olive Ranch
– Cobram Estate
– Kirkland Organic
– Lucero (Ascolano)
– McEvoy Ranch Organic
Aside from Brands, How Do You Tell if Your Olive Oil is Fake?
Going by taste alone is not enough. There are two tests you can perform that might do the trick:
1. Refrigerate the extra virgin olive oil. If it solidifies, it means that it contains mostly monounsaturated fat, which is good because extra virgin olive oil is mostly monounsaturated, and should grow more solid when cold. Putting your oil in the refrigerator will make it become thick and cloudy. If this doesn’t happen, it’s likely that your oil is not extra-virgin. This isn’t a fool-proof test, however, as the olive oils cut with lower grade oils also cloud over. If the oil you put in the fridge doesn’t thicken at all, though, then you know for sure that the oil is fake.
2. Extra virgin olive oil should be flammable enough to keep an oil lamp burning. However, this test isn’t that dependable, for the same reasons mentioned above. But if the oil doesn’t keep the wick of an oil lamp burning, you know that it contains mostly refined oils.
The best alternative is to buy from the above mentioned companies that you can trust, or, buy from local olive oil farmers. In the United States and Australia, there are certifications that you can look for on bottles. The seal denoting approval by the California Olive Oil Council is labelled as “COOC Certified Extra Virgin.” The Australian Olive Oil Association has a seal labelled as “Australian Extra Virgin Certified.” Other seals of approval are labelled fromItalian Oliver Growers’ Association such as Extra Virgin Alliance (EVA) and UNAPROL.