The top of the line olive oil is extra virgin. This means it’s cold-pressed so the temperature during processing hasn’t exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also supposed to meet high standards of acidity and taste.
Independent tests at the University of California found that 69% of all store-bought extra virgin olive oils in the US are probably fake. This study reported that the following brands failed to meet extra virgin olive oil standards:
- Filippo Berio
- Newman’s Own
- Whole Foods
Seeing brands that pride themselves on being healthy and natural like Newman’s Own and Whole Foods is very disappointing. However, it’s very likely that the fault goes back to the supplier. Apparently, the olive oil mafia has become so adept at their forgeries that even many olive oil “experts” can’t tell real from fake based on taste alone.
Finding the Real Thing
You naturally want to get what you pay for. If you are paying more for extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and you care about your health, you don’t want to be buying diluted, adulterated junk.
Not only will fake oil lack health benefits, it could actually do you harm. Six hundred people died and 25,000 more were hospitalized by bad oil in Spain. While that was highly unusual, I think you get the point.
A test you can try on any olive oil you currently have is to stick it in the fridge and see if it solidifies. If it doesn’t, you definitely don’t have olive oil. If it does this means you may have olive oil. Turning solid will tell you that you have a mostly a monounsaturated oil, but it won’t rule out whether it’s sunflower, safflower, or canola oils have been added. It won’t reveal if your olive oil has been tainted with chemicals, flavorings, or colorings either.
The same University of California study listed the following brands as having met their standards for being true extra virgin olive oil.
- Corto Olive
- California Olive Ranch
- Kirkland Organic
- Lucero (Ascolano)
- McEvoy Ranch Organic
In their September 2012 issue, Consumer Reports published results of their taste test of 138 bottles of extra virgin olive oil from 23 manufacturers. The olive oil was sourced from a variety of countries including the US, Argentina, Greece, Chile, and Italy.
Their general finding was that those produced in California surpassed those from Italy. The two highest scoring olive oils, McEvoy Ranch and Trader Joe’s California Estate, were both from California.
It’s a sad testament to the quality of our food supply when a natural product with a 5,000 year history has been tainted for profit. We can all do our part to stamp out food fraud by voting with our wallets. By buying locally and supporting boutique producers we can send the message that we care about the quality of our food and help to make food fraud less profitable.