Are You Buying Fake Olive Oil? How to Differentiate Counterfeit Oils from the Real Thing
By: Blanche Shaheen/ Arab America contributing writer
Extra virgin olive oil has been foundational for the cuisine of Arab countries, particularly the Levant, since ancient times. Arabs have also used this liquid gold as an elixir, for ailments like the common cold or cough, or as a beauty remedy for both skin and hair. However, did you know that most of the olive oils in western supermarkets are fake or counterfeit? Many so-called olive oils are a mix of cheap oils mixed with chemicals to cover up their smells and rancidity. At best these oils are devoid of flavor, and at worst they lack the rich polyphenols, or antioxidants that provide healing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Supermarket ads might offer enticing deals on so-called extra virgin olive oil, and advertise cold pressed, organic olive oil from Italy for as little as $3.99. While this looks like an amazing deal at face value, authentic olive oils cost $10 minimum just to produce alone, before bottling, branding, and marketing. So is $3.99 a good deal? Not really, because you get what you pay for. Olive oil is one of the most tainted food products from the European Union, much of it is counterfeit.
Many counterfeit producers take rotten olives, or worse, soybean and add chlorophyll or beta carotene to make the oil green. They then deodorize the oil (by heating the oil at mild temperatures) to erase any bad smells or flavors. The literal mafia as well as big producers try to control many aspects of oil production in Italy–even when whistleblowers expose them and win in court. Even the American FDA cannot monitor all of the oils in the United States.
As a result of years of this dishonest trading, people in the west have lost touch with what real olive oil should taste like. Consumers have been guided to value a general lack of flavor versus the robust, rich, fruity and peppery taste of good quality oil. Olives are a fruit, and just like we value the quality of fresh fruit juice, the same applies to olive oil. Olive oil should always be fresh for optimum flavor.
The most common questions are: Where is the best olive oil produced? Does putting the olive oil in the refrigerator help you figure out authenticity? As our food supply chains are getting disrupted, how is this affecting olive oil quality? All of these questions are answered in this video: https://youtu.be/lcDYBvWq6bA
For more guidance on sourcing quality olive oil, here are more tips below:
- Pay attention to the harvest date on the label. It’s a good sign when the label defines when the olives were harvested, and where the oil was produced, not just bottled or packed.
- The COOC seal, otherwise known as the California Olive Oil Commission is another good sign. Olive oils with this certification have passed chemical and taste tests set for California and have passed as 100% real extra virgin olive oil.
- Follow your own senses and take the time to smell and taste the oil. A rancid or tasteless flavor indicates a bad quality or tainted oil.
- Look for a single source country. The blended olive oils from many different countries in one bottle is a red flag, as it brings in more opportunities for lack of oversight
- Taste your olive oil first, by going to a local olive oil store near you where oftentimes they have tastings. After you do all of this research you can find the olive oil you like and stick to it. Try to support these producers, as big box stores are trying to drive them out of business
- Do not put your olive oil in the refrigerator–not only will that damage the olive oil, but this is not a reliable test to see if the oil is authentic or not.
- Support Palestinian olive oil farmers. Palestinians have taken pride in their olive oil for millenia, and treat the olive tree as a member of their family. Just the thought of counterfeit olive oil is almost sacrilegious, as olive oil is the pride of Palestinian identity and culture. Their olive oil is rich, fruity, peppery, and robust. However, they have dealt with many challenges, as they are often brutally attacked during their harvests. To try fairtrade, organic olive oil from Palestine, you can use code BlancheTV for 10% off at www.HarvestPeace.com
Check out Arab America’s blog here!
Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine” which you can order here: https://secure.mybookorders.com/mbo_index.php?isbn=9781545675113 She is also a journalist, and host of the popular cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond. You can check out her cooking video tutorials at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/