Is Your Olive Oil Fake? Here’s How to Find Out
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
Looking at weekly supermarket ads, you might see some enticing deals on extra virgin olive oil. Some places advertise cold pressed olive oil from Italy for as little as $3.99! The old me would have thought that was an amazing deal and stocked up for the year. Now, I know better having read an alarming book called “Extra Virginity, the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil,” by author and journalist Tom Mueller who has become one of the world’s authorities on olive oil and olive oil fraud-a story of globalization, deception, and crime in the food industry. According to his book, really good olive oil costs 6 euros (almost 8 dollars) just to produce alone, before bottling, branding, and marketing. So is $3.99 a good deal? You bet it is, but 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. Even the most well-intentioned shopper searching for “Cold pressed, organic, extra virgin olive oil, made in Italy,” can still be duped by the label. That oil with all of its sunny descriptions could very well be a subgrade oil that has nothing to do with olives and thus does not offer the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of the real deal. The flavor suffers dramatically as well.
Mueller in his book bravely exposes the corruption and greed behind this commodity. He describes how producers take rotten olives, or worse, soybean or hazelnut oil and add chlorophyll or beta-carotene to make the oil green. He also describes how they deodorize the oil (by heating the oil at mild temperatures) to erase any bad smells or flavors. He exposes how the mafia or big producers try to control the many aspects of oil production in Italy–even when whistleblowers expose them and win in court. He demonstrates how even our own FDA cannot monitor whether the oil you buy in the United States is truly organic or not. His book inspired me to create this video below, where I talk about how the five ways you can tell if your olive oil is fake:
Our tastes have been eroded by the glut of mediocre olive oils, where consumers have been guided to value a mild smoothness of flavor versus the robust, rich, fruity and peppery taste of good quality oil. I had the privilege of meeting Mueller at his book signing in California. He made the excellent point that olives are a fruit, and just like we value the quality of fresh fruit juice, the same applies to olive oil. Not only that, I learned that good olive oil is very difficult and expensive to produce. So how can one spot a good quality olive oil?
- 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.
Below are my top picks for olive oil. Not only are they all delicious, but they have also been vetted for being authentic:
Daskara Palestina Prima, West Bank, Palestine
Canaan Fair Trade Olive Oil, West Bank, Palestine
Bozzano Olive Ranch, Stockton, California
California Olive Ranch, Oroville, California
Crudo, Puglia, Italy
Cobram, Victoria, Australia
Corto Olive Oil, Stockton, California
Marchesi De Frescobaldi Laudemio, Tuscany, Italy
Marques de Valdueza, Extremadura, Spain
The Olive Press, Sonoma, California
Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, food writer, and host of the 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 and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/