Fraud: Your Olive Oil Might Be Vegetable Oil, Tips To Spot Fakes

Submitted by Anna Russo on
olive oil

Italy produces about 366 thousand tons of pure olive oil each year, yet 800 thousand tons of olive oil is exported from Italy every year.  How is that possible?  Spain, Greece, and other olive producing nations have the same phenomenon occurring.  Adulterated olive oil is a prolific problem as it is easy to add in the far cheaper vegetable oil with olive oil and increase profits.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), olive oil is one of the most adulterated food products.  An estimated 70% of all olive oil sold in the United States is fake according to Camille Styles, a popular cooking expert help site.

Olive oil is known for its healthy properties and rich flavors but much of the fraudulent olive oil can actually cause health problems says Maria Shepard, a nutritionist with the University of Central Florida, as it is made of rotten, rancid or adulterated vegetable oils and contaminate particulates.

In 2019, the top 20 most popular brands of olive oil were sent to three different labs to test for purity and authenticity.  Additional tests were done by the University of California at Davis, which actually has an Olive Center.  Olive oil is just the oil or juice that is extracted from fresh olives that have not been stored or processed.  The International Olive Council in Madrid, Spain says to quality as “extra virgin”, olive oil must be pulled from fresh olives, no heat, chemicals or other agents can be used in the process and the extracted oil can not go through any additional processing or preparation.

The most common vegetable oils used to mix with olive oil is cheap soybean or seed oil which is mixed with lower grade olive oil that has been chemically refined to achieve an “olive oil taste” says Shepard.  Another common method is to simply take unsold olive oil from last year and mix it into the current year’s harvest.  

Italy has confiscated more than 2,000 tons of fake olive oil since 2016, and has now set up an olive task force to detect and investigate those who might be cheating.  Only last year did the FDA’s counterfeit olive oil enforcement unit begin to actively collect, test and report on fake olive oil.  The result?  76% of the imported olive oil was not pure 100% extra virgin olive oil.

So how do you make sure you get the real deal?  One of the most common ways to avoid getting defrauded is to read the label.  Bottles that say they are a mix of olives or olive oils from multiple countries nearly always contain some amount of vegetable oil or other filler oils says Shepard.  

Next smell it.  It should not have any rancid or off-putting smells.  Then look at the olive oil to see if it is clean and clear.  We went to a local super market and checked for clarity and discover a whopping 8 of the 11 type of olive oil sold contained some amount of particulates, sediment or other cloudy appearances.  Custom and designer olive oil flavors that contain spices are often counterfeit as well as the spices hide the contaminating particulate.

Lastly, check the price.  It is expensive to extract, bottle and ship EEVO, so the cheaper the price the more likely you’re actually buying vegetable oil with a little bit of olive oil for flavor.  We don’t want to get into an olive oil war, so we are not going to publish the brand names of who was pure and who wasn’t.  But using the tips above, and you are likely to ensure you are getting what you pay for.