Monday, July 23, 2012

The Great Olive Oil Heist

Odds are, you have never actually had real extra virgin olive oil. Shocking, right? I mean, what is it you're buying? Well, you're probably either buying lower quality oil or olive oil mixed with soybean, canola or hazelnut oils, etc. In fact, this little scandal has been on the market for years. The first source I can find is from a 1998 article by Raymond Francis. I only heard about this the past month. Was it my age? My ignorance of the world while the only people I saw during the week were my classmates and my robotics teammates? Frankly, I chock it up to the general degradation of the professional media and not having much word-of-mouth travel. 

The point is, I only heard of this recently, so I'm sharing it with you in case you were in the dark too. Because we're friends. 

In this UC Davis study, negative sensory results of olive oil samples purchased at three different locations throughout California were confirmed with incorrect labeling of "Extra Virgin" olive oil in 86% of the cases, throwing out most of the brands you would ordinarily buy in the store. Brands they list?

These brands failed in all or most samples:

  • Bertolli
  • Carapelli
  • Colavita
  • Filippo Berio
  • Mazzola
  • Mezzetta
  • Newman’s Own
  • Pompeian
  • Rachel Ray
  • Safeway
  • Star
  • Whole Foods
These brands passed in all samples:

  • Corto Olive
  • California Olive Ranch
  • Kirkland Organic
  • Lucero (Ascolano)
  • McEvoy Ranch Organic

Hey, this brand isn't listed, how do I know what to look for? 

(1) Real extra virgin olive oil is always sold in dark bottles or metal containers in order to preserve them, light oxidizes and damages the oil so it would go rancid. Real extra virgin packagers wouldn't risk their product like that. (2) You pay for what you get. When you buy cheap extra virgin olive oil, that's what you're going to get. And if it's expensive and doesn't pass #1's test above, then you're probably getting ripped off. (3) Try to buy from a specialty store if you can and never ever go "store brand" if  you want to get real. (4) California Olive Oil has better test results than imported so if the other factors check out, go for it. Otherwise, don't pay much attention to country. Good olive oil can come from Greece or Spain or France or wherever. (5) Try to buy small bottles to avoid the possibility of an oil sitting too long in its container in less than ideal circumstances. (6) Learn from your mistakes! Do a sample tasting of your olive oil (and your friends' and neighbors' and family's) to see if those brands work. Authentic extra virgin should have a specific taste. Use these terms to help you describe what you're sensing and take this advice to set up an accurate sample scenario for yourself.

If you're feeling really jazzed up by all of this consumer fraud/you like to have parties, set up an olive oil tasting party with your friends where each of you brings your own bottle. Hold a voting contest for each type and use majority rule to figure out the best ones. Give a small bottle of high quality oil to whoever got the most right! (Oh yes, I did just turn fraud into a game.)

You know what really bothers me most about this? Rachel Ray's personal brand of olive oil, the queen of EVOO, failed in 2/3 samples bought in different locations. The lies!!

Additional Sources:

This site has a bunch of recent and archived articles regarding olive oil fraud all over the world:

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