What Is Olive Oil Fraud?

Did you know that 70% of olive oil is actually fake?

70% is more than two-thirds of olive oils on the shelves at your local supermarket. Since legitimate olive oil is expensive to produce, there are many diluted and counterfeit products that claim to be extra virgin olive oil but can actually be harmful to our bodies.

The best olive oil brand has numerous health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties and disease-fighting agents, that you just won’t get from inauthentic olive oils. But how can you tell a real olive oil from a fake one?

Continue reading to learn just how corrupt the olive oil industry can be, why buying “real” olive oil is important, and how to identify the fake stuff.

The history of fraud in the olive oil industry – what are some of the shady practices that take place today?

Adulterated olive oils can contain a blend of inferior quality vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil, palm oil, or canola oil. Olive oil can go bad during a variety of commercial production processes. Olive oil becomes moldy when the olives have been crushed with dirt and mud. Old or rancid olive oils (often characterized by a wax crayon-like taste) are the result of inadequate storage and exposure to damaging light, heat, or air. A grubby or dirty-tasting olive oil is likely contaminated by larvae. When olive flies lay eggs in developing olives, the larvae feed on the pulp—and end up getting processed into the oil.

How can you spot rancid or inferior oils?

People think olive oil tastes like butter or has no taste when in fact it’s incredibly rich with depth, nuance, and flavor, similar to wine! Taste your olive oil straight: pour some in a spoon and really take a minute to think about the flavors and taste. If it tastes like absolutely nothing or is plastic-y, it’s most likely rancid. If it tastes fresh, green, and has a peppery finish at the back of your throat, it’s likely the real deal (extra virgin olive oil).

The best way is to purchase from a producer or importer that you know operates with integrity and transparency. If that is not possible then here are some rules to follow:

  • Look for a dark bottle. Olive oil does not like light because it deteriorates the oil.
  • Check for a harvest date. A bottle date and harvest date are not the same. The bottle date is when the already made oil was put into the bottle(versus a best-by date). With a harvest date, you have a benchmark of when the olive oil was made, and you can count forward to now to calculate how old it is. You want to pick the newest harvest date: when the olives were picked from the tree and made into oil. If you’re buying extra virgin olive oil from North America, look for the most recent Fall Harvest, with an 18-20 month timing. So for example, if you find EVOO harvested from Nov 2020, and it’s June 2021, that’s GREAT. If it’s still Nov 2019, that is not good. Brightland oils are all current from the November 2020 harvest.

Honestly, taste is KEY to spotting rancid/fake oil but stay away from labels that say “pure” “light” or just “virgin” olive oils because “pure” and “light” indicate that the oil was actually processed, and “virgin” rather than “extra virgin” means that the oil’s quality is not as high.

Health benefits of olive oil – why olive oil vs other oils?

Olive oil is a foundation of wellness; a cornerstone of nourishment for thousands of years and a historic source of wellbeing and ceremony. Athena’s gift of the olive—useful for light, heat, food, medicine, or perfume—was one of the most useful and beloved gifts of the gods.

Biggest misconceptions about working in the olive oil industry.

People think that entrepreneurship is very fun and glamorous, and I think that’s 5% of it. Most of it is spent running around and trying to solve some sort of problem or the other, and people don’t see that it’s all one big mess that you’re trying to wade through and pull gems from. People only see the gems, especially because of Instagram.

Do your research.

All in all, do your research on the brands you’re buying and make sure you look into their practices, and ask questions — no question is stupid and dumb. If you want to read more about olive oil fraud, then pick up the New York Times best-selling book, Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller. It will open your eyes to olive oil’s rich past as well as to the “fierce contemporary struggle between oil fraudsters of the globalized food industry and artisan producers whose oil truly deserves the name ‘extra virgin.’”


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