Due to the popularity of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil sales have boomed over the last decade. But just when you thought you were making a healthy choice by pouring extra virgin Italian olive oil on your salad, we discovered your oil may be counterfeit.
Independent researchers, including a study that came out of the University of California and the Australian Oils Research Laboratory, concluded that as much as 69% of imported European olive oil labeled “extra virgin” are fraudulent.
Understanding the process
The extra virgin variant is made under strict conditions. The olives are crushed in a mechanical press soon after they are picked. The whole process involves no chemicals, heat or industrial refining. Levels of oxidation and “free acidity” (a measure of decomposition) are supposed to be checked. Virgin olive oil, on the other hand, is cheaper, processed faster and generally more acidic.
Many of the oils tested for this independent research were found to contain inedible ingredients and even industrial solvents. They were often diluted with cheap (and often rancid) plant oils, and chemically colored, flavored and deodorized.
The Guardian writes, “In Britain – one of the UK’s leading olive oil experts – the Food Standards Agency has not done any checks on olive oil in five or six years. “And it only does chemical tests, not taste tests.”
The one thing we all thought we could rely on in this industry was the top Italian brands. Alas, many of them are not as pure as they made themselves out to be.
The UK Telegraph divulges that, “Seven of Italy’s best-known olive oil companies are being investigated for allegedly conning consumers by passing off inferior quality virgin olive oil as extra-virgin. The alleged fraud was first discovered by an Italian consumer magazine in May and then investigated by the authorities.” Shockingly Bertoli, Santa Sabina, Primadonna, Sasso and Carapelli, were among the names found to be selling tainted oil as extra virgins.
Understanding olive oil production
For years Spain, Greece, Syria, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia have sent their olive oil to Italy to be bottled with an Italian label. The ‘agro mafia’ are controlling most of the olive oil production and marketing in Italy. The labels bearing the coveted “Protected Designation of Origin” or PDO stamp indicate the precise geographical origin of a particular extra virgin olive oil and ensure the quality of that region’s agricultural products. According to Forbes, “the PDO products which are subjected to more strict controls have not escaped the illegal trend”. Even in Italian supermarkets, the rate of fake olive oil on the shelves is estimated at 50%.”
How pure is your olive oil?
According to the Guardian, “Last month, the Olive Oil Times reported that two Spanish businessmen were sentenced to two years in prison in Cordoba, for selling hundreds of thousands of liters of supposedly extra virgin olive oil that was, in fact, a mixture of 70-80% sunflower oil and 20-30% olive.”
Choose your Olive Oil
In many countries there are companies that have made a point to gather the best quality, award-winning real artisan olive oils and make them readily available for you. In the United States a great example is The Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. They have sourced the highest quality produce from around the country, and they deliver them to your door immediately after harvest. Their product is independently lab certified as 100% pure extra virgin.
The Bottom Line
In South Africa we are fortunate enough to have high standards when it comes to olive oil. We only produce this product, which can be found in local supermarkets. But the best quality of all is certified organic oils such as Foxenburg Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. In the heart of Wellington, Foxenburg handpicked their olives and cold pressed them the same day.
Next time you’re choosing your olive oil best to ignore the Made in Italy label and just buy local!
Follow the link if you want to find out how olive oil can improve your eyesight.