Olive oil. Delicious. healthy (depending on who’s talking😊). Useful. Profitable. Which adjective gets us into trouble? Americans consume nearly a billion dollars’ worth annually. How could something so good be so bad? Big money lures unscrupulous sellers to adulterate olive oil with fake olive oil. Sometimes you just want something to be simple … like rich olive oil on fresh, crusty bread. How do you avoid the fakes in an industry dripping with scoundrels?
When we found out about food allergies, life became hard … fast. We were shocked to learned our olive oil was not real olive oil. It was probably soy which is one of our top allergies. By the way, those sensitive to corn need to be careful too. Yeah, it’s faked in olive oil too. Olive oil could be adulterated with a variety of oils and still say only olive oil on the label. It is processed in a variety of ways including using gasoline or other stripping substance. Personally, I don’t want to eat gasoline or soy. So, I thought I would test it.
Well, testing at home is a joke. It was overwhelming—and depressing—to learn home testing will not work. Here are the primary ways touted to home test your oil’s authenticity.
1. Refrigerate it until it solidifies. This does not work.
Theoretically this works because real olive oil will solidify when cold. The faulty logic is the idea other oils will not solidify. I fell for this one too and even purported it for years. Sorry!
Reality: most oils when left long enough and cold enough will solidify. Furthermore, olive oil is adulterated with a similar oil to fake you because it solidifies. Some oils have lots of fake oil and others have only a small amount. The opposite problem is true. Some companies filter natural wax out so it looks nice on the shelf in winter. Thus, it does not solidify even though it is real.
2. Oil lamp test. This does not work.
The Bible mentions using oil for lighting. Oil in the Bible is a fascinating study I want to share some day. Olive oil burns but does not smoke. Theoretically, you sample oil and burn it. If it does not smoke, it is real olive oil.
Reality: Other oils don’t smoke. Thus, if they are in the bottle together you will never know.
3. Taste test. This does not work.
This theoretically works because quality oil would taste differently. Perhaps, but it would not be effective for tasting blended oils.
Reality: Common folk like me can’t taste the difference from real, fake, or adulterated. Neither can professionals.
4. Pay to have it tested at a food lab. This would work but …
This works most of the time to identify the liquid in the bottle. It may or may not tell you the quality of the oil depending on the lab and what you are willing to pay. It could be low grade oil or EVOO.
Reality: This will work but it is expensive. Testing does not guarantee later bottles are not blended with fake olive oil.
How does this happen?
Farmers tend to not be the problem. They grow olives. They may or may not do the initial processing into oil. They may or may not bottle it. The problem is the unseen middle man. He buys barrels of oil to bottle under the company’s name. The bottler company wants to make a profit and olive oil—especially EVOO—is expensive and time consuming. Thus, they buy olive oil and blend it with cheap and plentiful oils. They label it olive oil and no one is the wiser. Several major fraud ring busts have been publicly exposed in the last 10 years. This is a national and international problem impacting millions of people worldwide. Billions of dollars are traded over olive oil.
I rant and rave lots in my private and public life regarding the dangers of soy. Allowing companies to lie and put in other oils and not require it on the label is reprehensible. Even a small amount should be identified. Not identifying is the same as lying. Thou shalt not lie should be ringing in your ears. For companies, it goes to trust. A trustworthy company has loyal customers.
What is a consumer to do?
1. Know thy farmer. The best option for all food is know the producer. Buy directly from farmers.
2. Buy from local or national farmers. Growing it in the United States requires farmers to follow our food guidelines. This is huge. Some countries have very lax laws—laxer than the U.S.
3. For domestic olive oil, look for the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) symbol. Its symbol is a pink circle with olives on the branch. They have similar guidelines as the IOC (see below). However, they test products from store shelves sold to consumers.
4. Some states have olive oil councils. California has a large group of growers. They list their standards at California Olive Oil Council (COOC). Its symbol is its initials. They are very similar in chemical analysis as the IOC (see below). However, these are the farmers and they usually bottle their own oil.
5. Buy organic. The organic process in America is laborious. It still has flaws. For example, there are limits on pesticides (bug killers) but I did not find limits on herbicides (plant killers). In light of more correlational evidence regarding herbicide residue possibly impacting children, it would be very important to avoid food contaminated with herbicides (think weed killer). Nonorganic foods are grown with countless chemicals impacting your family’s health.
6. Avoid imported olive oils. Some countries are more (or less) truthful in their practices. Growing standards and acceptable chemicals for some countries is very different than America. Also, imported oils have more opportunities to be repackaged and adulterated.
7. If buying international olive oil, look for the International Olive Council (IOC) seal. The IOC works with countries volunteering to meet a higher standard. Its purpose is improving trade. A quick look at countries involved will help you decide your comfort level. According to the IOC, the European Union produces 70% of the olive oil. Its practices regarding quality standards enforcement were difficult for me to grasp. A committee examines oil and works to improve standards across products. I think each company and country is allowed to ship its own sample for testing prior to bottling. If I am wrong, please let me know.
I personally buy organically as possible and ask questions about growing procedures. I will continue to ask farmers questions. I do my best to avoid problem food and food growing practices.
Below is a photo of the organic label and CCO label. Thank you froghollow.com for the photo. They are a California company that met CCO’s standards for organic, pure, olive oil. I do not recommend specific brands. This one met its organizations standards and quite frankly, I liked the name 😊
Links in this article show you some companies meeting their organizations standards.
So, do you know if your oil is real?
What are you planning on doing next?
Have you tried my Pan Seared Asparagus made with olive oil?