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Buying Quality Olive Oil in the Face of Fraud

The olive oil industry has been exposed to be highly fraudulent and not living up to "Truth in Labeling"

A Life-Giving Oil

Olive oil is a diverse and life-giving oilOlive oil is one of the oldest commercial products, with a rich heritage stemming from the ancient Mediterranean basin.

Olive oil is a life-giving oil and has been used for thousands of years as a nutrition source, cooking agent, topical skin beautifier, ingredient for soap, healing agent and fuel source (lamp oil).

Our modern culture has reopened its eyes to the fantastic health benefits of this oil after many decades of science’s misdirected demonization of dietary fat.

Most health conscious individuals direct intense scrutiny toward the purity of the products they take into their bodies and naturally want products that deliver what has been advertised. Well, the olive oil industry has been revealed to have a rather large number of fraudulent players in the game that have threatened the credibility of what we see labeled on our olive oil containers.

Olive Oil Classifications

First of all, virgin means that the oil is extracted by mechanical means (pressed or milled) and not by chemical methods. Cold pressed means that the oil was extracted by mechanical means below 80 F.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Excellent flavor and odor and free fatty acid content below 0.8%
Virgin Olive Oil – Reasonably good flavor and odor and free fatty acid content below 2%
Virgin Olive Oil Not Fit For Human Consumption Without Further Processing – Virgin (mechanically-extracted) olive oil of poor flavor and odor
Olive Oil – Mix of both virgin and refined oils
Refined Olive Oil – Made from refined oils (chemically processed) with some restrictions on the processing

Benefits of True Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • Better taste and aroma
  • More antioxidants intact
  • Higher smoke point
  • No chemical residue or unnatural interference
  • Not adulterated with inferior oils such as canola
  • Less acidity

Olive Oil Fraud Exposed

Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller available at AmazonA growing body of research has uncovered an alarming fact: Extra-virgin and virgin labeled olive oil often is NOT; it does not meet the required standards that would classify it as such.

One of the most notable whistle blowers in this area, one who has been able to draw a great amount of attention to the subject, is investigative journalist Tom Mueller.  Mueller first began reporting this activity with an article he wrote for The New Yorker. He continued researching the matter further, collecting a trove of valuable information that would materialize into his New York Time’s Bestselling exposé Extra Virginity. This book exposes the international olive oil industry as one that is wrought with dishonest and deceptive distributors eager to make a fortune at the expense of integrity and their consumer’s best interest.

It might also startle you to learn that fraudulently labeled EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) happens to be the most common among imported olive oil.

Research Exposing Fraudulently Labeled EVOO

A report on a scientific study conducted by UC Davis in 2010 unveiled alarming data.

Our laboratory tests found that samples of imported olive oil labeled as “extra virgin” and sold at retail locations in California often did not meet international and US standards. Sensory tests showed that these failed samples had defective flavors such as rancid, fusty, and musty. Negative sensory results were confirmed by chemical data in 86 percent of the cases. Our chemical testing indicated that the samples failed extra virgin standards for reasons that include one or more of the following:

  • Oxidation by exposure to elevated temperatures, light, and/or aging;
  • Adulteration with cheaper refined olive oil;
  • Poor quality oil made from damaged and overripe olives, processing flaws, and/or improper oil
  • storage.

Consumer Reports Investigative Results

Consumer Reports conducted a study in 2012 into the quality of popular olive oil brandsIn a 2012 Consumer Reports study investigating 23 brands of olive oil from Italy, Spain and California, results revealed that only 9 of the 23 brands actually met international standards for extra virgin quality. Two brands that did not meet the grade may surprise you (Bertolli and Goya), while two that did pass were McEvoy Ranch and Trader Joe’s California Estate. 

Olive Oil Quality in Restaurants

The quality of olive oil in restaurants was often not up to labeled standardsIn another study conducted by UC Davis investigating the purity of olive oil used within restaurants showed that the majority of the 21 brands available were inferior to extra virgin and virgin olive oil standards and shouldn’t be labeled as such. A few were deemed “unfit for human consumption” and 1 “extra-virgin” olive oil and 1 “virgin” olive oil were actually chemically shown to be adulterated with canola oil.

Olive Oil Brands That Failed Truth in Labeling

Brands that were labeled as extra virgin olive oil but failed testing criteria in the 2010 UC Davis study were the following:

  • Bertolli
  • Colavita
  • Filippo Berio
  • Newman’s Own Organic
  • Pompeian
  • Rachael Ray
  • Star

Olive Oil Brands That Passed

The following brands were included in the same 2010 UC Davis study but passed:

  • California Olive Ranch
  • Cobram Estate
  • Corto Olive
  • Kirkland Organic
  • Lucero
  • McEvoy Ranch Organic

Recommended Products

I have always had great luck with Kirkland Signature products; they have a solid product reputation and their olive oil purity has been validated in the studies provided earlier. However, I am particularly impressed with a company that has come up again and again while researching this topic.

California Olive Ranch olive oil is a superior olive oil that always comes in testing highest in quality

Check out prices and customer reviews available on Amazon

Those involved in the operation at California Olive Ranch appear to be extremely dedicated and passionate about all aspects of their product and distribution; “from tree to table” as they say. The purity, taste and aroma come up on top in every study that has been conducted, their customers rave about their olive oil and their website conveys a sense of pride, knowledge and dedicated craftsmanship. I particularly love companies that radiate that kind of passion and dedication. Besides that, for the large chunk of our readership in the United States, their olive oil is a domestic product, being grown, picked, pressed and bottled in California and has spent less time sitting on shelves and in cargo vessels. It’s more “green” and they even have have a blurb about that on their website. In addition, they have won 47 awards over their 9 years of operation.

You can buy a 750 ml bottle on Amazon for a pretty reasonable price of around $11 a bottle. Their products are also found in many grocery stores and other outlets.

The Joy of Superior Olive Oil

tasting-olive-oilThe taste and aroma of a superior olive oil is a thing of beauty. Olive oil, like wine , has it’s dedicated “connoisseurs” with  tasting events, expert panel reviews and the myriad of other activities. The taste and aroma of superior olive oil is rich and multi-layered and is not only highly notable to the expert connoisseur but also to the average person as well. If you appreciate taste, aroma, purity and overall quality you won’t want to go back to using inferior olive oil.

All of the oils that were listed above as passing the “Truth In Labeling” UC Davis study are also excellent candidates to bring into your home.

Down the Olive Oil Rabbit Hole

The olive oil rabbit hole is full of complexity and surprisesThe olive oil community has a fascinating culture that employs a variety of tests to judge purity and quality. To judge a quality product, chemical analysis is only one piece of the puzzle. A significant emphasis on “organoleptic” testing (human testing using taste, smell and other sensory perceptions) is also highly important to determine excellent quality.

You can really dig into this more by reading this concise report by UC Davis.

About Doctor Scott Health

Dr. Scott McLeod, PharmD is an independent researcher, health advocate and author living in Santa Barbara, CA. For more information about Scott and Doctor Scott Health please visit the 'About' section, here.

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