Olive Oil Fraud: Is it Really Extra Virgin?

I love cooking with extra virgin olive oil because of its nourishing health benefits and savory taste, but product transparency in the olive oil industry has left me wondering what I’m really sautéing my veggies with.

Labeled, even expensive extra virgin olive oil is likely a fraudulent product. Sadly, a high percentage of olive oils are not at all what companies claim they are. Just because a bottle displays an extra virgin olive oil label or even reads “certified” does not mean that it actually is. All olive oils are not created equal.

It was found that 69 percent of the imported extra virgin olive oil sold in California supermarkets did not qualify as extra virgin.

Extra Virgin Suicide slide show by Nicholas Blechman explains well what happens.

In America, more than $700 million a year is spent on olive oil, but unfortunately it is not really olive oil because of olive oil fraud. Most of the olive oils on the market are cut with cheap vegetable oils.

The results from the Consumer Reports found that only 9 of the 23 tested olive oils from Italy, Spain and California passed as being extra virgin olive oil even though all of them claimed to be extra virgin on their labels.

International standards for extra virgin olive oil are mostly unenforced. Although the term “extra virgin” is generally understood to denote the highest quality of olive oil, industry representatives report that the current standards are easily met by producers and allow olive oil marketed as ‘extra virgin’ to represent a wide range of qualities.

 This lack of enforcement has resulted in a long history of fraudulent practices (adulteration and mislabeling) in the olive oil sector.” United States Trade Commission

What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

  • First, the oil must come from fresh olives that were milled within 24 hours of their harvest.
  • Next it must be extracted by mechanical means, not from heat or chemicals.
  • They must not be treated chemically in any way.
  • Extra virgin oil is in fact fresh olive juice.
  • Being a fruit, olives contain natural antioxidants that protect the plant during its lifetime. When the olive tree is very old it contains more of these antioxidants. This is one of the reasons that olive trees are often hundreds of years old and create antioxidant-rich products.

As you read above, not all olive oil is the same, so it is important to purchase the right type of olive oil.

Extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed) is the best. How do we know if olive oil products are the real thing or a fraud oil?

Reading labels isn't enough to find extra virgin olive oil.

Reading labels isn’t enough when purchasing extra virgin olive oil.

7 Tips for recognizing the real Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1. Do not buy light olive oil or a blend; it isn’t virgin quality. Buy extra virgin olive oil.
2. It is best to buy olive oil from this year’s harvest, so look for date of harvest. If the date is not there then look at the “best by” date, which should be within two years after an oil was bottled.
3. When extra virgin olive oil costs less than $10 a liter, it may not be real.
4. Only use oils in dark bottles since this protects the oil from oxidation.
5. Look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council (IOC).
6. When you put real extra virgin olive oil in the refrigerator, it will become thick and cloudy as it cools completely. That is not a conclusive test. (Some oils made from high-wax olive varieties will even solidify).
7. Olive oil can get old and rancid. A simple test for a “good” olive oil is to taste a little on a spoon. Not rancid, real olive oil will have a fruity taste in the front of your mouth and a peppery taste in the back of your mouth.

These olive oils failed to meet the extra virgin olive oil standards, according to UC Davis Olive Center testing:

  • Bertolli
  • Carapelli
  • Colavita
  • Star
  • Pompeian

Eat Local Grown also reports:

  • Filippo Berio
  • Mazzola
  • Mezzetta
  • Newman’s Own
  • Safeway
  • Whole Foods (certain brands)

These olive oils met the extra virgin standards:

  • Corto Olive
  • California Olive Ranch
  • Kirkland Organic
  • Lucero (Ascolano)
  • McEvoy Ranch Organic
  • Cobram Estate
  • Lucini
  • Weston Price recommends Bariani Olive Oil
  • Olea Estates 100 percent extra virgin olive oil is from a very reliable source. They say: “We send our olive oil for analysis after every harvest season from every tank before we ship.”

Until doing the research for this article, I did not know enough about fraudulent olive oils to avoid them. Knowledge is power, and now that I have this knowledge I will be selecting my olive oil much more carefully.

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My Favorite Salad Dressing:

Light Lemon Olive Oil Dressing:  Low fat and sugar free.  This is a base recipe that you can make up different each time with a variety of herbs.

To get a super healthy recipe and more health tips sent to your mailbox once a week, subscribe to my newsletter.

Check out Olive oil expert Mueller’s book about the Scandalous World of Olive Oil.

For a more complete list of of safe oils and how to buy go to The Complete List of Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

123 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

Thanks for this information!

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgenabout a year ago

Thank you

Angela K.
Angela K.about a year ago

Thank you

Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgenabout a year ago

Thank you

Lynn Rubal
Lynn Rubalabout a year ago

Love olive oil- thanks for the info.

Betsy Bee
Fiona Ogilvieabout a year ago

Troubling article. Thanks for sharing. I will share on facebook and twitter.

scarlett g.
scarlett g.about a year ago

Let the buyer beware........SAD how consumers are so frequently taken advantage by the FOOD industry....

MJ J.
Past Member about a year ago

For those who don't know, Kirkland is Costco's brand.

MJ J.
Past Member about a year ago

Kirkland did? wow. good to know.