That Olive Oil Is No Virgin

A study recently released by researchers at the University of California found that some olive oils labeled “extra virgin” are anything but: more than half of the imported oils tested in the study failed to meet international quality standards for extra virgin olive oil. Some of the oils had been degraded by improper storage or processing; others appeared to have been deliberately adulterated with cheaper, lower quality grades of olive oil. 

U.S. olive oil producers have often complained that the USDA’s standards for olive oil are weak and confusing compared to olive oil standards elsewhere in the world. In countries like Italy, Germany and Australia, food labeling laws dictate that olive oil can only bear the sought-after “extra virgin” label if the oil meets certain taste and clarity standards, and was mechanically or manually pressed from high quality fresh olives, without the use of chemical extraction.

But up until recently, the USDA had in fact set no standard legal definition for the term “extra virgin olive oil.” This means that under federal law it was actually legal for olive oil producers to mix lower grade olive oils into oil labled “extra virgin.” As a result, olive oil producers around the world have been sending their lowest quality oils to the United States for years. And producers of true extra virgin olive oil have not been able to adequately distinguish their high quality products from lower quality competitors.

More disturbingly, over the past several years, food inspectors have repeatedly discovered so-called “olive oils,” labeled as 100% olive oil, that had been apparently deliberately mixed with entirely other, cheaper types of oil, such as soybean oil, sunflower seed oil, hazelnut oil or peanut oil. Mislabled mixed cooking oils can, of course, be very dangerous to people with severe food allergies.

In 2005, the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) filed a petition encouraging the USDA to adopt stricter standards for the production and labeling of olive oil. This year, the USDA finally responded with a new set of olive oil labeling standards, set to go into effect this October.

But some food safety experts argue the new USDA olive oil guidelines will not be enough to stop olive oil fraudsters because the standards are basically voluntary. University of California farm advisor Paul Vossen told the L.A. Times, “It’s like saying you have to stop at stop signs, but there are no cops at the corner. Standards are a good start, but enforcement is important.”

However, those olive oil producers who do adhere to USDA standards (and submit to USDA testing) will be granted the right to put a federal seal of approval on their olive oil labels, while those who fail to comply will not be allowed to use the seal. So, after October, when shopping for extra virgin olive oil, look for a USDA seal of approval on the bottle if you want to be sure you are getting the real deal. 

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.


Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Frances Darcy
Frances D4 years ago

Again labeling is called into question. Thank you Filippos K for your post...enlightened me.

Elena B.
Elena Bonati4 years ago

Great article. TY

Neil A.
Neil A4 years ago

Everyone should read what Filippos says,I produce olive oil in Spain, South of Granada in the Alpujarras below the Sierra Nevada mountains, some of my trees are hundreds of years old, I am very careful how I harvest the olives & cold press them & have had the oil tested both here & in Germany where it passed all 3 tests for EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil, for example the acidity was 0.3% although as Filippos says allowed up to 0.8% the other tests were even better Spain seems to have same standards as Greece for olive oil. Yes be very careful what you get!!

Tom Sullivan
Tom C Sullivan4 years ago


Deb L.
Deborah L4 years ago

KPBS did an expose' on this abusive practice by Olive Oil manufacturers. Apparently there are only a handful that they would recommend after testing the stuff sold on supermarket shelves.
One of the top recommendations for purity is a California product, which I now search for and buy every time I see it on sale. You'll have to go to their website and listen to the broadcast for the list. Good Luck & Bon Apetito!

Filippos Kastanomatakis

Greece has laws for olive oil standards:

- Extra Virgin: cold pressed with an acidity less than 0.8%
- Virgin: cold pressed with an acidity between 0.8% and 1.5%
- Acidity levels and batch numbers must be indicated on the labels, as must the name of the production plant, together with the certification numbers of the plant.

Pressing harder warms up your stack and acidity rises higher. Acid is then sometimes washed out with water. The warmer the water the more acid it rinses out (besides vitamins and minerals of course).
This oil is still okay for cooking.

Don't fry in expensive Extra Virgin or Virgin oil, since minerals and vitamins get fried too...
Use these superb oils raw, in salads, etc. Or add after cooking for great taste.

The easiest way to check quality before you buy is shaking the bottle vigorously. Very tiny air bubbles, some hardly visible, rising ever so slowly, indicate good quality.

And since I once tried Bertoli oil, I never buy Italian oliveoil again. Scusi Italia.

Ken Vanstory
Ken Vanstory4 years ago

I have long wondered about this, given the wide range of prices for olive oil labeled "extra virgin"... So much for truth in labeling...

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Can we all enjoy healthy diet?

Annmari Lundin
Annmari L7 years ago

Problem is, you pay a high price for Extra Virgin Olive Oil and it turns out to be peanut oil or soybean oil. How fun is that? Thanks for posting!