I decided to write this post today because I’ve been reading a lot about this lately. Since I live in Europe now, I thought this might be interesting to those on this side of the pond, as well as back in the U.S.
“Olive oil has historically been one of the most frequently adulterated products in the European Union, whose profits, one E.U. anti-fraud investigator told me, have at times been “comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks.”
This is a quote from a recent article published in the New Yorker. Now, why am I writing about olive oil? Well, one of the reasons is because I use it nearly every day and I want to know what I’m buying and putting in my body and giving to my family. And, it is alarming to discover the lengths the food industry will go to in order to make a profit. Their main concern is the bottom line and the health of consumers is simply collateral damage.
I first began to wonder about the authenticity of our olive oil when I noticed that it was not solidified after being in the fridge (I make all my salad dressings at home). With real olive oil, I would have to take it out an hour or so before using in order to have it liquefied enough to pour onto a salad. Now, I can just grab it and pour it onto my salad. Sounds convenient, right? Well, I don’t know what I’m putting on my salad, though, and I don’t like that.
This is what I bought in Bulgaria.
The brand is “Olitalia” and is touted as “The Olive Oil Brand Most Distributed Around The World.” It wasn’t the most expensive brand but it also wasn’t the cheapest. I know that cheap brands are contaminated and I figured a mid-grade would be safe. I was wrong. The label also says “Extra Virgin.”
When I lived in the United States, the conventional wisdom for consumers was to purchase olive oil that was “Extra Virgin” because you would be guaranteed that your olive oil would be free from harmful impurities. These labels here in Europe, especially, are meaningless.
Just a few years ago, there were hundreds of Italian police officers who raided and confiscated from 85 farms that were participating in a large scam to relabel oils from other countries as Italian oils. The substances that were found in the adulterated olive oils were chlorophyll, sunflower oil, soybean oil and hazelnut oil. These are much cheaper oils and might even be rancid and harmful for your body.
These phony producers will use highly effective ways to chemically refine the olive oil so its rancidity and other detectors are removed. This way, consumers do not know what they are getting. It is called ‘deodorization’ and it can remove smells that would otherwise signal to the consumer that the oil is not healthy for consumption.
So, how do you avoid being duped?
1. Don’t buy the cheap stuff. Buying the cheap stuff will ensure you are getting adulterated olive oil so be sure you steer clear of it.
2. If possible, go to a mill. I’m grateful this is available here in Bulgaria. There are local stores that provide fresh-pressed oil produced right on the premises.
3. Look for a harvest date rather than a ‘best by’ date.
4. Look for olive oil in dark bottles. Light degrades the quality of olive oil so look for brands that are produced with dark bottles.
5. Stick it in the fridge. If it doesn’t solidify, you don’t have 100% olive oil.
I also like to put my money where my mouth is (usually) and I wrote to the good people at Olitalia (firstname.lastname@example.org) letting them know that I was aware now that their oil is not truly 100% olive oil and that I will no longer be buying their product.
Good luck to you and live well and be happy!