Is This *Really* Olive Oil?

Is This *Really* Olive Oil?

olive oil

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.

Olitalia Olive Oil – “The Olive Oil Brand Most Distributed In The World”

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 ( 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!







29 Responses »

    • Vanja, I didn’t know until recently. There was a big expose written by Tom Mueller called “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.” He spent a lot of time in Italy uncovering this story.

  1. Thank you for being our teacher on this subject matter. I enjoyed your own article quite definitely and most of all enjoyed the way in which you handled the aspect I widely known as controversial. You happen to be always quite kind towards readers like me and help me in my life. Thank you.

  2. I find this matter very interesting and have been reading about this, wanting to know if the olive oils on the shelves here in the supermarket are fake.

    Where did you find out about Olitalia? And do you know how bad they are in the % of the real thing and what oil they use as well in their olive oils?

    This is good to know. Thank for the info in your blog.

    • Hi Sofia, I didn’t do any scientific tests. I just happened to buy Olitalia for my own use. After using it and noticing that it wasn’t behaving in the way I’m used to olive oil behaving (because I make my own dressings and put them in the fridge), this is when I became curious. I started to do some research about olive oil fraud and read that it is rampant all over the world. It’s very bad here in Europe because there are so many people who buy olive oil here. I don’t know what percentage is actually olive oil. They could use food colors (they need to because the other oils are not green like real olive oil) and since they deodorize it, it’s impossible to tell what kind of oil it really is. They use a lot of cheaper oils to cut it with. Buy from a place that sells olives directly, if you can. Good luck!

  3. Well, I’m not surprised we have all been duped so long. I will start really looking at what I purchase from now on and will look for the “real” stuff. I kept wondering why the taste of the olive oil did not seem to reflect the way olives themselves taste. Now I know! Thank You for the information!

  4. Thank you so much for this. I am a soapmaker who recently purchased this same brand of olive oil for the very first time to make my soap. I used it for the first time yesterday and my soap did not come out properly at all. When using natural oils for soapmaking it is dependent on the precise chemical components of the oils in order to get the calculations accurate so that the soap will come out correctly.
    I have been going through the list of things that could have gone wrong, and I am wondering if this is the reason. I also noticed when I opened the bottle that it did not have that familiar olive oil scent I have become accustomed to when using other olive oils in the past.

    • Therese, sadly, this is so commonplace now that it’s becoming harder and harder to find the ‘real’ thing. We all have to find a trusted source now, unfortunately, because we can’t rely on manufacturers to be honest.

    • Hi Alex,
      Marketing departments say whatever they want and need to in order to move product. They aren’t held accountable for deceiving consumers so the deception continues. I don’t buy that brand anymore and never will again. Fool me once…

    • Putting olive oil in the refrigerator or freezer is, admittedly, unreliable but it is one way to discern olive oil from another, in my experience. However, citing a source for seemingly accurate information that sells olive oil as their business is dubious, at best. In my opinion, the best way to know the authenticity of the oil is to purchase from a source that you have vetted and trust.

  5. i dont get the main point in this article about olitalia. did y get fake olitalia product or not? what i read about olive oil scam only mentioned about several brands such as bertolli.

    i bought mine with black amd darker olitalia bottle and its certified by bureau veritas. its barcode is 8007150909728 and no harvest date.

    • Yes, I got fake olive oil and the brand I bought is called Olitalia. Adulterated olive oil is rampant in Europe and often the bigger brands with lower price tags are the biggest offenders. I buy from small stores and organic and I’ve had good luck so far.

        • I put it in the fridge, as I’d mentioned in the post. It did not harden which is typical of olive oil. In which country do you live? I find it strange that there are only 2 options but I suppose it depends on the country.

  6. Unfortunately where I live (Canada) we have no local olive oil, so we have to rely on imported stuff. I get mine from Costco in large quantities, turns out to be quite inexpensive (just over $5 per liter).

    • That is inexpensive. I love and miss Costco and maybe you could do some digging into the brand and see if you can find out information about the company and where they source their olives from, etc. if you have concerns about it. Good luck!

  7. Hello, I’have been using this olitalia here in Mozambique, I hope is now cause me any desease because we a good control. know I understand why is not expensive. I will never buy again this oil. Thanks

  8. lol, This is ridiculous. If you put soy bean oil in the fridge or freezer it solidifies as with grape seed oil, peanut oil, canola oil to name a few. Putting olive oil in the fridge to see if it solidifies is NOT a reliable way to grade the purity of the oil.

    • Dear Chef D,
      My canola oil has never solidified in the fridge. Maybe in the freezer, but most consumers don’t put their oils in the freezer. Putting olive oil in the fridge is not a fool-proof method, to be sure, but it does show something. Even ‘winterized’ extra virgin olive oil will show some cloudiness even if it doesn’t solidify. The point of the post is to expose the rampant adulteration in the olive oil industry, and to give some tips that may be helpful to some consumers.
      Thanks for stopping by! Have a great day!

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