I’ve written many times about food fraud, but don’t think I’ve mentioned the July 2010 report by UC Davis, which determined that “Extra Virgin” olive oil often fails international and USDA standards.
69 percent of imported olive oil samples and 10 percent of California olive oil samples labeled as extra virgin olive oil failed to meet the IOC/USDA sensory (organoleptic) standards for extra virgin olive oil.
To be extra-virgin, olive oil can’t be rancid or doctored with lesser oils. Shoemaker wasn’t all that surprised that many of the 14 major brands failed certain tests.
“It’s become a very sophisticated practice, the adulteration of olive oil throughout the world,” Shoemaker says. He says the lab can prove defects, degradation and dilution in olive oil beyond what human taste buds can figure out. The lab testing zeroes in on specific flaws.
“We do spectroscopic studies looking for oxidation,” he says. That means the oil’s old or spoiled. Shoemaker also tests fatty acids “to make sure the oil is all from olives and not from soybean, sunflower or other types of oil.”
In “Extra Virginity, The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil“, Author Tom Mueller says that many of the bottles labeled “Extra-virgin olive oil” don’t meet standards.
Mueller was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air last week. The book
Mueller’s new book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, chronicles how resellers have added lower-priced, lower-grade oils and artificial coloring to extra-virgin olive oil, before passing the new adulterated substance along the supply chain. (One olive oil producer told Mueller that 50 percent of the olive oil sold in the United States is, in some ways, adulterated.)
The term “extra-virgin olive oil” means the olive oil has been made from crushed olives and is not refined in any way by chemical solvents or high heat.
The author says that 4 out of ten bottles that say Italian olive oil are not actually Italian olive oil. ”
A lot of those oils have been packed in Italy or have been transited through Italy just long enough to get the Italian flag on them. That’s not, strictly speaking, illegal — but I find it a legal fraud, if you will.”
Why does the fraud matter?
“Naturally the honest people are getting terribly undercut,” he says. “There’s a huge unfair advantage in favor of the bad stuff. At the same time, consumers are being defrauded of the health and culinary benefits of great olive oil.”
Bad or rancid olive oil loses the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil, says Mueller. “What [good olive oil] gets you from a health perspective is a cocktail of 200+ highly beneficial ingredients that explain why olive oil has been the heart of the Mediterranean diet,” he says. “Bad olives have free radicals and impurities, and then you’ve lost that wonderful cocktail … that you get from fresh fruit, from real extra-virgin olive oil.”
I love good olive oil, and never buy any that I can’t taste first. As they say, “your food is never better than its weakest ingredient”. Amen.
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