Fake olive oil is the worst! Like any other non-genuine product, it can have some nasty consequences... And you might not even know that you are buying it! Did you know that fake olive oil is very common in the industry? Do you even know what fake olive oil is? Don't worry, we are here to give you all the facts and help you avoid dangerous products! Read on to learn more!
What Does Fake Olive Oil Even Mean?
How can an oil be fake? Well, "fake" might sound a bit exaggerated, but buying a lower olive oil quality than you believed is common and dangerous. This is how Larry Olmsted, author of Real Food Fake Food, explained it:
It's a strong word, I define it in my book as whenever you get something other than what you think you're buying.
There are quite a few different olive oil frauds. One of the most common issues is when a producer mixed last year's olive oil with fresh product. This is not illegal. It is, however, unfair toward the customers. Olive oil is a potent antioxidant. It picks up the harmful free radicals in your body and neutralizes them. However, when it sits around for too long, this can happen while it's still in the bottle. When olive oil oxidizes, the taste is ruined and so are the benefits. Olive oil producers often mix oils from different origins. It's not easy to detect if the product has been diluted when it exits the factory. However, by the time it reaches the shelves, some of the oil would have oxidized. This lowers the quality and it can even be dangerous, as free radicals are produced in the oxidation process. The other, less common, fraud is downright diluting the oil with a cheaper substance. Soybean oil is a popular choice here - it doesn't have any distinctive taste and it is significantly less expensive. It's worth noting that this practice is illegal. In Europe, where the standards on olive oil are enforced fairly strictly, you would rarely see this type of fake olive oil.
How Often Does It Happen
It can be nearly impossible to detect these little "tricks of the trade". It's a long-standing tradition, too. Fake olive oil has existed throughout the centuries. At one point it was so common that it was all but expected for producers to dilute their oil. Authorities in Italy have confiscated over 2,000 tons of fake olive oil just in the last two years! However, there is no definitive investigation on a European level. Since the International Olive Council is based in Madrid, it can be difficult to coordinate actions on a higher level. The sheer numbers seen in Europe speak enough of how common fake olive oil is. Diluted olive oil that gets confiscated is only of the illegal kind. Even though mixing in older oils with the new harvest is unethical, it is impossible to ban. Bottom line: Fake olive oil is incredibly common. This is why you need to take steps and protect yourself from it.
"Pressed On" or "Harvest Date"
This is one of the simple ways to find genuine olive oil. If you see a harvest date on the packaging, it makes it illegal for the producer to have mixed in older oil. A select few of olive oil makers bother with this. It's typical for smaller factories, not large-scale producers. The Harvest Date is different to the Best Before label. It is completely arbitrary and it doesn't mean much. There is no legal standard that says how long the Best Before period should be. Of course, most producers put in an earlier date as a precaution against getting sued. Ultimately, though, this does not mean that the oil won't be subpar (while still edible and within its "best by" date). The same goes for the "bottled on" date. What does it matter when the oil made it to the bottle? It could have spent months in the tank before getting bottled!
It Should Say "Extra Virgin" On The Label
This should be a no-brainer. Extra virgin olive oil should follow strict standards, enforced by the International Olive Council. Before an extra virgin olive oil can be sold as such, the council should test it and approve it. These tests are quite extensive. They include lab analysis, as well as sensory tests. In other words, the olive oils should taste great but it should also be chemically clean. This is why you can trust the extra virgin label not to contain trace amounts of harmful chemicals. It comes with the added benefit of producers not daring to dilute extra virgin olive oil with low-grade and cheap oils. This could get them in serious trouble and is generally not worth it.
Who Produced It?
One of the best ways to recognize genuine olive oil against the frauds is knowing who made it. Smaller olive oil producers are proud to put their name on a product. Large corporations, on the other hand, are very vague even when it comes to the country of origin. It's not uncommon to see "Produced in the European Union" on cheaper bottles of olive oil. This does not necessarily mean that there is fake olive oil inside. On the other hand, seeing the name of a manufacturer is almost always a sign that the product is genuine.
The high-quality producers love listing their free fatty acidity level, or FFA. The acidity levels for all extra virgin olive oils are extremely low. However, when an olive oil maker chooses to list it, it's because the brand is geared towards connoisseurs. An excellent extra virgin olive oil will have acidity below 0.2. Chefs and foodies seek out these oils because they taste the best. The acidity of an olive oil directly relates to the freshness of taste. If you dilute the oil with an older or cheaper product, the acidity is the first thing to shoot up. That's why FFA is a great indicator of the olive oil quality. Unfortunately, this information is not available on most mass-market brands. It's the mark of a high-end product and that will be reflected in the price.
Look For CertificationsThird-party certifications are reliable and easy to recognize. The European Union's Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) is one of the most common certificates olive oil companies aim towards. Italy has DOP, which is also a good sign of genuine olive oil. You are less likely to see DOP than PDO but if you do, grab the oil. Obviously, that only works for Italian olive oils. Finally, you have the California Olive Oil Council. They only work with California-origin oils but their standards are much higher than the International Olive Council. The seal of certification comes after the following procedure:
Chemistry testing by an approved laboratory is required as a first screen to determine if an oil is extra virgin. After proof of an oil’s chemical requirements has been verified, the oil then must undergo a sensory analysis. The COOC Taste Panel samples each oil in a blind settings to ascertain that the oil qualifies as free of defects, an important requirement in achieving extra virgin grade. An oil only qualifies to display the COOC Seal once it has met with both criteria. Seal Certification is a process which is ongoing following every harvest.
That last part is important for protecting you. An oil can be disqualified from the Seal Certification programme if the producer is found to dilute it. Bottom line: When you see a third-party certificate, pick that oil.
Trust Your Tastebuds
Fake olive oil does not taste the same. It makes sense - lower quality can be tasted, even if you are not an expert. If a product you bought seems stale or less-than-fresh, this is a major red flag. A slight rancid taste may be barely noticeable but affects freshness majorly. Trust your own senses. If an oil does not taste very well, it's likely not genuine.
The Dangers Of Fake Olive Oil
The main danger of fake olive oil is the same as with extasy. You don't know what is in the product! (Yes, I know this is an extreme comparison but it makes sense) The rules on olive oil exist for a reason. Selling a subpar product is not just unfair, it can also be dangerous. What if that soybean oil used for diluting contains traces of hexane, a known carcinogen used in its extraction? What if there are other trace chemicals? Finally, what about the free radicals that are produced when olive oil oxidizes? There is no easy answer to the fake olive oil problem. No matter how strictly olive oil production is controlled, frauds will always exist. This is why you should find the brands that you personally trust. Being aware of the issue is the first step to solving it and protecting yourself and your loved ones from unsafe products. Do you have any other ways of recognizing fake olive oil? Share them in the comments below to help the community out!
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