Slowly but surely we are learning not to trust to what we read on labels. As is increasingly the case, nothing is guaranteed to be what it seems, and the same is true for your extra-virgin olive oil. It might seem hard to believe at first, but the sad truth is that we are being sold fake olive oil. This oil is big business; it’s in every corner shop, every supermarket, every restaurant, and on more or less every kitchen shelf.
In Italy, an investigation was done by Italian police officers, resulting in the arrest of twenty-three people and eighty-five farms being forced to cease operating. A further investigation was done, resulting in another forty people being arrested for taking sunflower and soybean oil, mixing them together with chlorophyll and passing it off as extra virgin olive oil. This was also being shipped abroad for resale.
After hearing of such measures being taken to weed out the fake oils, the standards agency in Australia encouraged olive oil producers to send in their oils to be tested. Despite many of these claiming to be extra virgin, it turned out that every single imported brand of extra-virgin olive failed their lab tests. Recently, in further tests conducted by researchers, seventy percent of eight well known imported ‘extra-virgin’ brands failed to meet this classification.
Why are they faking extra-virgin olive oil?
The reasons are predictable: it’s cheaper and easier. These companies don’t want to have to fork out for man hours, as well as the expense of the equipment and care that must be taken to produce genuine, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil. As it’s so easy for them to adulterate it, they simply do.
Most of the time this is done by mixing an amount of genuine extra-virgin olive oil with less expensive, low quality oils. It may be mixed with another olive oil of lower quality so that it’s harder to detect, and sometimes it is mixed with different oils such as colza or canola.
To stop you from being able to detect it, the odour is removed using chemicals, and colours and flavourings may be added. The producer of this hybrid product may well sell this on in bulk to a major brand; this brand may be totally unaware that they are marketing a fake product, so you won’t be able to find out from them. Buying the most expensive oil, or the most popular brand will not insure you against fake oil consumption. It has actually transpired that many popular brands have made a fortune selling fake oils.
Author Tom Mueller will tell you – he’s even written a book on the subject: Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. In it he claims that 70% of the extra-virgin olive oil sold is ‘adulterated’. This means that it has been mixed with cheaper oils and unfortunately it is very difficult to tell the difference between real and fake olive oil by taste.
Ways to tell if your extra-virgin olive oil is fake
It should be flammable
Authentic extra-virgin olive oil can keep a wick burning. If tested in an oil lamp and this doesn’t happen, it is more likely to be a refined, low quality oil.
It will solidify easily
Genuine extra-virgin olive oil contains mainly monounsaturated fat, and this will solidify in cooler temperatures, much like coconut oil does. An ‘acid test’ for your olive oil is to put it in the fridge for a while; if it comes out cloudier and thicker, it is more likely to be authentic. However, there are other mixes of oils that can do this, so it’s not a guaranteed indicator. For instance, lower-quality olive oils may also take on this texture in the fridge. If your oil doesn’t, then the chances are it is not olive oil, and certainly not a high quality one.
If you want to be sure to obtain high-quality, genuine olive oil, it is better to go direct to the source. A recommended, trusted farmer who makes it onsite. Smaller, local farms run by families are a better bet than mass-producers, and oils from these farmers have been the ones to pass the tests. It might be more expensive, but if you love your olive oil and don’t want to consume toxic oils, it’s worth the extra effort. This may not be an option for those who live in cities, of course.
Try coconut oil instead
One thing you may not yet have taken into consideration is that olive oil is not great to cook with; it oxidizes at high temperatures and can convert to trans fats in the body, clogging up the arteries. It is better used as an addition to salads and as a mixer for dips and other similar foods.
The MediMush team are big fans of coconut oil. It is much more able to withstand high temperatures without transmuting, and as the flavour is relatively mild it usually doesn’t change the taste of the food much. It all has a huge range of health benefits and is very versatile, so when using a high-quality, extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil, you can’t go wrong.