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How to Spot Fake Olive Oil

Dedicated foodies might remember when investigative journalist Tom Mueller turned the olive oil world upside down with his 2011 book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. Much to the surprise of virtually everyone, Mueller’s reporting revealed that something like 70 percent of olive oil sold commercially is fraudulent. Indeed, fake olive oil can come in a variety of forms and you should know how to spot it to ensure that it stays out of your kitchen (and your body).

What Is Fake Olive Oil?

When we say “fake,” we are referring to anything that is, simply put, not what it seems to be. In the case of olive oil, that often means a product that is deceptively or improperly labeled.

One of the most common ways that olive oil is fraudulently sold throughout the world is when it has actually been mixed with other oils. While you may think you are getting a good olive oil, in reality, manufacturers may mix olive oil with lower-priced, lower-quality oils, such as vegetable oil or soybean oil, to cut costs.

On top of that, many bottles of olive oil are wrongly labeled as “extra virgin” when they are actually of lower quality. In fact, a National Consumer League study once showed that nearly half of the bottles tested from a few major retailers did not meet the requirements of the “extra virgin” label. Technically, extra virgin olive oil is oil that is low in acid and free of flavor and odor defects. While extra virgin olive oil is objectively superior, lower quality oil is much easier and cheaper to grow and harvest, incentivizing producers are motivated to mislabel and mislead.

Additionally, your olive oil may be fake in the sense that it does not come from where you think it does. In fact, a good portion of the olive oil marketed as “made in Italy” is not actually made in Italy. Instead, it comes from Syria, Morocco, Tunisia or Turkey and is bottled and marketed as authentic Italian olive oil.

oils in a kitchen

How to Identify If Olive Oil Is Fake

Obviously, you do not want to use olive oil that is bad or low-quality in your cooking. But we know that many of the bottles on the grocery store shelves are just that. So you need to know how to identify fake olive oil so you avoid getting duped.

  • Check the Harvest Date — Not all olive oil bottles are printed with the harvest date. That may be because the harvest date is unknown, the manufacturer has mixed in older oils, or the product is old. Transparent, reputable manufacturers will generally publish the harvest date so consumers can make more informed decisions.

  • Buy California Olive Oil — If quality and flavor are non-negotiables, buy California extra virgin olive oil whenever you can. This oil, like the kind we produce here at Brightland, is upheld to even stricter standards than imported olive oils with often complex supply chains and many middlemen. And for Americans, California is closer to home, which means freshness is more attainable.

  • Give It a Sensory Test — Olive oil that is low in quality or “fake” will reveal itself with a simple sensory test. Fresh, authentic olive oils will have a bright, peppery flavor. The pepperiness occurs due to the presence of the polyphenols, which are at their peak during harvest. Fake olive oils will taste dull and greasy, and even waxy or crayon-like if they have begun to go rancid.

gourmet meal

  • Look for Identifiers of Authenticity — Unfortunately, to give it the smell and taste test, you first have to buy the bottle. But there are a couple of ways to identify imposters without spending any cash.

    • Buy only olive oil labeled “extra virgin.” Other words like "pure", "light", "authentic", or even "cold-pressed" are meaningless and have no official industry definition.

    • Pay attention to the harvest date. Olives are harvested once a year in late fall. If your bottle has a harvest date within the last 12-14 months, it is as fresh as possible.

    • Look for labels with specific details about the olives—not just the country, but the region they were grown in, the specific olive varietal used, flavor and tasting notes, and so on. Bottles with more specific information are less likely to have been diluted with fillers.

    • Look for a seal from a third-party certifier, such as the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) or the International Olive Council (IOC).

Finding the Real Deal

If you are on the hunt for authentic olive oil and want to experience the difference yourself, try an olive oil set from Brightland. We are committed to producing the cleanest and most authentic olive oil around, with no deception whatsoever. Our olive oil is crafted lovingly from heirloom olives on a family-run farm in California, harvested early, and cold-pressed fresh in a certified organic mill. Try it for yourself to taste the difference.


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