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?

In food, fake typically means imitation or imposter (think: imitation crab meat). But most olive oils are at least somewhat real, so what does “fake” mean in this context? 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 by being labeled as pure when it has actually been mixed with other oils. While you may think you are getting a good olive oil, in reality, you are getting an oil that is only partly crafted from olives. Manufacturers may mix olive oil with lower-priced, lower-quality oils, such as sunflower seed oil or soybean oil.

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. This is why many 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 and that may be because the manufacturer does not want you to know that the product is old or close to going rancid. On the other hand, manufacturers who are transparent and quality-driven 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 the kind you might buy from Italy or Greece. On top of that, 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. 

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.”
    • Pay attention to the harvest date.
    • Buy oil bottled in UV-resistant, opaque glass.
    • 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 and harvested early in a certified organic mill. Try it for yourself to taste the difference.

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