I just listened to a piece on NPR about adulterated Olive Oil. This prompted me to do some research and reading.
Condensing it all down, basically, adulteration is not something that happens now and then. It’s very common. So common that most of the oil labeled Extra Virgin Olive Oil in your supermarket isn’t. It is soybean, or canola, or hazelnut oil with coloring and flavoring added. Some of it is olive oil that is misgraded or diluted with other oils.
The bottom line is that real EVOO is expensive. If the oil is inexpensive then it’s very likely fake.
Apparently there is a lot of fraud and little enforcement in the U.S. Operators will set up in a warehouse, mix up and bottle 10 or 20,000 gallons of oil, and disappear, all in a few days, leaving no trace to track them down.
The Italian flags, quaint Italian names, the “Product of Italy”, “Produced in Italy” and all that on the label is bogus. And on top of the outright fraudulent olive oils, that aren’t olive oil at all, that are mixed up in an abandoned warehouse in South Philly, there are operators who are actually located in Italy, who import olive oils from all over the world in bulk and bottle it in Italy. So it actually was “produced” in Italy but it is not Italian olive oil.
Europe is much more strict about EVOO but even so, Italian growers watch their crops like a hawk, they escort their olives to the pressing mill, they watch their olives pressed and their oil loaded into their trucks and they take it home to bottle it. It never leaves their sight because of potential fraud. They go through that much trouble even in Italy.
All this is really a bummer for me because I like olive oil. For me, it doesn’t have to be Italian but it does have to be real and as fresh as possible. The fraud problem explains why some bottles of “olive oil” I’ve purchased were odd tasting and odd behaving. Unrefrigerated OO tends to go rancid pretty quickly but this stuff doesn’t. It sits on the shelf forever and lasts and lasts. Now I know why. It’s fake.
For more about the problem: