Every time I write a book, I have the excuse to dive deeply into researching topics that most of us never think about. For example, I never wondered what was in a bottle of olive oil. I assumed it was olive oil. Right? I mean, seriously, what else could be in there? Why would there be anything in there other than olive oil? Aren’t there laws that protect us from fraudulent labeling?
While there are laws that define olive oil, it turns out those laws are not enforced. When bottles of olive oil have been tested, they’ve been found to contain everything from hazelnut oil to cheap-o vegetable oil (corn and soy). I find this really sad because people buy olive thinking they are purchasing a heart-healthy oil. If it’s corn or soybean oil, it’s actually NOT good for their health because it’s high in omega-6. Olive oil fraud is especially bad for those with allergies. If you’re allergic to corn, soy, or nuts, and you buy a fraudulent oil, you could be in for a very unhappy surprise at dinner.
Why is there fake or adulterated olive oil?
The explanation is simple. It costs a lot of money to maintain olive groves and make oil, but if you put something else in the bottle that’s cheap to produce, you can make a lot more money. This puts honest olive farmers at a huge disadvantage because they can’t compete with the shyster’s bargain basement prices on the fake stuff.
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Is your olive oil real?
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to know which oils are the real deal. While very low prices are a dead giveaway that it’s not really olive oil, a high price does not always guarantee authenticity. You can, however, taste the difference between the real deal and other oils. Now I understand why I was totally repulsed when I first tasted olive oil a couple of decades ago. I didn’t think it tasted much different than vegetable oil. Knowing what a bargain shopper I was back then, I’m sure it was the cheapest oil in the supermarket, which would pretty much be guaranteed to be fake or adulterated.
I’ve recently begun shopping at olive oil shops. They have a tasting bar where you can taste the different oils. Just as different grapes produce different wines, different olives produce different oils. My favorite is hojiblanca from Spain, which has a peppery bite as you swallow it. It’s not a strong enough spice that you notice it when it’s mixed into food, but it’s definitely there when you take a shot of straight oil. Lucky for me, the stronger that peppery bite is, the healthier the oil. A bonus of shopping there is that they will give customers a discount on their oil when they bring back bottles to be refilled.
What if there are no oil shops in your area? The Truth in Olive Oil website has information on choosing great oils, plus listings of oils and where you can buy them.
If you want to learn more about oil fraud and deception, check out the book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller, which I purchased as an audiobook and listened to while milking goats. To learn more about keeping olive oil fresh and avoiding the use of rancid oil, visit Kitchen Ambition. You can also learn more by visiting the website, AboutOliveOil.org.
Do you want to make oils at home? Check out episode #18 – How to Make Nut and Seed Oil on my Sustainability Book Chat podcast where author, gardener, and oil maker Bevin Cohen dispels this myth — that making oils at home is too challenging or even impossible for your average person.