Do you know that the extra virgin olive oil you use is probably fake, thanks to the Mob? Did you know that the Mafia is making a fortune selling fake olive oil or that the olive oil is a $1.5 billion dollar industry only in the United States? In fact, the olive oil is currently Europe’s most adulterated agricultural product! Tom Mueller, an investigative journalist who wrote an eye –opening expose about fake olive oil, said that 70% of the extra virgin olive oil that is being sold is adulterated — cut with cheaper oils.
One of the Italian Mafia’s most lucrative businessesis the Olive oil racketeering. Their success can be measured by the fact that most of the olive oil that is being sold is either adulterated or completely fake.
Since genuine olive oil is expensive and time consuming to produce, yet easy to adulterate and difficult to detect the real from the fake and in high demand, producing the fake olive oil would prove to be an enormous moneymaking enterprise for the Mafioso fraudsters.
Olive oil has been highly valued as a food and also as a medicine in Mediterranean culture for more than 2,000 years. During the Roman times, per-capita consumption of olive oil was estimated to be up to 50 liters per year.
The most coveted type of olive oil is the “extra virgin”.
The Olive Oil Times defines extra virgin olive oil as:
In chemical terms the extra virgin olive oil is described as having a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of less than 0.8 grams per 100 grams and a peroxide value of not more than 20 milliequivalent O2. It must be produced entirely by mechanical means without the usage of any solvents, and under temperatures that are not going to degrade the oil (less than 86°F, 30°C).
Why Would the Mob deal in the Fake Extra -Virgin Olive Oil?
1) The olive oil fraud investigator told to Muller: “Profits were comparable to the cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks.”
2) Olive oil is a huge international business. Americans spend approximately $700 million on olive oil per year.
3) Olive oil consumption is on the upswing — it is up to 37 % in Southern Europe and more than 100 % in North America.
4) Counter intuitively, even though Olive oil is far more expensive than any other oils and has unique characteristics, it’s very easy to fake.
“The huge popularity of the “Made in Italy” label worldwide makes it an appetizing target for the food fraudsters, who earn an estimated €60 billion per year selling counterfeit or adulterated faux-Italian foods. In some of these crimes, the mafia syndicates and other criminal networks sell substandard or unsafe products at enormous profits.” – Tom Mueller (Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil)
Historically, the Olive oil has been one of the most adulterated products in Europe and other fraud continues. In the past, olive oil fraudsters used to cut the oil with lard.
The Olive-oil fraud has been around for millennia. The earliest written mention of olive oil, on cuneiform tablets at Ebla in the 24 century B.C., describes teams of inspectors who explored olive mills on behalf of the king, looking for fraudulent practices. The Romans established an international trade with olive oil, and certain emperors rose to power on the olive-oil wealth—they were the ancient counterpart of today’s oil sheikhs.
University of California Davis(UC-Davis) and Adulterated Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Back in 2010 UC-Davis published a detailed report which was entitled: Tests indicate that the imported ‘extra virgin’ olive oil often fails the international and the USDA standards. Researchers found that the fake extra-virgin olive oils are flooding all the supermarket shelves in California. In 2 studies the UC Davis researchers tested a total of 186 extra- virgin olive oil samples and both of them were imported and domestic using standards that were established by the International Olive Council (IOC), as well as olive oil analysis used in AustraliaandGermany. The study concluded that 69 % of imported and 10% of the California-based olive oil labeled extra–virgin did not pass the International Olive Council (IOC) and the US Department of Agriculture sensory standards for extra virgin olive oil.
“Over2/3 of the common brands of extra-virgin olive oil found in California grocery stores aren’t what they claim to be, as stated byone report from the researchers at UC Davis.”
Put another way, about 69% of all the store-bought extra-virgin olive oils in the United States are probably fake. Fascinatingly, while 11% of the imported, Italian samples failed both sensory olive oil testing panels the California and Australian samples only failed one panel.
Logically, some questioned the UC Davis study results, since the research was funded in part by the California Olive Ranch and the California Olive Oil Council and both of these groups are connected to the Australian Olive Association. However, a preponderance of evidence clearly indicates that the UC Davis olive oil analysis accurately reflects the reality.
The adulteration of Olive oil was a well-established fact in the late 99’. Indisputable evidence that olive oil was often cut with cheaper oils, such as hazelnut and sunflower seed, was widespread. Actually, the European Union declared
Olive oil as their number one adulterated agricultural product. It got so bad that E.U.’s anti-fraud division established an olive-oil task force! Still the olive oil fraud remains a major international problem.
How to Tell if Your Olive Oil is the Real Deal
Olive Oil Grading
Extra virgin, virgin, pomace, light, filtered, stone milled, cold pressed, organic… The list goes on and on. If you are confused about which olive oil you should buy, you are not alone. At the Olive Oil Source, we think that there are several keys to choosing the right olive oil: first is knowing the types of the olive oil that’s available, the second is considering what you are going to use it for. Learning the different grades of olive oil and their characteristics is going to help you make sense of what you read on the labels.
How to buy olive oil
- Find a seller who stores the olive oil in clean, temperature-controlled stainless steel containers topped with an inert gas like nitrogen to keep the oxygen at bay, and bottles it as they sell it. You can ask to taste it before buying.
- Favour bottles or containers that protect the oil against light, and buy a quantity that you will use up quickly.
- Don’t worry about the colour. Good oils come in all shades, from green to gold to pale straw – however avoid flavours such as cooked, mouldy, greasy, metallic,meaty, and cardboard.
- Ensure that your olive oil is labelled “extra virgin,” as other categories—“light”or”pure” oil, “olive oil” and “olive pomace oil” – have undergone some chemical refinement.
- You should buy oils only from this year’s harvest – look for the bottles with a date of harvest. Failing that, look at the “best by” date that should be 2 years after the oil was bottled.
- Although not always a guarantee of quality, PGI (protected geographical indication) and PDO (protected designation of origin) status should inspire some confidence.
- Some terms commonly used on olive oil labels are anachronistic, such as “first pressed” and “cold pressed”. Since most of the extra virgin oil nowadays is made with centrifuges, that meansit isn’t “pressed” at all, and the true extra virgin oil comes exclusively from the first processing of the olive paste.
Here is the UC Davis findings based on specific brands that were tested
These brands which were labeled extra-virgin failed to meet the extra-virgin olive oil standards:
• Filippo Berio
• Newman’s Own
• Rachel Ray
• Whole Foods
These brands did meet extra-virgin olive oil standards:
• McEvoy Ranch Organic
• California Olive Ranch
• Corto Olive
• Kirkland Organic
• Lucero (Ascolano)