It’s a question that begs scrutiny. As olive oil demand and prices soar, the mislabelling and adulterating of the oil heightens. For consumers, how can one differentiate between authentic and adulterated olive oil?
Olive oil adulteration may have date back centuries or even millennia to the days when the Phoenicians first pioneered olive tree cultivation in southern Italy to supply the oil-hungry Mesopotamians and Egyptians.
In the New York Times best-seller, Extra Virginity, author, Tom Mueller delves into the global olive oil fraud, chronicling the deceit and crime associated with the business, and how producers, activists, chemists and chefs are fighting back to save the remarkable oil that have rightly earn the name Extra Virgin.
According to Dr. Simona D’Amore from the Bari-Italy National Cancer Institute, olive oil which is made up of about 85% oleic acid – is a component of the Mediterranean diet and a function food that has anti-inflammatory, antioxidants and anti-thrombotic properties.
The Mediterranean Diet supports reduction in cancer and cardiovascular risks, says Dr. John Spinelli, BC Cancer Control Research Scientist. A European study revealed that its aroma can control satiety, slow hunger, hence decrease nibbles between meals.
The best olive oil is the extra-virgin grade, then the virgin olive oil and regular olive oil. Freshly picked olives must first undergo mechanical cold press (under 27°C without solvent) and bottled within 24 hours of harvesting to produce extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). It has a fairly low smoke point and is best consumed cold.
In this video, Pietro De Pasquale from Tenuta Vantaggiani, Puglia speaks about his organic extra virgin olive oils, which contain extremely high polyphenols (powerful antioxidants) with very low acidity level of 0.2 versus the standard 0.8 for extra virgin olive oil grade.
The International Olive Council reported that in 2014, the world’s biggest olive oil consumers were the Italians followed by the Spanish, and Americans.
In an attempt to profit from the oil’s nutritional and health benefits, many olive oil brands marketed as Extra Virgin are often mislabelled. Adulterated oil are often made or blended with cheaper oil like lampante (lamp oil made from spoiled olives dropped from trees) or vegetable oil such as safflower, soybean or canola oil. There was a fraud case where industry chorophyll was used to colour low-grade soybean or canola oil and flavoured with beta-carotene.
In June this year, a US federal judge approved two class action lawsuits against the makers of Filippo Berio olive oil brands and Safeway’s Select Brand of olive oil for deceptive advertising – on their olive oil origin and content. A separate lawsuit was also brought against Deoleo USA, Inc., the manufacturers of Bertolli & Carapelli brands for false advertising and misrepresentation.
Read the Label
“Reading the label is very important, and it must say extra virgin olive oil. In Italy, the best certified olive oil is Extra Virgin with the DOP (Denominazione Origine Protetta) label.” writes famed truffle chef Carlo Zarri of Pedimont-Italy.
Anything labelled pure, light, olive oil or pomace olive oil has been refined with chemicals and stripped of their health qualities. Authentic EVOO has an expiry and even harvest date, and it loses its quality with age. Some labels even include the name of the olive tree farm. Bitterness and peppery pungency of the oil indicates high polyphenols content and oil freshness. Quality oil is packed in a tight dark container to prevent oxidation, and is best stored in a cool, dark place.
Labels with words “imported by” and “distributed or bottled by another” or with “no specified origin” means the oil is not traceable, and may likely be adulterated.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) lab in Ottawa is the only accredited chemical testing lab in North America recognized by the International Olive Council to conduct in-depth analysis of olive oil.
To learn more about olive oils, go to International Olive Council.