Do you check for these tell tale signs of fake olive oil?

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If you are health conscious, you probably know by now that many of the olive oils sold in markets today are incredibly low quality. In fact, a large percentage of them are even outright fake! Many olive oils you can purchase are mislabeled and have been cut with cheap vegetable oils. But don’t just take my word for it, read what the U.S. International Trade Commission has to say about this issue:

“Our findings suggest that the current standards for extra virgin olive oil are widely unenforced and allow a wide range of olive oil qualities to be marketed as extra virgin. Broad and unenforced standards can lead to adulterated and mislabeled product, weakening the competitiveness of high-quality U.S.-produced olive oil in the U.S. market. In addition, many U.S. consumers are unable to distinguish quality differences and, as a result, gravitate toward less costly oils, giving an advantage to large bottlers that sell low-cost imported product.“

Eye opening, isn’t it? 😥

I was on a plane yesterday and the in-flight meal came with a salad advertising “extra virgin olive oil” as the dressing. I got excited because I love olive oil‒until I looked at the ingredients list! I was horrified to see it was only 5% olive oil and 95% rapeseed (aka, canola) oil. Canola oil is not anywhere close to olive oil: it’s a nasty vegetable oil that’s horrible for you.

We like to think that we’re doing good for our bodies by eating olive oil. In reality, we’re often getting stabbed in the back by food manufacturers. Since we can no longer trust them, the burden falls upon us to assess the olive oil we consume. Unfortunately, that’s no easy feat. There’s a lot of fraud and scummy practices in place that make it hard for consumers to tell the difference between real and fake olive oil.

As someone who loves olive oil, I’ve had to learn the art of identifying good vs. bad olive oils. It’s a necessary skill to know that what I’m putting in my body is the real deal. Here’s a few tips I’ve learned for properly assessing the quality of olive oil:

1) Buy “Extra Virgin” Olive Oil (EVOO)

Olive oils labelled “extra virgin” have to meet a strict set of quality criteria.

  • Made from fresh olives that were milled within 24 hours of harvest
  • Extracted using mechanical means‒not heat or chemical methods
  • Not treated with chemicals in any way
  • Free of flavor or color defects

In other words, it’s the highest quality olive oil you can get. Stay away from “virgin”, “light”, “pure”, or plain “olive oil” labels. Stick to “extra virgin”.

Unfortunately, some brands that say “extra virgin” are mislabeled because they are not required to undergo quality standard testing. Therefore, you should take every “extra virgin” label with a grain of salt and use all the tips on this list to ensure you’re getting the best quality olive oil.

2) Check the harvest date

Oftentimes, the oils found in grocery stores can sit on shelves for months before purchase. During this time, they can grow stale, musty, and even rancid. You definitely don’t want to spend your money on olive oil that’s gone off. 

In order to ensure you’re getting good quality olive oil, check the harvest date on the bottle. You’ll want to make sure its within the current season to guarantee maximum quality.

3) Buy olive oil sold in a dark bottle

Light triggers the oxidative degenerative cascade in olive oil, meaning that olive oxidizes when exposed to light and goes bad. In order to combat this, high quality olive oils are sold in dark or opaque bottles. Skip the light-colored bottles next time you’re shopping for olive oil and go for one that’s properly protected against the light.

4) Look for one of these certified seals

There are a few organizations whose job it is to ensure olive oil is high quality. If you see a bottle with one of their seals, you can rest assured that you are buying real olive oil. Look for one of these seals when shopping for olive oil:

  • COOC Certified Extra Virgin (California Olive Oil Council)
  • IOC (International Olive Council)
  • PDO (European Union's Protected Designation of Origin)
  • DOP (Italy)

5) Check the price

Quality product means a quality price. If an olive oil claims to be “extra virgin” and costs less than $10 a liter, something is fishy. High quality olive oil is not cheap, but it’s well worth the price. Skip cutting corners and invest in a more expensive bottle to guarantee you’re not buying a fake or low quality oil.

6) If you live in California, buy olive oil from California

California is known to have some of the highest quality olive oil. In 1998, the California Olive Oil Council established its Seal Certification Program to combat all of the fake oils on the market. To earn their approval:

“Under this program, all COOC member producers must comply with the certification process following each harvest to ensure their oil meets the criteria to qualify as extra virgin grade.” — COOC

If you can find a local mill in California or find olive oil with the COOC seal, you’ll know you’re getting real olive oil.

7) If you can find oils from Australia and Chile, buy them

Certain countries, such as Australia and Chile, are known to have extremely high standards for olive oil. If you can find olive oil from these regions that has a certified label, you’re likely in good hands.

8) Trust your senses

There is a clear difference between real olive and fake oil. Fake olive oil tends to taste and smell slightly rancid. Real olive oil tastes and smells lemony, grassy, and/or peppery.

If you’re not sure how real olive oil is supposed to taste and smell, I highly recommend visiting a local mill so that you can go to an olive oil tasting. This will get your taste buds familiar with the taste of real olive oils so that you use your senses to guide your buying decisions in the grocery store.

9) Find a local mill

I know this tip isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s worth it for those who live by a local mill. Buying local olive oil from a farmer that you trust means you know exactly what you’re getting. It can be a bit pricey and out of the way, but trust me: the extra effort means you’re getting the best olive oil you can.

I realize this can be a lot to remember, but I promise it pays off. Your body will thank you in the long run! Doing a little bit of extra work now so that you don’t have to deal with negative consequences down the line is so worth it!

Olive oil brands I trust

As a self-proclaimed olive oil aficionado, I’ve done tons of research on different olive oil brands. I’ve collected a small list of what I consider to be high quality olive oil brands that I trust to sell great products. Keep an eye on the list for updates! Also, feel free to let me know if there are any brands you trust and want me to add to the list.

Ordering online

If it’s a challenge to find high quality olive oil in stores near you, consider ordering online. All of the brands I listed above allow you to order online and the shipping price is worth it for a trustworthy product.

I’ve also found a cool site which ranks the best olive oils by year. You can even buy directly from them here: https://bestoliveoils.com (Note: I have not yet tried to purchase from this site).

Conclusion

If you didn’t know before, I hope I’ve opened your eyes to the epidemic of fake and low quality olive oil. It’s important to keep your eyes open and your wits sharp! Food manufacturers are willing to cut corners to make a quick buck, so it’s up to consumers to make sure they’re getting what they pay for.

I hope these tips helped! Now it’s time to get out there and get yourself some real dank olive oil. ;)

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Why am I sharing my travel stories?

Founder & CEO of TruStory. I have a passion for understanding things at a fundamental level and sharing it as clearly as possible.

Preethi Kasireddy
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