Does That Bottle Really Contain Extra-Virgin Olive Oil? How to Tell

A new New York Times illustration explains how “made in Italy” extra-virgin olive oil is doctored with cheaper stuff.

It’s not news that the extra virgin olive oil business in Italy is rampant with fraud. A lot of the oil labeled as Italian extra virgin olive oil is “watered down” with cheaper oils. But a new, disturbingly entertaining New York Times graphic under the banner “Extra Virgin Suicide” by Nicholas Blechman illustrates how efforts to halt the deception don’t seem to be going anywhere. It says:

To combat fraud a special branch of the Italian Carabinieri is trained to detect bad oil. Lab tests are easy to fake, so instead police rely on smell.

Police officers regularly raid refineries in an attempt to regulate the industry.

But producers –– many of whom have connections to powerful politicians –– are rarely prosecuted.

The graphic says about 69 percent of the extra virgin olive oil sold in the U.S. is adulterated. Oh, and a lot of it’s not “made in Italy,” despite the labels’ proclamations.

So, how do you know what’s in that bottle of oil you’re about to spend big bucks on? L.V. Anderson writes on Slate:

Luckily, olive oil expert [Tom] Mueller maintains a list on his blog of supermarket olive oils that are legitimately extra-virgin — both private labels like Cobram Estate and store brands. … Mueller’s list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good starting place.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • Kathy Guenther

    Thanks for this story. I have shared it with my “friends”.

  • Y2KJillian

    Wow. We decided to taste the olive oil we usually buy…HORRIBLE. (Napoleon). So we checked the links
    and found California Olive Ranch, bought a small bottle (black glass) and tasted it. ODD. Peppery, fruity, quite
    different, but I can see how you could dip bread into it and eat it straight. No wonder I hated many things
    cooked in the Napoleon brand. YUCK. Never again. Our local QFC and Albertson’s both carry California
    Olive Ranch–buy USA is for us. Had NO IDFEA olive oil was being fabricated so widely!

    It occurs to me that we sound incredibly stupid not to have ever tasted our olive oil by itself before.
    But we haven’t tasted canola oil or peanut oil or safflower oil by themselves either…just never
    occurred to us. Guess we’ll taste them now!

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