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

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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

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