Would the Real Olive Oil Please Stand Up?

photo of olive oil on grocery store shelf

“Once someone tries a real extra virgin olive oil
– an adult or a child, anybody with taste buds –
they’ll never go back to the fake kind.
It’s distinctive, complex, the freshest thing you’ve ever eaten.”

~ Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity

When Labels Lie

When you start eating for your health, you begin to watch labels closely. But what happens when the labels aren’t telling the truth?

Olive oil fraud has become so rampant that an entire book has been written about it. Why has it become such a problem? Because extra virgin olive oil is big business. Touted for its health benefits in both mainstream America and the healing diets featured on this website, US consumers can’t get enough of it. And therein lies the problem. There isn’t enough to go around, yet suppliers don’t want to miss a potential profit. Although standards exist for what “extra virgin” is supposed to mean, there are no teeth behind those standards, so producers can slip other oil into the bottle, slap on the coveted label, and sell fake oil quite easily to unsuspecting consumers.

First, it might help to know what extra virgin is supposed to mean. This is the highest quality and most expensive olive oil classification. The oil is mechanically pressed from the olives, without any heat or chemistry applied. In order to claim this label, the oil is supposed to meet both a chemistry standard and a sensory one, established by the International Olive Council and the USDA. The oil should have zero defects and greater than zero fruitiness. However, neither the IOC nor the USDA enforce these standards, so basically, it’s an honor game. Oh, the world would be a wonderful place if everyone was honorable.

When a dishonorable company doesn’t have enough oil to meet this standard and wants to commit a little fraud, what do they do? The most common deception is to mix it with a lower standard olive oil, but some producers take it even further and mix in a variety of neutral-tasting refined oils, such as soy and canola. If you’re on a healing diet, you’re meant to avoid both of those oils, so it’s upsetting to realize you might be consuming them unknowingly.

Testing for Truth in Labeling:

In September 2012, Consumer Reports published its results from testing 23 olive oils from Italy, Spain and California, and only 9 passed the test as actually being extra virgin olive oil, as claimed on the label. Two that failed? Bertolli and Goya. Two that passed? McEvoy Ranch and Trader Joe’s California Estate.

This isn’t the first time bottles of “extra virgin” olive oil failed such a test. The University of California at Davis have become experts in the field of olive oil testing.

  • In 2012, they tested 21 olive oil samples from vendors who supply restaurants. 60% of those labeled extra virgin failed to pass the sensory test. Chemistry analysis revealed that two of the olive oil samples were actually part canola (a much cheaper oil to produce, with none of the taste or health benefits of olive oil.)
  • In 2010 and 2011, they tested numerous samples of the most popular brands sold in grocery stores. 69% of the imported olive oil and 10% of the California olive oil failed the sensory criteria for extra virgin, and 23 percent of the imported oil failed the chemical test. Some of the brands that failed were Pompeian, Filippo Berio, Bertolli, Star, Colavita, Newman’s Own Organic and Rachael Ray. Those that passed with perfect scores on both tests? California Olive Ranch, Cobram Estate, Kirkland Organic, Corto Olive, McEvoy Ranch Organic and  Lucero.

So, how do you know if your olive oil is real?

  • You can buy the brands that passed the tests in the studies above, and avoid those that failed. The catch here is counting on those results to remain consistent over time. Most olive oil brands aren’t olive oil farmers. That means they purchase their oil from suppliers, trusting they’re getting what they pay for (a trust which is often misplaced.)
  • COOC SealUSDA SealThere are voluntary inspection agencies that reputable brands can use to prove their olive oil is truly extra virgin. One such agency is the California Olive Oil Council (COOC). The USDA now offers this service as well. Look for these seals on the bottles.
  • Follow your nose. It’s true that we aren’t professional sensory testers like those used in the studies, but real olive oil smells completely different to an amateur as well. When I learned about olive oil fraud last year, I went to the COOC website and browsed the links of certified oils. I ordered a case of bottles from an award-winning orchard in California. When I opened that bottle and began the simple act of sautéeing kale, my kitchen filled with this gorgeous scent I had never smelled before. Just like the opening quote at the top of this article, I knew I would never settle for fake again. I admit I’m a bargain hunter, so in the past, I often chose the cheapest organic oil on the shelf, never questioning how such an elite product could be so inexpensive. Lesson learned! A great way to experience this yourself without committing to buying a whole case, is to attend an olive oil tasting. See if there is a specialty shop in your community. They are becoming more and more common.
  • If a specialty shop isn’t an option, here’s what to look for in the grocery store: (1) A darker bottle. EVOO is sensitive to both light and heat and can go rancid if not bottled correctly. (2) Look for a harvest date. Olive oil should be consumed within two years of harvest. Don’t trust “bottled” or “best by” dates. It is not unheard of for olive oils to be stored for years before they’re bottled, even though they deteriorate over time. (3) Expect to pay more. Making EVOO is an expensive process; the cheapest bottle on the shelf is unlikely to be the real thing. (4) California olive oils have fared better on quality testing, but some California brands actually source their oil from overseas. Look on the bottle for where the olive oil actually comes from.
  • When you get home, do your own sensory test on the olive oil. Open the bottle, close your eyes, and smell. It should smell vibrant and wonderful. Next, pour some in a little glass, and take a taste. Roll it around on your tongue. You should be able to taste the olives, there might be some bitterness or pepperiness at the back of your throat.  What you shouldn’t taste is anything greasy, moldy, rancid or reminiscent of cardboard. It also shouldn’t be a neutral tasting oil. Real extra virgin olive oil has layers upon layers of flavor.

Olive Oil Myths

  • Real olive oil is green, and the deeper the color, the higher the quality. False. According to olive oil expert Tom Mueller, “Good oils come in all shades, from vivid green to gold to pale straw, and official tasters actually use colored glasses to avoid prejudicing themselves in favor of greener oils.”
  • Real olive oil is bitter. Not always. The bitterness of the oil depends on the time of harvest. Early harvest of immature olives creates the bitterest oils. Midseason harvest creates an oil that is a blend of bitter and fruity. Late season harvest creates the mildest flavor, sometimes even called a “sweet” oil.
  • You can tell if your extra virgin olive oil is real by putting it in the fridge; if it solidifies, it’s real. False. It would simplify life if this were true, but unfortunately, it’s not a reliable test. Mono-unsaturated oils solidify in the fridge, while polyunsaturated oils don’t, but oils are not 100% one or the other. Olive oil, canola oil, and safflower oil, have similar mono to polyunsaturated ratios, which means the fridge test can’t even tell you the type of oil. I’ve heard people say, “Well, if it doesn’t solidify, you know for sure it’s fake.” That’s not true either. Some high quality EVOO won’t solidify in the fridge, which the UC Davis Olive Center discovered in their fridge experiments. I also found this to be true: a gold medal award winning, COOC certified oil stayed liquid in my fridge, while another COOC certified oil solidified. So, this test means nothing. Use the criteria earlier in the article, to discern a quality extra virgin olive oil instead.
  • If I buy EVOO from my health-food store, I can trust it’s real. Sadly, not true. All of the fake olive oil I’ve bought over the years came from health food stores, including the brands listed above in the failed studies. The brands that passed the studies, my local store didn’t even stock. I had to go to a regular grocery chain to find them.
  • Olive oil has a low smoke point and therefore shouldn’t be used in cooking. False. High quality EVOO has a correspondingly high smoke point of 375 degrees (on average), and research shows it does not oxidize during cooking. However, in its raw state it is more nutritious (holding onto 100% of its polyphenols, some of which can dissolve in cooking).

~~~
This post is linked to the following blog carnivals:
Fresh Bites Friday, Fight Back Friday, Whole Food Friday, What Am I Eating?, Weekend Whatever Link-Up, Sunday School, Natural Living Monday, Fat Tuesday, Healthy Tuesday, Family Table Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, Wheat-Free Wednesday, Party Wave Wednesday, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Allergy-Free Wednesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Tasty Traditions, Simple Lives Thursday, Thank Your Body Thursday, Tuned In Tuesday, Well Fed Wednesday,

138 thoughts on “Would the Real Olive Oil Please Stand Up?

  1. I learned about this sad issue last year from a different blog and I was happy to see my Costco olive oil on the good list. I think it’s quality is excellent and the cost as well. I will be going to Costco in two weeks and would gladly bring back some for others. Thanks for the great info!! You are a gem!!!

    • For people who don’t have a Costco in their community (and no one like Karen to make a run for them), you can find their brand (Kirkland) on Amazon.com. Another brand that’s easy to find in many large grocery chains is California Olive Ranch.

      • I live in a rural area and don’t always have access to stores other than Walmart….so, which brands should I look for?

        • Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll have good luck at Wal-Mart. However, if you have access to a Costco, buy the Kirkland Organic brand. Otherwise, Amazon.com sells Kirkland, too. Be sure to buy the organic though, because they have something else called Kirkland Signature that isn’t the real thing. I hope that helps.

      • I just bought Costco Kirkland extra virgin olive oil organic cold press. I put it in the refrigerator for several days. It did not solidify or turn cloudy. I drizzled some on to bread and ate it. If I injest any oils that are not olive oil my lower digestive tract will react severely. A while later, I had the same became ill having the same symptoms as I have with injesting canola and other processed oils. The lable on this bottle states that this blend came from select oils from Italy, Portugal and Spain. It does not specify that those blended oils are olive? I am concerned. Literally it is my “gut feeling” that tells me that this is not 100% olive oil. I just reread the label. You right, I purchased the signature variety. Thanks for the confirmation.

        • Thanks for commenting, Pam. I bought the Signature myself by accident once and I could also tell it wasn’t the real thing.

    • P.S. Karen, did you notice that Consumer Reports picked Trader Joe’s California Estate as being high-quality. I know how much you love Trader Joes. Maybe it’s time for a taste comparison between that & Kirkland!

  2. My kids are allergic to corn and it is amazing how many olive oils people with corn allergies react too. The Costco brand and the California Olive Ranch are the only two I’ve seen consistently without reactions. It’s crazy!

    • Thanks for spreading the word, and also for going out of your way to choose such high-quality olive oil for your products, too.

  3. Two things. First, careful about the Kirkland olive oil: only the Kirkland Signature Organic passed the UC Davis test — and just barely. The regular Kirkland oil hasn’t been tested, and from the fact that they sell some of it in clear PET plastic, it’s safe to assume that much of it is garbage. I wouldn’t really regard even the Kirkland Signature Organic as great olive oil.

    Second, while it’s true that some authentic olive oils aren’t very bitter, those oils also aren’t usually especially healthful. Bitterness, astringency, pepperiness, and pungency/throat burn are all caused by different phenolic compounds in olive oil, and those phenolics are a major contributor to its healthfulness. If you don’t detect these in an oil, you’re not getting the full benefits.

    • Good point about Kirkland, that they have both organic and non-organic oils, and it was the organic that passed the purity test, so shop carefully. As for the plastic bottle, I don’t like that either, which is why I special order my favorite olive oil from an orchard in California. But that’s expensive, and Kirkland Organic is a reasonable choice for anyone on a tight budget. As for your second comment on the bitterness, while it’s true that the early season harvest (which is the most bitter) also has the highest polyphenol content, the late harvest (which is the most mild) has the highest carotenoid content. Both are healthy, just in different ways. Thanks for commenting. You obviously know your olive oil!

      • A couple of follow ups. First, it’s true that there are more carotenoids in olive oils from late- than from early-harvest olives – but the absolute difference is trivial. The total amount of carotenoids in EVOO ranges from 0.5-15 milligrams per kilogram of oil, depending (as you say) on ripeness and also on varietal and climate. But that means that a tablespoon contains at maximum about 200 micrograms of carotenoids, which is the amount present in one tenth of one leaf of spinach. By contrast, the main phenolics in olive oil (secoiridoids, such as oleuropein and its derivatives, along with tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol) are either found nowhere else in the diet but olive oil, or are only found in very tiny amounts elsewhere (and even less if you exclude whole olives). And studies show specific health benefits associated with high- vs. low-phenolic EVOOs, whereas I’m aware of no such studies in high- vs. low-carotenoid oils (and, granted the tiny amounts, I would be very surprised to see any).

        Second, it appears that oil from Kirkland’s suppliers is being held by FDA because of contamination by the pesticide chlorpyrifos (legal in Europe, illegal for olives in America) :
        http://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-business/fda-detains-certfied-origins-olive-oil/33484

    • Excellent advice! Have just swigged some EVOO that I recently purchased and all the attributes you recommended for a proper oil have been sensed in mu mouth, and suprisingly the throat burn which I was happy to read is a positive. Thanks.

  4. I have come across this information before but I don’t think it can be mentioned enough. Sadly it isn’t just olive oil that is have “authenticity” problems but even products such as honey and balsamic vinegar.

    • Yes, the lesson seems to be “know your source” – buying local wherever possible, which is hard to do with olive oil. Thankfully, the internet can point us to the trustworthy companies. It’s so sad that there’s so much corruption.

  5. Sad that we can’t trust what the companies say. Certainly makes our job of trying to live healthier harder. Thanks for sharing this research at A Humble Bumble :)

    • Unfortunately the organic label means nothing since many organic brands tested as fraudulent as well. Zoe wasn’t one of the brands tested, so I can’t say one way or the other. Does it have some of these key factors: a dark bottle, a harvest date, a fruity scent, a pure taste of olives?

  6. Wow. I’m going to have to test my oil when I get home. What about light olive oils? I use that to make mayonnaise to avoid the chemicals in store-bought brands, but it seems I may not be avoiding the bad oils at all!

      • I read your post today (28 June 2013) and went to the kitchen to taste my 3 olive oils. Kirkland Signature was flat but for some reason had a peppery reaction at the back of my throat. The other two, one from The Olive Press in Sonoma, CA, and the other (Olio Nuovo) from CA. The first passed with flying colors – WOW! The second passed, but not as pungent and tasty as the first. Both had harvest dates printed on the back labels, both were peppery and both were bottled in dark glass bottles. Thank you for the research and reporting.

  7. Pingback: Weekend Whatever 3/15 | Simple Living Mama

    • Thanks, Danielle. So many of my posts stem from my own desire to eat healthier, and I spend hours on various websites, slowly gathering the information I need. My goal is to write posts, where people can find all the information in one place, and trust that it’s accurate as well. No use keeping all that research to myself. Thanks for the pins!

  8. Eileen, thank you for sharing your knowledge on this topic. A funny thing happened at our regular grocery store recently. They started carrying California Olive Ranch EVOO. I have been aware of the fraud but uneducated in how to be sure we were getting the real thing. So I thought, what the heck. Let’s give this a try. The flavor is so wonderful, I even had my husband taste a spoonful. I was hoping it was for real. Your article confirmed that it passed its test. However, I’ll never fully rely on any distributor to stay completely honest. So! Thanks for the info on COOC which is now bookmarked for future reference!

  9. Thank-you for informing everyone on selecting the correct olive oil.
    Living near a Jimbo’s Market, they have hand picked all the olive oils for the customer with the appropriate testing required to achieve a fine extra-virgin olive oil. I suggest to everyone to find a grocery store near them that they can trust that brings in the finest olive oils.
    I use Bragg’s olive oil because they have done the research and testing with labeling such as: unrefined, unfiltered, Kosher Certified, USDA organic! Shop your local farmer’s market and find a nearby ranch you can visit, not only will you become educated in the olive oil process but you can enjoy buying locally and knowing your farmer’s as a reliable source for your olive oil. I agree, once you take a spoonful there’s never going back!

    • If I lived in California I would definitely visit an orchard. I can just imagine the taste there – so close to the source! As for Braggs, they weren’t tested in the studies referenced above. Hopefully they are the real thing, but the labels “unrefined, unfiltered, kosher certified, usda organic” don’t necessarily mean anything in the olive oil industry. Many of the fakes used similar words in their advertising. The certifications that matter are the outside agencies that test it to be real EVOO (like the COOC in California). I went to Braggs website, and they say their EVOO has a shelf life of 3 years, and they use clear glass bottles. My understanding is that real EVOO only lasts for 2 years in dark bottles. So, I would question that being the real thing, especially since it’s so inexpensive. Sorry!!!

      • She’s right on the $$$$ w/her Jimbos Market comment — They are very highly rated [by multiple "consumer" review outlets] and I’m sure for good reason. I think as long as she does a smell and taste test – than that’s what really matters. I respectfully disagree that price is an indication of quality. Additionally, a dark bottle is nice, but does not guarantee purity. I also went to the company’s EVOO page. It said … “We recommend that you store the oil in a cool, dark place”.

        I bet that two year standard you stand by so strongly was implemented by the USDA in cooperation with corporate oil hustlers. Why? Genuine quality evoo has a greater shelf life than most other oils, so if they are using mostly non-EVOO than it makes sense they would appease the corporate players who actually work in the USDA via the ‘revolving’ door. BTW evoo will last for 2-3 Years in the pantry.

        • Mae, you’re obviously entitled to your opinion, although your logic is questionable. Of course real EVOO costs more. That’s just common sense, because it costs so much more to make. As for the 2 year standard coming from the USDA and corporate oil hustlers, you couldn’t be more wrong. One of the reasons there’s so much fraudulent olive oil on the market is that the USDA doesn’t care enough to enforce EVOO standards at all, and as for the corporate oil hustlers, they’re the ones benefiting from fraudulent oils. The 2 year standard comes from experts in the field: the olive oil farmers themselves and the scientists and tasting experts who certify EVOO. While the oil might be good after the 2 year mark, it’s always recommended to consume before then, for the purest flavor and greatest polyphenol content.

          • It is simply ignorant for Bragg’s to suggest that *any* EVOO will still be good after 3 years, let alone one packaged in clear glass. Even the 2 y date, which is industry standard in the mass-market business, is absurdly long: EVOO can vary quite a bit in its durability (even well-made oils can have a short shelf-life if the olive cultivar is naturally low in oleic acid and/or phenolic compounds, as with the popular Arbequina cultivar), but even the most robust and durable of oils cannot last two years with its sensory and health characteristics intact. To suggest that an oil will still be of extra-virgin quality after three years in storage is just a sign of incompetence or dishonesty.

  10. I purchased a 68 ounce tin of Botticelli extra virgin cold pressed olive oil for less than $20. According to the tin, this particular batch was sourced in Tunisia. Being this cheap, I pretty much figured it had to be fake. I performed a taste and fridge test. Taste test: not greasy and left a definite peppery sensation in the back of my throat. Fridge test: I put just a small cup of it in the fridge. After 30 minutes it was cloudy and starting to thicken and within 2 hours was completely solid.

    From what I understand, just because the supposed extra virgin olive oil solidifies, doesn’t mean it’s 100% pure (it may be mixed with other oils). But I’ve also read that soybean and canola oil won’t solidify in the fridge.

    Do you know anything about the Botticelli brand? It’s hard to believe that something so inexpensive could be genuine, but it does in fact appear to be so.

    • Hi Kimberly. I don’t know anything about Botticelli, but some inexpensive brands have tested as the real thing through Consumer Reports and UC Davis (Costco & Trader Joes, for example). The fridge test is a myth (doesn’t prove anything), but trust your tastebuds (and your sense of smell). When you opened the bottle, did a wonderful fruity fragrance come out of the bottle? The real thing smells great, too!

    • Apparently, some other seed oils will solidify in the fridge…I believe one is peanut oil.

      The fridge test is NOT a guarantee!

      By the way, I attended a tasting of a group of people who want to create a guide for olive oil–they had been tasting for a number of months on a weekly basis different oils. Out of a group of about 7 or 8 people only two noticed one oil tasted was off – myself found it rancid scored it ’0′, another who is a wine merchant did not like the flavour and only gave it a 4 score. Other people scored it as if it was a good oil and one even said she really liked the flavour.

  11. I find it amazing there are human beings out there that think it would be okay to sell counterfeit food. I also find it amazing that if this can so easily be tested, then why the authorities don’t fly in TOMORROW and shut their entire operations down.

    • Sadly, it’s all about money. Not enough allocated to the inspectors, and greed is a high motivator for the producers. I agree though – it’s maddening.

      • Orlan: If you actually mean *counterfeit* food (olive oil adulterated with canola oil, blended with chlorophyll and beta-carotene and sold as EVOO), it’s actually not that easy to detect — and as detection of simple adulteration like that has gotten easier, the fraudsters have moved on to harder-to-detect methods. Passing off low-grade virgin oil as EVOO is relatively easy to detect, it’s hard to assign blame for that: a manufacturer can claim that they made oil that (barely) passes the (very low bar) standard for extra-virgin, but that it was subsequently damaged by heat or light during shipping and storage, and the passage of time. To deal with that, the standards themselves would have to be tightened and new chemical tests introduced (which the International Olive Association, and their running dogs the North American Olive Oil Association have been fighting tooth and nail).

        Eileen: the problem is not that there aren’t enough resources allocated to the inspectors: there ARE no inspectors! No one at FDA or USDA is going around routinely testing olive oil. There wasn’t any legal standard for ‘extra virgin olive oil’ until very recently, and the current standard is in law, but voluntary. Even for outright adulteration, FDA doesn’t actually put any inspectors on the ground: their budget is already slashed to the bone and beyond, and they’re trying to prevent the next Salmonella outbreak, not the “mere” ripping off of consumers.
        If we want this to change, we need to lobby for new laws, and for expansion of FDA inspection powers and budgets — and, we have to be willing to pay more in taxes to cover it.

        • The FDA budget in 2008 was $2.1 Billion and in 2014 it is $4.7 Billion–no slashing going on except in tax payer wallets.

  12. Great information. Just found your website and I love what I have read so far. Am curious as to what your thoughts on the quality of the olive oil used in sardine tins are? Just started eating the “Seasons brand sardines in olive oil” from Costco and feel like I am having a reaction to it–similar to the reaction I get after consuming industrial seed oils. Ate the Wild planet brand prior to this and seemed fine.

    • Trust your body, Sam. Generally manufacturers save money where they can, so I’m sure plenty of products with olive oil as an ingredient have chosen the cheapest price, which is less likely to be the real thing.

  13. Hey Eileen, so I read through most of these comments and there is certainly a lot of information. I typically consume the kirkland signature organic olive oil, and now I feel as if I was consuming a vegetable oil all along. If you do not mind me asking, where do you purchase your olive oil from (I live in southern california as well)? I want the best possible olive oil that I can find in california.

  14. I found California Ranch Olive Oil. A taste on the tongue brought a slight burning on the back of my throat. Now I know I have the real stuff. It was so non oily… more like a juice. I added it to a salad dressing I had made earlier using my regular olive oil. The flavor became so alive. It is quite a deal to realize that I have been using, for my whole life, olive oil that wasn’t all loive oil. Now I have to tell every body. Thank You. I look forward to reading more.

  15. Wow, this is very disturbing! Kinda like discovering that Splenda was toxic, but thank you very much for your blog, and for helping to inform folks who are trying to stay healthy!

  16. When I went on Amazon to check prices, the ONLY Kirkland one I saw was Kirkland Signature Organic Olive Oil. I couldn’t find one that didn’t say “Signature” on it. Is this the correct one?

    • I don’t understand why the commenters on this page have become fixated on the Kirkland Signature Organic olive oil. Yes, it wasn’t outright fraudulent, but if you look at the actual numbers in the UC Davis report, it barely squeezed by even the lax standards of the IOC. I’d like to again point folks to the database of producers and sources of premium extra-virgin olive oil assembled by Tom Mueller, author of “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil”:
      http://www.truthinoliveoil.com/great-oils/north-america

      • OliveChirper, this is a judgment-free zone. People focus on Kirkland because it’s inexpensive and easy to find, and those are two good reasons. Yes, there are higher quality oils out there, but not everyone is going to invest the time or money to find them. This article gives people a range of options, and it’s OK if their choice is different than yours.

      • OliveChirper: I have enjoyed your comments. Thank you for sharing the link, database of producers and sources of premium extra-virgin olive oil assembled by Tom Mueller.

  17. I looked at the California Olive Ranch and Trader Joe’s Estate and neither one had a harvest date on them which is the most important one to have. All they had was a best buy date. So you really don’t how old the oil is.

    • George, are you sure you looked carefully? I don’t know about the TJ’s, but Calif. Olive Ranch does stamp their bottles with both a harvest and a ‘best by’ date. Their ‘best by’ dates are in my view overly optimistic, especially for such mild (and likely low-phenolic) oils, but you can make your own judgement with the harvest date.

      • The ones I saw at Trader Joe’s did not have a harvest date that I could see, but those at Stop & Shop did.If I remember correctly harvest date was Nov 2011 that is over 18 months of being in the light.Believe I will wait till & if they get a fresh supply.

  18. I am very sad….I always trusted Costco and the Kirkland brand as a superior brand. However, I purchased the Kirkland Extra Virgin Olive Oil Cold Press and don’t believe that it is very pure. Stays liquid when put in fridge. How sad is that? Getting so bad that I don’t know who to believe anymore! :( (

    • Linda, if you read my article you’ll see that the fridge test isn’t valid. However, Costco sells 2 Kirkland extra-virgin olive oils. The Organic label is the one that passed the UC Davis test. The non-organic isn’t the same quality and is likely fake. Which one did you buy?

      • I purchased the Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Produced from Italian Grown Olives – First Cold Pressed – Product of Italy – in a dark bottle. Sounds pretty authentic to me, but I guess you can’t believe what you read. Sad!!

  19. Has anyone acquired eczema from olive oils that have not passed the
    purity test ? I am on the blood type diet (type B) since 1995, and a
    senior citizen; trying to find out why my skin is suddenly sensitive ?

    • Anything’s possible, but I think eczema is usually more complicated than that. There are lots of potential influences, including stress, toxins in beauty products, immune system issues, medication side effects, and nutrition. If fake olive oil was the cause, I would think the eczema would go away as soon as you stop consuming it.

  20. Just a note about what wonderful quality of excellent EVOO’s are coming out of Greece these days. Greek olive oil farmers are understanding that it is crazy to ship excellent quality EVOO to Italy for dilution and blending into lower quality mass production of multinational brands. The American consumer has not had the opportunity to try the superior taste and quality of exceptional Greek EVOOs, that are less bitter than the Spanish varieties, and fuller in taste than the true Italian estate oils. There are over 20 varieties of olives in Greece and over 7 of them are used to produce various PDO and PGI products by region.

    • I have no idea. There isn’t a complete list of which oils are real and which are not. The best thing to do is to read the tips in the article above on how to tell if your olive oil is real, and make your own assessment.

  21. For years I’ve wondered, Olive Oil from Italy? And the Mafia’s known expansion into business. Not hard to believe that the same folks who sell heroin to you or your children would be averse to cutting their Olive Oil with another oil. Web sites like this one are very helpful and healthful. Thanks a bunch.

  22. The article ways great, but I was really looking forward to the brands mentioned it in that were reviewed. Turns out I have to pay for a subscription to get the result details?

    Using a source that we have to pay for to confirm results is in very poor taste.

    • Go back and read the article. You’ll see that I listed many brands – both ones that failed and ones that passed the test. If you want the complete results, UCDavis has theirs available for free. (Just click the links embedded in the appropriate paragraphs.) Consumer Reports is the only one that charges for the complete results, but they did release some brand information for free (which I listed above). They’re a well-respected, for-profit magazine with expenses, and have every right to charge for their hard work. I don’t begrudge them that at all.

    • As Eileen has said, the UC Davis report is available for free. And I don’t think it would make sense to just not reference the Consumer Reports findings just because they’re behind a paywall. In any case, the CR analysis is actually a bit confusing and doesn’t use a clear standard for making their recommendations, nor a trained olive oil tasting panel: people who don’t really know olive oil often bring their expectations based on half-rancid or musty oil into the tasting session and wind up recommending flawed oils, especially when the whole line is defective in different ways. A lot of the oils endorsed by CR should really have been thrown out.

  23. Dear Eileen,

    This is a very interesting article. I live in Tuscany and we have around 600 olives trees and make around 600L of the finest quality 100% organic EVOO every year. And we’ve been doing this for around 30 years. So I know a thing or two about olive oil, and the shocking business of fake oil production that goes on all around me.

    People think that the fake oil companies operate from disused warehouses and abandoned factories, but the truth is the complete opposite. There are 3 large factories within 10 miles from here, but there are operations all over Italy. These are smart, legitimate businesses, who pay their taxes , legally employ lots of staff, and do not hide what they do in any way whatsoever. Tankers carrying low quality oil from all around the Med arrive all year round in broad daylight. In other words, these companies are not in any way illegal. The government, both local and national, know exactly what these ‘respectable’ businesses are doing, but they are happy to turn a blind eye because these companies generate tax income and hep the country’s balance of payments through exports.

    And testing for fake oils is difficult and expensive, so you’re unlikely to see US Customs start looking too carefully. As long as people keep buying, nothing will change.

    All you can do is stop buying cheap, fake oils that are doing you more harm than good, and start buying your oil from known reliable sources. Personally, I wouldn’t trust any big brands with wide distribution, no matter what the tests show.

    Thank you for writing this article. It is the first I’ve come across that is factually accurate and doesn’t repeat the same old-wives tales that everyone else does.

  24. All need to know that even within the extra virgin olive oil class there are huge differences in taste, freshness, aroma, & overall purity plus health benefits. The Kirkland EVOO that barely passed the California testing means it is a low-end extra virgin … barely an extra virgin so unlikely the oil comes from top quality olives, unlikely would be extracted using the best technology and best pratices , and you would probably not be able to sip it…am sure it will be greasy and oily. Tasting olive oil with bread does not allow quality to be noticed…we need to feel the texture of the oil in the mouth – not that of the bread – and truly taste the level of freshness of an oil Unfortunately, the University of California studies/surveys also note that the majority of consumers are used to poor quality oils re tastes preferred.

    The problem can be very easily rectified – every importer should be able to present a chemical analysis and organoleptic test for any oil imported and it should be mandatory to be presented at customs PLUS asked by store buyers. Some producers/importers may again try to cheat this process, but at least it may be a deterrent to those that are thinking they can make huge amounts of money selling mediocre extra virgin at higher prices…or more oxidated/broken down fat oils that would be either just a virgin oil at the higher extra virgin prices by slapping on a label stating extra virgin.

    The problem truly is that there are many, many producers of mediocre olive oil and only a large company would be able to supply Costco am sure (otherwise how can they provide such large volumes?)… meaning this company is also after maximum profits.

    Any olive oil that is truly, truly exceptional and the producer has taken the ultimate care at every step (cultivating top-quality fruit, crushing within just a couple of hours of harvest to maintain freshness, extracting with leading-edge, most modern equipment by a very well-trained (up-to-date techniques) millers, and stored in temp-controlled, oxygen-controlled environments cannot have a price point oil that Costco would sell at the price of Kirkland. This oil would NOT BE OILY AT ALL in the mouth, offer beautiful clean taste, complex flavour notes ranging from apple, herbal, tropical fruits, tomato, nuts, etc., that is not fleeting but lingers in the mouth and truly tastes VERY CLEAN. This oil has more health benefits and can be used in ANY TYPE OF DISH/DRINK/DESSERT because of its purity.

    Dolores Smith, Canada

  25. Pingback: Sunday Snippets

  26. Dear Eileen,
    This has been an exciting year for me for my health. I am hypertriglyceridemic. That means I have incredibly high fats in my blood. The lab where I am tested has normal Triglycerides set at 35- 135. As of September of 2012my triglycerides were well over 3000. I felt like I had the flu all the time; my thinking was cloudy; and I slept alot. I read about fighting bad fats with good fats. I started drinking whole milk, using real butter and with the help of …Real Olive oil Stand up I found the real thing. I use olive oil to cook with and make my own salad dressing. As of Ocotber of 2013 I have lost 2200 points of tryglicerides, and 28 pounds. I am stronger, more clear thinking. I went back to my doctor yesterday to look at lab results and found that I have lost an additional 300 points. I am still in the high range of 500+ but that is not bad for 2 months. This is truely amazing and I look forward to the coming years. This has opened my eyes to the importance of Paleo eating. I have given this information to a friend and she is losing weight as well. Thanks Pam

  27. Hi Eileen,

    Everyone is so hyped up & focused on Extra Virgin Olive oil, which is great, however, it really should be consumed in it’s raw state, for the full health benefits, IMHO. I grew up with Italians (I’m Polish), and I married one.
    We used the regular Olive Oil for cooking and the EVOO was just starting to make it to the market place, back in the 70′s. Even in Italy at the time, they
    only used the regular Olive Oil for cooking, back then. I was told bcos it could withstand the heat and did NOT corrupt like the EVOO did.
    These days, when I look for regular Olive Oil, it’s very hard to find.

    Since you seem to be the expert on this subject and these days the Olive Oil quality is much different than it was 40 or more years ago, would you please
    let us know if regular Olive Oil is better and safer for cooking, rather than the
    EVOO. Which one corrupts the least with heat.

    I just sent your amazing website to all in my data base. Already people are
    emailing me back with shock. Thank you so very much for taking the time
    to expose this sham in the Olive Oil business world.

    • Hi Irene. I agree that raw, fresh, real EVOO is a nutritional powerhouse! As for cooking, I imagine the reason regular olive oil was used more often was simply that it was cheaper. EVOO’s smoke point is pretty high, so it’s safe to cook with, but you’re right, you do lose some of the polyphenols. If you pay a premium for EVOO, it makes sense to get all the nutrition you can from it. The irony is that regular olive oil is still readily available, it’s just mislabeled as EVOO now, due to rampant fraud.

  28. “Regular” olive oil (that is, anything labelled just “Olive Oil” and not “Extra Virgin…” etc) is made by refining the crudd that gets discarded when I take my olives to be pressed. Honestly. The process uses heat and chemicals to extract additional oil from the waste organic matter discarded at the frantoio. It is then coloured and flavoured to make it palatable. And this is then labelled as “olive oil”. In reality, most olive oil is then padded out with cheaper oils like canola. In any case, any oil that has been refined contains NONE of the goodness of real EVOO, and the refining processes fill these oils with harmful free-radicals (the ions that damage cells and produce cancer). So avoid these oils at all costs.

    Good EVOO is a little expensive to cook with, but you get what you pay for. The polyphenols in real olive oil help combat the free radicals that are produced any time you heat oil to near its smoking point, so cooking with EVOO is better for you than using any other oil. (See this article I found on the subject: http://www.facebook.com/PoderePatrignone/posts/583010558403612?stream_ref=10 ) .

    But as Eileen rightly said, if you want to use “regular” olive oil, then just pop over to your supermarket and buy a bottle of EVOO. Chances are, it’s the same thing (at best).

  29. Your article is most interesting and so very true. You have exposed what has been going on for decades in the olive oil world, resulting from the constant pressure by supermarkets to lower prices.
    We live in the UK and many of the olive oils available here (except the expensive ones sold in specialist deli shops) are rubbish quality.

    We have a farmhouse and olive grove in the Italian mountains south of Rome and now only use our own Extra Virgin cold pressed olive oil for everything. I agree, the taste is totally different – it has a ‘real’ taste and is certainly more beneficial health-wise, with no additives, no colourings, no preservatives, only cold pressed, no filtering, no blending with other inferior oils. However, most of the oil from olives cultivated and pressed in our valley, is kept by the owners for their own use. This is because quantities are limited, so bottling and marketing is not economical. We do bottle, label and market some of ours for friends and contacts in the UK but your correspondents are so right – such is the high cost of maintaining small groves, harvesting, pressing, bottling, labelling, marketing and transporting that it is just not viable to do all this to a very high ‘extra virgin’ standard to compete with the ‘supermarket prices’ being charged – ‘you get what you pay for’, and most of the best oil from Single Estates (or single village areas) is kept within the region for local consumption. Unfortunately, this allows the unscrupulous to benefit from the shortage of good olive oil on the market. Sorry, but while prices remain low, owners keep their best oil for their own consumption in Italy.

    Regards, Alan.

  30. Sadly, this last comment isn’t true. While there are many people with less than 100 trees who make oil only for their friends and relatives, there are lots of small producers like me, with less than a thousand trees, who struggle to sell the oil they make. I have a thousand litres of amazing oil in my cantina, but I only have buyers for half of this. I won’t sell to the big factories because they won’t pay me a fair rate (they prefer to buy cheaper oils from north Africa and then fix them in the lab) and they will use my real oil as evidence they are buying local oils, when 99% of their oil is inferior (and often contaminated) imported. I know lots of local growers with lots of oil they can’t sell, unfortunately. And this is top-grade oil: extra virgin, pressed from young olives (not over-ripe), and a lot of it organic. But when it costs us €12/litre to produce a good oil, how can we compete against horribly inferior oils imported at <€1/litre, or indeed against other cheaper vegetable oils that are coloured and flavoured to vaguely resemble olive oil?

  31. Consumers could have a bit more power to control what store owners, large chain store buyers purchase, and other gourmet store owners/buyers purchase by demanding to see a chemical analysis of any oil on the shelf.
    If a producer cultivates their own orchards, harvests their own olives, extracts the oil himself/herself without the use of hot water to get more oil extracted, and bottles it himself/herself it is not automatically “extra virgin”. The flavour may be more intense, the taste may be more reminiscent of olives, etc., but unless the levels of degraded fatty acids are tested by a reliable laboratory as well as the level of oxidation in the fat (primarily from the extraction methodology/machinery), you will never know if the oil meets the required levels of purity to be classified as extra virgin and offer us the maximum health benefits.

    Keep in mind that psychological/cognitive research shows that we become used to tastes we grow up with and believe those tastes are indicative of the real thing. One study by the university of California Olive Centre (should be on their site) showed that about 65% of participants liked the taste of poor quality olive oil .

    Some of the indicators of quality expressed earlier such as the sensation of pepper or coagulation in the fridge after ‘X’ amount of time do not necessarily tell you the entire story – only a chemical analysis will. There are pros and cons to different types of oils – some varieties do not offer as much of the ‘pepper’ sensation, if the olive is harvested a bit later in the season the sensation will be less so that in a ‘delicate/milder’ style oil unless you are trained may not detect a lot of pepper at the finish and think that oil is not real EVOO. It could still have a relatively good chemical purity and not contribute to free radicals in the body as much as an oil that has a lot of pepper but is highly degraded.

    As untrained tasters, your best bet is to start askin for chemical analyses to see the level of acidity (broken down fatty acids which must be less than 0.8 per 100 grams…or just 0.8) and peroxides (increase with oxidation of the oil and must be less than 20 milliequivalent units per Kg).

    There are many, many varietals of fruit in the world that are commercialized and each will have its own taste profile. It is also as given that people may not to like the taste profile of a particular varietal if not used to its flavour so AGAIN a very high purity oil will be very clean in the mouth (not greasy, oily experience), taste really fresh, give you different flavour notes such as herbs, tomato, leafy greens…some may be more on the herbal rather than the fresh greens…which could confuse you thinking it is not very fresh.

    Never test an olive oil by using bread to dip in it…you have to sip it alone. Concentrate on the texture, how quickly the experience of oil disappears from your mouth (very high quality you will virtually not sense an oil experience), whether it tastes fresh, etc. Do not assume that if you do not get a very high kick of pepper at the finish it is not real EVOO.
    Do not assume that if the oil is artesenally produced it is automatically EVOO. I have heard some importers give a very convincing romantic story at demos about how they grow their own olives, show pictures of themselves hasrvesting the olives and using their own machinery, etc., and explain that their oil is 100% pure. Yes, not blended with other types of oil, but purity is about chemical analysis… and I heard one say the oil was 0.5 acidity to a customer – very high and almost at the threshhold of max allowed of 0.8. I can tell you that you should not pay a high price for a 0.5 oil and it will be not be a great experience upon sipping.

    If you want a really good EVOO, the quality of the fruit must be very high, the fruit must be harvested very quickly and without bruising it to avoid enzymatic action to start breaking it down if the skin has been broken, it must be crushed within 3 or so hours using really good, very, very clean modern equipment to reduce oxidation given the current design of technology, the process has to be precise at certain steps and the machine calibrated to take into consideration the moisture index and maturity index of the olives, the paste has to be moved in a special compartment like a dough but very gently and for a maximum amount of time to start separating the oil from the pulp of the fruit in a very particular way, and the finished oil should be protected very well with specific cellar temperatures and reducing oxygen contact.
    So, because there is a wide range of possible measurements of acidity and oxidation levels, there should really be a wide range of price points to reflect the actual costs of producing an oil and the consumer should be able to make a choice based on how much they are willing/able to pay – but knowing full well what level of quality they are buying.
    With the governments not asking importers for a chemical analysis, and stores also not asking because the majority of buyers have not idea and go for best margins and what look they think will sell better, or to get maximum profit by training their staff to recommend their house brand, etc., etc., we must take upon ourselves to stop listening to different suggestions around what is a real EVOO and ask for chemical analyses. This way, there might be a change.
    By the way, the Executive Director of the University of California’s Olive Centre did respond in the media to Dr. Oz’s TV program suggesting that the test for a ‘real olive oil’ is if it coagulates in the fridge – I don’t have time right now, but am sure there should also be their rebuttal on their Olive Centre website or it can be googled as I believe it was published in the media. It is not the type of test you should base your decision on.

    And, lastly, I believe that oxidation levels and perhaps also degradation of fat levels of fats applies to different types of fats such as corn oil, sunflower oil, etc. And there are no regulations at all for these other types of fats!

  32. I agree with Simon Zimbler – Jan. 26. Also, many top quality producers are also almost at the brink of bankruptcy (from small producers to larger ones selling ultra premium quality EVOOs all over the world), again because no government will put in place necessary procedures for consumes to learn about different levels of quality within the EVOO class and the labelling problems. Therefore, it is harder for the top, ultra premium EVOO producers to sell their oils when there are so many in the market at low prices. Some of these sell all over the world and their oils are recognized in many world markets so that it is difficult cost-wise to create special labels for each country, resulting in one label for all without a lot of information about their oil on the label… and they assume that the consumer will understand by the flavour/texture/quality of their oil as an ultra premium – the lowest oxidation and acidity whithin the extra virgin class. This is not the case and they must manage their very high costs to give extreme care at every step of the production from cultivation to cellaring/protecting the extracted oil from oxidation yet some times not charging the true costs of their production in order to compete in markets where many consumers are vonfused and make decisions based on price.

    China has started to purchase top-end producers in different countries as they have the $ and the producers need the injection of money to keep going.

    It is a very complicated product to market. Any of you that truly care about quality olive oils, take some courses if you can.

  33. Really true about multinationals with underpricing of mixes of extra virgin olive oils and mislabeling sources and contents. Wonderful exquisite estate oils from Greece cannot compete with these! Spanish, Italian and USA multinationals teaching consumers ridiculous notions of technically -produced mild and robust ‘varieties’.
    Consumers should ‘think wine’ when tasting olive oils with their senses intact and a clean fresh mind and palate. Frankly, buyers should be schooled as well — everyone that is who was raised on Crisco and Puritan, and ‘graduated to Berio and Bertolli. Isn’t it time to move onto real EVOO’s ?

  34. Estate produced EVOOs from any country…including Spain and Italy, not just Greece cannot compete with ‘supermarket’ focused multinationals. Below is a website for people to look at re top quality olive oils…and there many of these top produces in Spain and Italy. Let’s not worry too much about country of origin as today it is all about which producers have the best technology, highest trained experts, best storage, etc., as it is chemical purity which makes a huge difference on the texture and flavour AND experience of freshness as well as complexity in flavours…not just crushing the olives one time without hot water (outdated “first pressed, cold pressed” marketing message)

    http://www.worldsbestoliveoils.org/worlds-best-olive-oils.html

    Website is from an independent organization of professional tasters in Germany – fairly objective – Germany is not an olive oil producer…..they track international award results. International awards are not necessary as opposed to a chemical purity because some times smaller producers may not participate…but, also, typically it is those producers who have the most confidence in the quality of their oils and achieve really great purity that will participate given the cost of doing so.

  35. I am in need of good information, just the same as others are, so consider this my first effort to add to the knowledge base.

    I called Bragg and had a lengthy discussion with the back-office, just last week (Jan2014).

    Explaining my concern over trusting suppliers and getting assurance of quality, purity, etc… I was told that they have a person 100% dedicated to EVOO, with no other duties, besides EVOO product. This person makes regular trips to Greece and knows the people in the process from the olive trees to the glass bottles, and is personally assuring Bragg quality is maintained.
    Since I can’t make the trips to Greece myself, I am glad that Bragg does is for me!
    At this point, I’m willing to trust Bragg, since they have been such a great vendor for me in my years of health-oriented food efforts.

    As far as clear-glass bottles are concerned, I’m not as concerned about that, since the filled bottles are not necessarily sitting in destructive light, while waiting to be purchased… just saying.

    • Everything they are saying at Bragg sounds good on its face, but at no point have they apparently told you that they are getting a proper chemical panel run on the oil — not even for the minimal IOC standard for EVOO, let alone for the higher standards that any serious producer would demand, or for additional information like the level of phenolic compounds (which is critical for both their shelf life and their health benefits).

      You say that you’re not concerned about the clear glass bottles, but I suggest you should be. If you’re buying the oil in a health food store, it’s sitting on the shelf and getting more than enough light to be degraded midway through the harvest year: this is likely a major explanation for why 69% of imported supermarket olive oils flunked the University of California at Davis olive oil test, since most of the big brands at that time packaged their oils in clear glass. I don’t know, but I *suspect* that the reason we are now seeing Colavita, Filipo Berio, and others move to green glass (though in Berio’s case, glass that isn’t dark enough) is to reduce the odds of a repeat of that fiasco. Additionally, even if you buy directly from Bragg’s and it’s been sitting in a cardboard box and thus hasn’t been exposed to light, the mere fact that their “expert” is willing to let them sell this oil to the public in clear glass bottles, knowing that it guarantees that a lot of the oil sold in health food stores will be bad by year’s end, doesn’t speak well for either their expertise or their sincerity or both, and makes me wonder in what other aspects of EVOO quality control they may be behaving similarly ignorantly or sloppily.

      • Very well said, Olive Chipper. I was afraid to be very blunt, but your points hit the nail on the head.

        Living in Canada, am not familiar with Bragg but now seeing it is a health food store…I have had conversations with health food store managers and so far none have jumped at wanting to know how olive oil is classified, what we mean when we talk about oxidation or free fatty acids showing degradation and life Olive Chipper said, decrease in minor bioactive components that offer us incredible health benefits. Even co-op stores owned by employees have resulted in the same…and, many stores now are moving to reducing the number of suppliers in order to reduce admin/accounting costs to increase reveue and my experience with these stores is that the decision makers do not seem to care if the new potential oils offer the highest levels of purity and health benefits for their patrons. Again, there are many different reasons decisions are made by decision makers. I typically find the same generic brands at health food stores here in Canada; perhaps it is the same in the US health food stores. I can go on, but do not want to sound like a case of sour grapes. Just want everyone to know they have to educate themselves and always ask about criteria used…put more people on the spot to consider why they actually choose and to get them interested in educating themselves.

  36. Glad to hear that you are comfortable with your shopping relationship re Bragg. Please excuse me in my persistence, I am not trying to be arrogant but speaking from having been in the industry for over 5 years and taking professional courses in different countries, visiting producers, attending industry trade shows, attending symposiums through the European Lipids Association and American Oil Chemists Association where scientists present findings/facts. Also, have heard many importers/store managers talk to consumers.

    I would ask an importer/distributor what exact criteria they look for when choosing an olive oil with an open-ended question so as to not give them any idea of what you are looking for/priming them to respond in a way they think you want them to. I have had diverse discussions with people over the years and I can tell you it is all over the map, even if a dedicated employee is hired for the job as there are many different business interests when running a business for profit.

    Also, re the blass bottle, am not sure what you mean specifically whether you are referring to oil bottled in dark glass or simply oil bottled in glass as opposed to other materials like metal, plastic, pottery, etc. As I check stock regularly at stores, I often see oil in clear glass bottles that have taken on a orange-gold colour = oxidation from light. The store lights, any light coming in through windows will cause oxidation. At home it does not matter because one normally stores the bottle in a dark cupboard.

  37. The discussion re glass is an important one, but ONLY if you are talking about real olive oil. I used to use dark green glass for my smaller sizes (because they looked pretty) but I didn’t like how the oil aged over a 3 month period. Now I only use tins.

    The problem is that while you’re buying though supermarkets, delis or health-food shops, no matter what they tell you. or how dark the glass, how detailed and informative the label, the chances of you buying a good product are slim, and seemingly getting slimmer every day. The big suppliers here in Tuscany will put anything on the label, use any colour of glass you like, in order that you buy their product. They will happy charge you $30 for a small bottle of fake oil that cost them cents, and the vast majority of people won’t know any better. Even if you are well enough informed, it still means you’re playing olive-oil russian roulette, only there are 5 bullets in the barrel, not one. The odds are not good.

    However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Those of you who love good oil and want to get their hands on the real stuff have an easily solution. Search around online, find a small farm with a small production (say less than 3000L a year) and get them to ship you a 5L tin – that should last you between 6 months and a year. Even with shipping, it’ll cost you less than you pay in the deli/wholefood shop, and it’ll be the real deal. This sounds like blatant self-promotion, but I assure you, it’s not. Just 10 minutes drive from where I’m sitting now there 6 such small producers, and half of them are organic (as are we). Any one of these will be delighted to ship you their olive oil. Drive another 15 minutes and the number goes up to over 50. All of these producers are desperate to find good homes for their oil at reasonable prices. The worst oil from this 50 will still be a very good olive oil indeed, 1000 times better than anything you’ll pick up from a shelf.

    If Eileen is interested, I’d be happy to post some contact information, links etc of suppliers you can trust. Oh, and unlike me, most of the other oil makers also make great wine, so you can kill 2 birds with one stone!

  38. I still believe the best solution is to learn to taste for quality…small farms may still can produce an oil with higher oxidation in the oil.

    My suggestion for keeping oil fresher is to transfer the oil in a bottle when you use half of it to a smaller glass bottle and eliminate half a bottle’s worth of oxygen.

    I have tasted oils from small farms that I would not purchase.

  39. I have been researching which olive oils are the best and I can’t find anything about the Crisco brand. It has a seal from the North American Olive Oil Association but not from the California or International councils. The label says it is imported and the county abbreviations indicate Spain and Tunisia. Do you know if this is a good brand?

  40. Seriously, Crisco?
    Would you trust a McDonald’s brand foie gras?
    Greek extra virgin olive oil that is from an estate or small cooperative and that is PDO or PGI is all I would trust these days, not even all these international competitions sponsored by Deloleos and Unilevers. The best test of an olive oil? On a fresh salad or a fresh fish, grassy full aroma, no bitterness, no bite, pure olive essence.

    • I understand we all have a right to our opinions, but on what evidence do you believe that only Greek olive oil can be trusted?

      Re bitterness… http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/3/999.full.pdf
      See this article from the Journal of Neuroscience and scroll down to the “Introduction” section and read what is the origin of bitterness and the sensation of pepper in olive oil… an indicator of very healthy phenolic compounds – normally early harvest olives that are not allowed to degrade via very quick and effective crushing will have more of these, as well as certain varieties. I don’t think you have the expertise to argue with these scientists.
      Please do not put me in the same category as Unilevers. The producers I represent use the highest quality olives that are cultivated with a great deal of care, harvested at very precise moments of ripeness and very quickly to capture the maximum essence of the fruit, using most efficient machinery to extract oil, master millers that are professionally trained on best practices (do you know that there are studies on the nature of the resulting oil based on even how long the paste is slowly and gently moved (like bread dough) in a particular stage of modern machinery to reduce degradation from friction and heat), and store their oils with nitrogen inside the stainless steel tanks to protect against oxidation until bottling for specific importer orders…I put in my orders for bottling upon request only every 2 to 3 months so they are very well protected.

      No one advocating for a true understanding of olive oil is telling you that you cannot choose according to your own ideas, but please do not assume that the world of olive oil extraction is simplistic and only “GREEK” olive oil is trustworthy. There is a saying that the man that thinks his mother’s cooking is the best in the world has not travelled the world. Instead, you might want to appreciate and consider the information that several of us are trying to pass on from our experience in the back-end of the industry that you might have no door to, or to the information we have obtained from spending a great deal of money on courses that we have taken from a variety of organizations totally objective and not associated with particular country-specific associations….like the University of California Olive Centre or the American Oil Chemists’ Association or the European Lipids Assocation where scientists make presentations.

      We are passing on what we know out of an interest to change the nature of the industry to a more transparent one and help people choose wisely by understanding oil and not on what store they shop at, what nationality they are and what allegiance they have to a particular country’s oil, the general beliefs a about ‘country of origin’, etc., but truly be able to judge an oil for its own characteristics and identify whether it is worth the money being charged for it and whether the quality coincides with what is on the label.

  41. Perhaps bitterness is the wrong choice of words as it expresses a personal taste. I find that the Spanish arbequina and piqual varieties are far more bitter than the kalamata, Mankato, hondroelia and other Greek plump varieties. I find many Italian olive oil varieties better, probably because one-third of their volume is. Greek that they buy in bulk to meet their consumption and export needs. Of course true italian estate oils are often exquisite.

    I like the fact that Greece’s EVOO and their largest production facilities (not including the unilever-type mass oils priced for retail share gains only but also reflecting their manipulation of bulk prices) is still in the hands of regional small producers, not only cooperatives but estate producers. If only their estate producers can exquisitely brand their bottles! and get through the Italian and Spanish buyers ‘cartel’.

    • Essentially it is difficult to convince palates brought up in the Crisco, Puritan, generation, then tainted by tasteless mild pseudo-olive oils, to open up their minds (fooled by ‘Italian’ sounding and looking brands that hide further mild blends of non-evoo’s) to actually TASTE a true untainted EVOO and learn to detect rancid vs. real.
      Every brand of EVOO claims ‘quality’ — ‘quick bottling’ — ‘state-of-the-art production’ — only the Unilevers, the Deloleos etc., can claim it LOUDER, and the consumers believe because the price is right. Most Health-conscious consumers buy EVOOs as long as it taste the same, as mild and bland as they know, and as long as the mark-up is slight. But get them to treat their extra virgins as fine wines? We all want that, on this we agree — but only 5% will.

      Good luck with that.

    • Actually Arbequina is very mild with apple and delicate herbal notes – it is NOT bitter at all. Yes, Picual does have bitter undertones but IT IS THE MOST STABLE variety due to extremely high level of antioxidants…and when the best extraction method and best practices are used it is exquisite in its clean notes. Also, bitterness when coupled with the same intensity of flavour is not obnoxious at all.

      The issue for people who are used to sweet flavours in foods (don’t forget the food industry adds sugar to just about everything that is purchased), is to have a well-balanced oil in intensity of flavour, bitterness and pepper…in fact, these are the qualities that are considered the three positive qualities for judging olive oil by professionals and at competitions. But, just like a well-balanced, harmonic wine, when the acidity (Ph in wine) is balanced with intensity of flavour and body (texture) the result is exquisite.

      Yes, Greece in general does not have a history of adulterating oils as a positive trait. As a general weakness is that the small producers do not have the resources to train their family members or few employees re most modern best practices. Also, limited resources to harvest very, very fast at the ‘sweet spot’ of ripeness for maximum quality… and often there are cooperative mills = the producer has much, much less control over how many hours pass between taking their olives to the mill and when they are crushed, how meticulously cleaned is the machinery after every crush, how new the machinery is re potential rush in metal if stainless steel is not used which is much more expensive, how quickly the extracted oil is stored in proper storage facilities, and whether best cellaring practices are available to reduce oxidation during storage are affordable.

      If you look at the acidity of most Greek oils it will be at minimum in the 0.3 level; generally higher – not 0.1 so the complexity/cleaness of flavour is less, the texture thicker, and levels of unhealthy free radicals ingested with the oil higher.

      There are some new firms now in Greece starting to own their own mills, purchasing modern mill equipment, and putting in the vast amount of money required to have a modern, very effective mill that I have been getting emails on but they are just starting.

      It costs at least 2 million euros (or in Canada about 3.5 million CAD dollars; so maybe about 3 million US dollars to open a modern mill – without including costs of training employees, increasing the number of employees hired for harvesting very quickly to avoid the degradation of a fruit at perfect level of ripeness for extracting really good quality oil, training the miller on best practices, certifying ISO and international food safety certifications to have all the proper practices in place to control for potential food safety hazards, and the temperature-controlled cellars with nitrogen pipes going into modern stainless steel tanks like wineries use.

      Am not saying that Greek oil is bad, am just saying that you cannot say that Greek oil is the best.

      It is best to ask questions from stores as to what do they know about how the oils they sell are produced, what paperwork they have on them, etc., rather than going in and buying a particular brand or ‘country-of-origin’ oil or asking what oil they recommend (often one with high margins for the store). Become an educated consumer and ask the questions…put stores on the hot seat to get them to take oil more seriously.

      Also, the University of California Olive Center has just created an on-line course on how to taste oil for quality. Google it…perhaps to reduce cost a group of friends can share the cost. Take a look at it – may offer more information on how to avoid blinders that the industry and marketing people create.

  42. Pingback: Why Extra Virgin Olive Oil is The Healthiest Fat on Earth

  43. It is SO annoying to know that now in addition to being careful to check what’s good, and what’s not, we can’t even trust labels. Thanks for the informative article, Eileen!

    • You’re right, it’s totally disturbing, and it’s not just olive oil. When I researched seafood, I learned that fraud is rampant there as well. I guess it keeps coming back to “know your farmer.” The farther we are removed from the source of our food, the easier we are to fool. Since olives aren’t a local crop to most of us, I’m glad agencies like the COOC exist. I just wish certification was mandatory, instead of voluntary. If it was, there would be a much smaller selection at the grocery store, but at least we’d know what we’re buying!

  44. It seems that the olive oil industry is no different than any other, and is the result of typical human nature – cut corners when possible to increase profit margins. Along with everyone else, my sense of outrage was intense as I read the article and the comments shared my opinion. Unfortunately, my response was emotional and once I started thinking about what everyone was suggesting, my response changed.

    Yes, in a perfect world we would all have access to all the wonderful, ‘real’ EVOO we need – but it’s not a perfect world. I am well aware of the health benefits of EVOO, and because of that, I haven’t bought anything else for 20 years. My family is, though, shall we say, ‘monetarily challenged’. We don’t have the luxury of being able to buy expensive foods. Even buying it at Costco brings an ‘ouch’ each time due to the cost. I’d like to say that, after reading the article and becoming aware of the issue, I will search out the ‘real deal’ and switch – but due to the cost, I can’t. That’s life.

    Now – consider the effect of the suggestions given by commentors on people like my family. If regulations were put into effect to make sure that all EVOO is really ‘real’ in all ways, I couldn’t even afford what I’m currently buying. At least this way I get some EVOO – even if it’s cut with something else, even if the quality isn’t the greatest. If you think the cost of the ‘real’ thing is prohibitive now (it may not be for you, but for people like me, it is) I could imagine what it would cost after all the regulations had to be met … and as in any industry, when regulations like those suggested here are implemented, the cost of that product goes up ACROSS THE BOARD. I’m paying enough as it is, thank you.

    Just spread the word, as has been done with this article (which was excellent by the way), and the people ‘in the know’ will choose what they want, or can afford, to buy. More regulations aren’t always the answer.

    • Valora, so you’d rather continue buying fake adulterated oil for little money than buy real oil? Fair enough, that’s your choice. But, let’s not kid ourselves or anyone else. Let’s change the labels on these bottles to say “FAKE Olive Oil. May damage your health rather than improve it.” Then let’s see how much gets sold. Also, consider this. If there was a market for legitimate real olive oil, then prices for real oil will actually come down as farmers stop tearing up their healthy olive groves and started planting new ones instead. I doubt prices would come down to current Costco levels, but then if you prefer to pay less for a fake oil you could always cut real olive oil with diesel and serve that up. At least that way you know what you’re getting.

  45. Valora you say “more regulations aren’t always the answer”
    In general I might agree with you. I for one have campaigned for years for truth in labelling. I don’t want true labelling regulated. I just want what it says on the bottle to be the truth. If corporate criminals want to poison us as they have in the past, I want it/ them regulated, if not jailed.
    I’d rather have a little of the real thing that my minimal purse can afford, than have more and impure, and risk industrialised toxic oils damaging my body.

  46. Hi Eileen – great site. Do you know if anyone’s measured the linoleic acid (Omega-6) content of Light and Extra Light type mass market olive oils? I’ve been using Bertolli Extra light for some frying and I get the funny feeling that it’s blended down with other seed oils. I can understand the Light oils having less taste and antioxidants, but what about the Omega-6 and 9 contents?

  47. Hi Eileen,

    I’m a producer of olive oil in Greece.
    I’ve read your interesting blog and i can agree with you on almost everything except one point at the end which is about bitterness.
    you are correct in saying that early harvest olive oils are more bitter, but bitterness in olive oil is primarily attributed to polyphenols.

    As I am sure you are aware research is finally starting to show that polyphenols are actually the healthiest part of olive oil. (especially when it comes to Rheum.Arth), so the general statement Bitter is better does indeed apply. (except in situations where bitterness is caused by bad milling practices)

    this does not mean that a non bitter olive oil is no good. it just means that it probably has a lower polyphenol count. have a look at the table on the right of the .pdf for an indication

    vhttp://www.agbiolab.com/files/agbiolab_Polyphenols.pdf

    Have you tried olive oils with a high polyphenol count? have you noticed a difference with Rheum. Arth?

    Keep up the great work!

    • Hi George. Since I started buying real olive oil, I’ve been able to taste a wide variety of cultivars, harvest times, and bitterness levels. I’ve also had access to chemical analyses of oils and found there wasn’t always a direct connection between bitterness and polyphenol count. For example, one of the fruitiest and least bitter oils I have ever tasted had polyphenol counts close to 400 and the very same variety the following year was extremely bitter with only a polyphenol count in the 200s (it was a rough year weather-wise which had direct results on the ripening of the olives). So, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as “bitter is better.” Here’s an article that demonstrates some of that nuance: http://www.whyoliveoil.com/olive-oil-bitter/

      That said, I think years of fake EVOO being sold in grocery stores have left people completely unaware of what real EVOO tastes like. You make a good point that it’s worth educating our palate to the strong flavor that often accompanies real EVOO, understanding that with that pungency comes health benefits. Thanks for commenting.

      • Hi Eileen,

        Thanks for the article, yup truly correct in almost all aspects. Our olive oil (same trees, same process, same mill) had a difference from 750mg/kg polyphenols in 2012 to 550mg/kg in 2013. which is mostly due to the bad weather (frost) in spring.

        I am no expert (although I do consult some of the best) but have understood that bitterness is associated to a certain type of polyphenol, our olive oil is quite bitter, if you would be willing to provide me with an email I could send you an analysis of the polyphenols from the Athens University to illustrate this.

        I often get comments (for other products as well as my own) that the product is bitter therefore it’s rancid.
        How would you say is the best way for a consumer to differentiate between bitter and rancid?

        • Well, you’ve busted the myth that all greek olive oil lacks bitterness. That’s a tough question, though, George. It’s hard to get people to embrace intense bitterness. Last year, I ordered a case of olive oil from a favorite orchard and it was so bitter, I would have thought it was rancid, if I didn’t trust the orchard so much. That was educational for me. Perhaps host a tasting event where you share the polyphenol information and explain about bitterness vs rancidity? Another idea is to network with another orchard that produces a milder flavor oil, and perhaps sell blends?

          • Greek olive oil is far less bitter than Spanish. But I do find in my experience that Americans ( and even some buyers) tend to use the word ‘rancid’ for any genuine olive oil that has a stronger taste than the fake tasteless bland ‘olive’ oil they have been used to. Whereas a Southern European immediately knows when a tourist trap restaurant us serving rancid cheap oil.

    • When I first searched for information, I saw the big plastic bottles of regular EVOO, which are very unlikely to be the real thing. However, the organic bottles are small, darker and claim maximum .5% acidity (which is above EVOO standard.) The question is – are they telling the truth? To my knowledge, they haven’t been tested for authenticity. So, that puts them in the unknown category. Do your own sensory test, and see what you think. If you can compare it to one you know for sure is real, that would be even better.

  48. Honestly, having produced my own oil for 7 years now, and been a consumer of my mother’s oil for 25 years before that, it’s hard to believe anyone can confuse the smell of rancid oil with the ‘bitterness’ of young oil. However, I don’t believe rancidity is the issue here. A huge proportion of mass-market oils are made from oils that started out as rancid. The rancid odour is then removed in huge column filters that strip out all odour and flavour and leave an oil product devoid of any nutritional benefits whatsoever. The colouring and tannins are added, the latter to give the oil some semblance of oil-like bitterness, chemicals added to counteract major chemical imbalances produced by the original rancidity, and there you have it: Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Enjoy.

    Rancid oil has an incredibly strong smell, sickly, sour, stomach-churning. Once you’ve identified it, it’s not easy to confuse with anything else. If you want to do a test, leave some oil out in a warm place for a few months, and then go smell it! Keep that bottle somewhere as a reference.

  49. I would like to see a coalition of concerned olive oil users hire an attorney, have the olive oil of various distributors analyzed, and those found to be other than labelled charged with fraud and sued for damages. If possible I’d like to see the perpetrators face fines and / or imprisonment. That might put a stop to this ongoing horrific scam by olive oil criminals.

  50. All things being equal, if 69% of the imported olive oil but only 10% of the California olive oil failed the sensory criteria for extra virgin, I’d say if you can’t find a recommended brand, go with California. Your odds of getting a good bottle are much better. Plus, the US has moderately more stringent oversight of the food supply. You have no idea what you’re getting with imported oils. Ever since reading Extra Virginity I have purchased only California oils and I haven’t gotten a bad bottle yet.

    • I do not agree, that would be depriving consumers of trying exquisite Greek olive oils, you should narrow down your comment and define to just which country that 69% belongs to and whether you are referring to volume tested or number of brands. Price is a better indicator without tasting and analyzing., as well as staying away from multinational big brands that do the diluting, whether American, Spanish or Italian Mega-companies. I personally find many California brands bland compared to authentic European counterparts, although it is easy to understand why these May appeal to the masses brought up unhealthily on Crisco and Puritan.

  51. This morning I brought a printed copy of “The Great Extra Virgin Olive Oil Scandal” that I had printed out to a health food store and showed it to the clerk. She kindly said that they stock only one brand and when I had examined the label I bought a bottle of it. Until yesterday I had never tasted olive oil without putting it in some fruit juice with some Turmeric and a dash of red pepper followed by a glass of water and a cookie. After tasting the olive oil in the bottle I just brought home from the health food store and the Crisco Extra Virgin I had on hand , I can’t say that either smelled like fruit or apple, but rather like stale monkey poop! So much for the taste test, however I remain impressed by the label on the bottle I bought from the health food store: “Bragg Organic, first cold pressed, unrefined, unfiltered Extra Virgin, imported from Greece since 1912″. What do you think folks?

    • The reason you couldn’t tell the difference is that Braggs hasn’t passed any authenticity tests. You were comparing bad apples to bad apples, most likely. Those labels you mentioned are just marketing, not proof of meeting any EVOO standard.

      • If it smells like monkey poop, then it might well be monkey poop. (Having never done a monkey-poop taste test, I wouldn’t know.) Guess what good olive oil is most often said to smell of? Fat green juicy olives! Olive oil is olive juice (with the water extracted). It’s not more complicated than that. By all means flavour your olive oil with whatever you like, but here in Tuscany, even adding balsamic vinegar to good oil is considered wasteful sacrilege. Good olive oil doesn’t need balsamic or anything else for flavour or palatability, it’s already so packed full of flavour and aroma that it fair knocks you socks off. And if you’re not getting that kind of taste experience from your oil, then it’s not good oil.

    • Bragg is not a Greek name and there was certainly few ‘organic’ extra virgins in 1912 that remained organic through the 70′s and 80′s and 90′s in Greece! Certification of organic didn’t really get going until the late 90′s and remained very slow with low penetration through most of the first decade of the new century (since multinational-affiliated people headed the olive oil associations). Legislation that passed favored non-organic as this catered to the interests of multinational mega brands in mass supermarkets. I would be wary of this Bragg until tested. Unfortunately. Best to go with imported PDO and PGI extra virgins from European countries rather than non-designated olive oils as an extra precaution.

  52. Pingback: Olive Oil The Healthy Fat: Why Use It - Old Guys Get Fit

  53. Looking for COOC organic olive oil in Michigan. Can’t find a retailer that carries it. Thought maybe whole foods would,but no. No membership to Cosco.

    • I know, it’s disappointing, isn’t it? My health food stores don’t carry any either. The most commonly sold COOC EVOO is California Olive Ranch. Here’s their store locator; one of the larger grocery stores in my town stocks it. If they have no store near you, online purchase is another option. I’ve also linked to the brands that are available on Amazon in the “Testing for Truth in Labeling” section of the article.

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