Back in 2007, author Tom Mueller wrote an article for The New Yorker called Slippery Business that detailed the shocking adulteration and mis-marketing of olive oil going on in the worldwide market. That article grew into his 2011 book entitled Extra Virginity, which provided even more detail of the corruption in the olive oil market and broke the scandal open to the world.
It’s tempting to spend time bemoaning how crooked today’s market is, but in truth, today’s market isn’t anything new. Olive oil has been a staple in many cultures since about 6,500 B.C., and anti-fraud and quality assurance processes have been discovered firmly in place in the industry as early as 2,400 B.C. in Elba, Syria, as well as during the Roman Empire’s reign.
Nowadays, olive oil is considered one of the most adulterated foods in the world. To those of us completely in love with this wonderful fruit oil, that is extremely disappointing. Why would anyone mess with perfection?
Also…just out of curiosity, how exactly do they adulterate it? Aren’t there regulations in the modern market that ought to make passing off adulterated olive oil as the real thing pretty difficult?
The Hows and Whys
Over the centuries, the methods of adulterating olive oil have changed. Initially it was just a matter of diluting or mis-labeling it and getting to a market that didn’t have scientific ways of verifying the oil’s integrity. Even now, when we have more stringent market guidelines in place, dilution with a lower grade oil is the easiest way to make your high-grade olive oil go further.
But with the market as a whole becoming savvier to the issues, those perpetrating fraud have had to get more sophisticated. You can watch a demonstration of one clever adulteration method here. In short, industry crooks can now create olive oil out of pretty much any mildly flavored seed oil simply by adding small amounts of chlorophyll for that rich green color, and beta-carotene to give it the fruity flavor consumers expect.
As for why they do it… Money! Money! And more money!
Pointers on Choosing Quality Olive Oil
When the fakes are so good that even professionals can’t always tell the difference, what’s an everyday person to do? We olive oil lovers want to know we’re getting the real deal.
Read the label. Thoroughly. The label will tell you where the oil was packaged, the location of the company that produced it, and its harvest date. If some of that information is missing, keep looking until you find a brand that tells you everything you need to know.
Look at the price tag. As much as we’d all love to get top notch olive oil for $7 a liter, that isn’t likely. This is a soft fruit crop that is hand harvested and processed mechanically. It costs real money to produce, and those costs show up in the price tag.
And lastly, even though it isn’t fool proof, train your palette on what the real thing tastes and smells like. When you find a brand name that’s up front with their information, go in and taste their oils. Learn how good oil tastes and feels and smells. Then, once you have a reliable source, stick with that brand name.Here at Old Town Olive we offer only thoroughly tested and documented products, and welcome your questions. Stop by and taste any of our oils before buying. We pride ourselves on our quality products as well as total transparency. You can trust what you find here.