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In The News: Corrupted Virginity

Extra virgin olive oil is considered the champion of all oils thanks to its high amounts of polyphenols, antioxidants, and monounsaturated fats.

This powerful combination has been shown to decrease risks of heart disease (by lowering ‘bad cholesterol’), high blood pressure, and even breast cancer, according to some promising research from the Canary Islands.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well, here’s a reality check you might not be too keen on cashing — that “extra virgin” olive oil you have been buying might be anything but!

Reader Chris Davis notified me of a lengthy article published by The New Yorker earlier this year which spotlights worldwide olive oil fraud, a market laden with corruption and political scandals that can produce as much money as cocaine trafficking.

Since reading the article, I have done a bit more research and want to share the not too uplifting news with you.

A lot of supposed extra-virgin olive oil is really soy or hazelnut oil that has been adulterated.

Unfortunately, the words “imported from Italy” do not necessarily mean what you think.

If low-quality oils from North Africa are shipped to Italy, where they are then tampered with and bottled, the packaging can legally claim that oil is an Italian import.

You might take that to mean that Tuscan olives from a small farm are made into extra virgin olive oil. Wrong!

The Food and Drug Administration does not test oils coming into the United States for adulteration.

Although a group known as the North American Olive Oil Association takes care of that — and they have discovered several distributors selling inferior quality oils as extra virgin — their testing is nowhere near as rigorous as that f the International Olive Oil Council.

There are currently several proactive anti-fraud ideas being floated around.

One would require all bottles of extra virgin olive oil to list the acidity of their contents (to be considered extra virgin, olive oil must contain an acidity of no more than 0.8%).

Of course, who is to say that these figures can’t be doctored with the exchange of cold hard cash?

One interesting solution to this problem comes from the region of Andalucia in Spain (one of the world’s largest manufacturers of olive oil). There are talks of using molecular cell technology to determine if olive oil labeled as extra virgin matches the structure of the authetic product.

In the meantime, what can you do as a consumer? From a label standpoint, look for any bottles bearing the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) stamp of approval.

If this is absent, see if the label lists the acidity figures for the supposed extra virgin olive oil. Look for an acidity level of 0.8% or less.

No luck? Look at the price tag. A liter of olive oil at $7.99 is highly unlikely to be extra virgin.

For more information, check out the International Olive Oil Council’s website.

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3 Comments

  1. T said on January 15th, 2009

    this post freaks me out as I had no idea about this; I recently mentioned this to a friend who told me that she didn’t quite buy into this…that food was tested and regulated by the government.

    I see this post is from a year ago…any updates, Andy?

    Dennise

  2. T said on January 15th, 2009

    this post freaks me out as I had no idea about this; I recently mentioned this to a friend who told me that she didn’t quite buy into this…that food was tested and regulated by the government.

    I see this post is from a year ago…any updates, Andy?

    Dennise

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