Fat is a controversial topic. Most everyone agrees, however, that olive oil is just about the healthiest fat we can eat.
The health benefits of olive oil – especially its role in reducing inflammation and risk of heart disease – are well-known. And it tastes great on almost anything. For those reasons and more, extra virgin olive oil is a staple of The Wild Diet.
However, there’s a huge catch.
Would you believe the majority of “olive oil” sold in America is fake?
Independent researchers, including the University of California, Davis, found that up to 75% to 80% of products labeled as “extra virgin olive oil” sold in the US are actually counterfeit, rancid, or tainted with GMO soy, foreign chemicals, solvents, or worse.
It sounds like a pitch for a Hollywood B-movie. But a recent segment on “60 Minutes” demonstrated how easy it is to counterfeit “extra virgin” olive oil. All you have to do is add a few drops of a coloring agent to cheap refined oil, like industrial sunflower oil. Cha-ching.
Why 75-80% of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Is Counterfeit
Fake, low-quality oils are rampant in U.S. supermarkets and restaurants. In fact, the top-selling brand of “olive oil” in the United States, Bertolli, is currently the subject of high-profile fraud investigation and multiple class action lawsuits.
Who’s behind the scam? Believe it or not, it’s the mob. Fake olive oil sales soared when the mafia realized that counterfeit oil is more profitable than illicit drugs.
Their scam is so massive and widespread—and so hard to stop—because counterfeiting olive oil yields the mobsters even higher profit margins than cocaine smuggling, with few of the risks.
Forbes magazine warns: “Here’s the hard truth: the olive oil in your pantry, the one you bought for its health benefits…. is most likely a scam.” As I always say, if you care about your health, you need to know where your food comes from.
So how can you choose the freshest, most nutritious olive oil for yourself and your family, and avoid being duped?
Here are 10 tips to help you buy authentic extra virgin olive oil with confidence.
Tip #1: Look For A Harvest Date
Olive Oil Secret: Freshness is key to flavor and nutritional value. Forget about “use by” or “best by” dates. Look specifically for a harvest date on the label. Be suspicious of bottles that don’t include this information—as many don’t. Unlike wine, olive oil does not improve with age. Anything over a year old is past its prime.
Tip #2: Quick Turnover
Purchase olive oil from a retailer that has a brisk turnover. This makes it more likely that the oils are fresh.
Tip #3: Go For “Extra Virgin”
Always buy olive oil that is certified to be “extra virgin.” The terms “pure” or “light” indicate that the oil did not meet international standards for “extra virgin” and has been chemically refined to mask defects. Also, ignore terms like “cold-pressed” or “first-pressed.” They are meaningless in today’s olive oil lexicon.
Tip #4: Look For An Estate Name
An estate name on the label is a good sign. Small olive oil producers around the world take pride in products that bear their name or the name of their estate. Some will list the olive varietal as well—Arbequina, Picual, Frantoio, Hojiblanca, and others. Blends are common also, and can be as flavorful—sometimes even more so—than single-varietal oils.
Tip #5: Bottled In Dark Glass
Buy olive oil in dark glass bottles, tins, or other opaque containers. Clear glass bottles might be aesthetically pleasing, but they do not protect the oils from natural or artificial light. Prolonged exposure to light hastens deterioration of the oil. At home, store olive oil in a cool, dark place—not next to the stovetop.
Tip #6: Look For Country of Origin
Look for the country of origin on the label. Spain, Italy, and Greece may be the world’s largest producers, but high-quality olive oils are also being produced in Chile, Australia, the US, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, and even Croatia.
You can maximize the freshness of olive oils in your kitchen by seasonally alternating your purchases between countries in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
In September, for example, oils from the Southern Hemisphere are the freshest in the world. In January, the freshest oils will be from the Northern Hemisphere.
Here’s a source we use at home that procures olive oils according to the global harvest schedule.
Tip #7: Feel The Peppery Tickle In The Throat
Don’t be surprised if some olive oils create a peppery tickle in the back of your throat or even induce a cough or two. This reaction is common when the oils are fresh and their polyphenol levels (natural antioxidants) are high. If you don’t experience a certain pepperiness and bitterness, it could be a sign that your oil is old, rancid, or fake.
Tip #8: Look Closely At The Label
Fancy bottles are laden with marketing spin, and price is not always an indicator of quality.
However, fresh, high-quality olive oil with character and personality won’t be found in the discount bin. And their labels reveal more than meets the eye.
Winners of international olive oil competitions will almost always feature these honors prominently on their labels. Gold and silver medals are especially prestigious, as they mean the oils’ producers have been selected for excellence by trained palates.
Tip #9: Color Is Not A Predictor Of Flavor
When you try an oil, know that color is not a predictor of flavor. A golden-hued oil will not necessarily be buttery tasting. An intensely green oil would seem to suggest pepperiness and pungency, but might be very mild on the palate. Even judges fall prey to color prejudices, which is why professional tasters use color-obscuring tasting glasses, usually blue or brown.
Tip #10: Go For Variety – The Spice of Life
Remember, olive oil is made of fruit from the earth and always subject to the whims of Mother Nature. So an olive oil you enjoyed last year might have a different flavor profile this year. Let curiosity be your guide. Olive oil specialty stores and olive oil bars are super-trendy right now, so go try some on your next date-night.
Above all, remember the most-important component of high quality olive oil: freshness!
As with food, the most flavorful, healthful olive oil is fresh-pressed from the latest harvest.
Where We Buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil
I’ll warn you: once you’ve tried fresh-pressed 100% authentic olive oil, there’s no turning back.
You may be able to find fresh-pressed varieties at trendy olive oil shops. We go through a lot of olive oil making new recipes for The Wild Diet, so it’s handy getting olive oil shipped right to our door.
Our go-to source of independently lab-certified, 100% authentic extra virgin olive oils is The Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. These fresh-pressed olive oils are sourced from small family farms and give a wonderful peppery, pungent flavor to our salads, cheeses, and green smoothies.
If you want the freshest olive oil you can buy, give this fresh-pressed olive oil a try. It takes Wild salads, veggies, grilled meats, fish, and more to a whole new level of flavor.
Click here to try 100% extra virgin olive oil from an award-winning small farm.
Do you have any tips for finding the best olive oil or tips for avoiding frequently counterfeit products? Have you tried fresh pressed olive oil? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Jamie Fellrath says
This fascinates me – even the mob understands that people aren’t paying attention and are taking advantage of it! Thanks for all these great tips – makes it easier to shop, for sure!
We only get out oil from an organic producer known to us in Marlborough. It comes in very opaque five litre steel drums. Some years, it wins prizes.
Do you have any opinion on the chances of Trader Joe’s Tunisian Organic Extra Virgin Unfiltered Chetoui Olive Oil being real or fake?
Thanks for any insights
I have seen that and been intrigued, as with the Greek oil. So far, because of this European adulteration scandal, for about the past year I have been sticking strictly to TJs Cali Estate oil or Cali Olive Ranch as affordable brands I can afford to cook with.
Joe durban says
Correct pairing and careful selection is the name of the game.
Greek oil is very good and smooth when you are doing greek the smaller diameter of the molecules in greek oil makes the insertion of pimientos in olives so easy.
Now, dogs love Tunisian oil and it is healthy for them. Doggie with Tunisian oil is just marvelous.
In drier climates, light italian oil goes very smooth. Missionaries living in dry caverns in middle age Italy used light italian oil. For such missionary uses light italian oil is the best
The wild west era was the era of California olive oil. Cowhands and Cowgirls both loved the smooth, almost slippery consistency of good California oil. Cowgirl use of California olive oil was at the peak in the 1700s.
Keith Dorset says
Ditto. Those are the two brands I buy. I’ve never looked on Olive Ranch for a harvest date, but TJs Estate doesn’t have it .