If you have made the responsible choice of switching to extra virgin olive oil as a healthier alternative to the cheaper poor quality oils, you have probably been scammed. Around 70% of all extra virgin olive oil is cut with cheaper poor oil. Did you know that all that olive oil fraud is one of the Italian mobs' biggest money making operations?
Shocked that the mob would involve themself in something so small and trivial as olive oil? Do not be. Olive oil is a 1.5 billion dollar industry in the United States alone. Olive oil itself it very expensive and time consuming to make, but cutting it with other oil makes it much more easy to produce enmasse.
In 2008, over 400 Italian police officers did a sting ( named Operation Golden Oil) on olive oil producers which led to the confiscation of 85 different farms for selling impure extra virgin olive oil. Some weeks later, they arrested 40 other people who were cutting soy bean oil with chlorophyll to give it that olive oil taste.
These counterfeiters are so good that even experts cannot even identify the fake olive oil from the real thing.
Ever since this sting and Tom Muellers' exposing book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, it has prompted governments to test olive oil for certification. In Australia, where they do strict certification on imported olive oil, no imported brands have passed their testing in 2012.
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What Makes Extra Virgin Olive Oil So Extra Virgin
Extra Virgin is the highest quality rating that olive oil can achieve. It is like the Cabernet Sauvignon of the wine world. Below the extra virgin rating there is virgin, fine, pure, impure and refined ratings. Each one worse and worse.
So how is olive oil rated?
Well, you know how there are wine tasting parties? They do that for olive oil as well.
They take a glass of olive oil, swish it around and judge it. It is judged on aroma, mouth feel, and taste--again, much like wine.
Apparently, these experts are not very good considering, as was mentioned above, they were duped by counterfeiters for many years.
Why Care About Fake Olive Oil?
If you are using extra virgin olive oil just because the recipe, or Rachel Ray, said to then you will probably be fine with this. Even chuckle at it. However, if you are actually using olive oil for its health benefits, you are being taken for a ride.
Extra virgin olive oil, while expensive, is made up of the cholesterol reducing good fats that the lower quality oils do not have. It also brags itself as a cancer reducer as well as being good for you heart. Olive oil is also popular in folk medicine. It is used as a muscle ache reliever, sedative, laxative, and aphrodisiac (any oil can be an aphrodisiac in my opinion). It can also be used to make hair softer and shinier.
Other oils do not do any of these things. So if you are a big health nut, your are going to get nothing out of putting what is essentially little better than vegetable oil all over yourself.
How To Tell If You Have Real Olive Oil
Take note that none of these tests are foolproof.
Real extra virgin olive oil is chocked full of monsaturated fat (the good fat!), because of this, the fat will begin to thicken when cold. So this simple test will help you see if your extra virgin olive oil is pure or not.
This is not a fool proof strategy because fakes are often cut with refined olive oil, which will also thicken with cold.
However, if you put your bottle in the fridge and it does not become thick and cloudy, you have been ripped off quite throughly. If it remains clear just like it was on the shelf, then it has been mixed with soy bean, sunflower, or coconut oil.
Oil Lamp Test
Extra virgin olive oil is flammable enough to keep and oil lamp burning. Hardly anyone has an oil lamp just laying around, so use a wick from a candle if you must. This can be fakes to for the same reasons as above. However, if your wick will not light or burns out quickly, you have fake stuff.
Actual extra virgin certification groups have a lot tougher time trying to certify whether or not it is extra virgin. No one test can prove the authenticity of the oils status. For years they relied on the tastes testers, now they have to rely on science.
The test regime includes the testing of free acidity, peroxide value, UV extinction, fatty acid composition, sterol composition, triglyceride composition, wax content, and steroidal hydrocarbons.
They must then compare these values to a chart of extra virgin standards. That sure is a lot of work to ensure purity!
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How To Get The Real Thing
The best and most foolproof way to not get counterfeited olive oil is to buy it from someone you know. It is extremely unlikely that you live next to an olive farm where you are best friend with olive oil maker Georgio.
So the next best option is to look for the certification. A popular certifier here in the United States is the California Olive Oil Council. However, they most governments do not let producers sell olive oil with a fake extra virgin certification. So If it says certified by such and such, it is probably true enough.
However, when buying the real thing you will notice a difference in price. remember that time you switched from vegetable oil to olive oil, how much the price jump was? Get ready for that again. Fake EVOO is really easy to produce, thus they can sell it cheaper than the real thing and sell much, much more of it. The real thing is pretty expensive. It is no wonder people switched over to the EVOO as it was counterfieted, because it got much cheaper.