Since legitimate extra virgin olive oil is expensive to produce, olive oil fraud is widespread across the world and has been for years. Many studies, such as this one from 2020, have found that a large portion – some experts have claimed up to 80% – of oils sold as extra virgin olive oil in supermarkets are counterfeit. Olive oil fraud is an issue that regulators around the world are looking to tackle.
Until better testing and stronger regulations are in place across the globe to prevent olive oil fraud, we’ve got you covered with three (plus bonus tips) ways to spot fake olive oil.
But what is olive oil fraud, really?
While some may simply be fraudulently labeled as extra virgin, others may have actually started out as authentic extra virgin olive oil. However, due to long storage in sub-par conditions, they would no longer qualify as “extra virgin”, will often taste rancid, and are no longer suitable for consumption.
It’s also very common for counterfeit olive oils to be diluted with a cheap vegetable/seed oil or with a lower-grade olive oil that's been chemically refined.
Olive oil fraud is all done, of course, to increase profits - without regard to the consumer or their health.
As you can imagine, fraudulent olive oil doesn’t have any of the powerful anti-inflammatory health benefits that real EVOO naturally offers.
So, how can you tell whether the olive oil you have or want to purchase is authentic and true extra virgin olive oil? You might be wondering, what brands of olive oil are real and how can you make the distinction yourself when choosing EVOO?
Here are our top strategies to spot fake olive oil:
Extra virgin olive oil is more expensive to produce than refined olive oils and other seed oils. Therefore, if it seems too cheap – it most likely is not authentic EVOO.
Plastic is the cheapest packaging, but studies have proven that it degrades the olive oil over time. Our recommendation? Never buy extra virgin olive oil in plastic packaging – even if the product inside had integrity at the time of production, you are risking degraded quality from storage and you will not get the same health benefits by the time it hits your plate. Both glass and metal containers have been proven to protect the olive oil during storage for up to two years.
First and foremost, if your olive oil doesn’t have any taste or flavor at all, it’s very likely not authentic. Real olive oil will have a bright flavor with a peppery aftertaste. However, you can even go a step further with a real test that’s actually not so hard to do:
- Pour about ½ oz of olive oil into a small glass or a spoon, and taste it straight!
Real extra virgin olive oil contains a molecule called Oleocanthal – and humans are able to taste it as a slightly peppery, somewhat stingy sensation in the back of our palate and top of our throat. The highest quality EVOO, often have high oleocanthal content, and will have a real “bite” to them and often even induce a slight cough when tasted like that. But any authentic, fresh (unexpired) extra virgin olive oil, should have at least a small amount of oleocanthal and a noticeable “sting” when you taste the pure oil.
Bonus tips to look out for -
- Harvest date vs expiration date. Look for a harvest date on the bottle or box – and make sure it is less than 2 years old. Expiration date is meaningless since this date is determined at the manufacturer’s discretion. No harvest date? Red flag!
- Check the manufacturer's website for 3rd party testing of the oil’s quality such as acidity (should be less than 0.7%, and lower than that is even better) or polyphenolic content (the higher the better).
- Don’t purchase oil in large containers, unless you’re going to use it all up in 2 months. Although it is tempting to save money by purchasing in bulk, the oil will simply go bad once open and exposed to air for too long.