Is Your Olive Oil Lying About Its Virginity?

olives and oilYou’d have to live in a cave not to have heard about the health benefits of olive oil.

It’s a monounsaturated fat that is a major component of the Mediterranean diet and is believed to be a factor why people in that area of the world are some of the healthiest and long-lived.

Olive oil has been used medicinally for over 5,000 years. Its health benefits are legendary.

It has been found to boost the immune system, increase bone density, prevent cancer, strokes, and heart disease, lower blood pressure, and reduce your risk of diabetes. 

And if that isn’t enough, it seems that olive oil can improve memory and increase overall cognitive function.

A large study on 6,000 women over the age of 65 found that women who consumed the highest amount of monounsaturated fats, which can be found in olive oil, had better patterns of cognitive scores over time. (1)

We recommend it as one of the two vegetable oils that are truly healthy and that everyone should have in their kitchen, along with coconut oil.

Coconut Oil on Amazon

But now it looks like the olive oil you trusted to provide you with health benefits might be a fake! Is nothing sacred anymore?

My first thoughts were how do you make fake olive oil? Who is doing this? Why are they doing it?

Olive Oil Is Big Business

Working backwards, it’s pretty easy to guess the “why.” There is money to be made in olive oil forgery.

The US alone spends 1.5 billion dollars a year on olive oil. It might not seem worth the effort to make fake oil, but in one Italian bust alone, authorities broke up a criminal gang sitting on $8 million worth of fake oil.

extra virginity bookThe “who” might be surprising. Throughout Europe there are large scale facilities that pump this stuff out.

According to the book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, these illicit manufacturers slap an Italian flag and the name of an imaginary producer on the label and dump this stuff on the US market, where consumers are easy pickings.

But we aren’t the only victims. Studies done in Australia and New Zealand found that half of their Mediterranean imports were fake, too. Anywhere olive oil is in demand is a possible target.

Olive Oil on Amazon

How do you fake olive oil? Olive oil can be diluted with poor quality oils or sometimes there is no real olive oil at all.

Cheap and unhealthy soy or canola oils are colored with industrial chlorophyll and flavored with artificial flavorings. Yum.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fraud

The term “virgin” when applied to olive oil doesn’t mean quality.

There are four levels of virgin olive oil. The lowest grade of virgin olive oil is not fit for human consumption and designated for “other” uses, like making soap.

The top of the line olive oil is extra virgin. This means it’s cold-pressed so the temperature during processing can’t exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit.(2) It’s also supposed to meet high standards of acidity and taste. 

Independent tests at the University of California found that 69% of all store-bought extra virgin olive oils in the US are fake. You can download the report here.

This study reported that the following brands failed to meet extra virgin olive oil standards:

  • Bertolli
  • Carapelli
  • Colavita
  • Filippo Berio
  • Mazzola
  • Mezzetta
  • Newman’s Own
  • Pompeian
  • Rachel Ray
  • Safeway
  • Star
  • Whole Foods

Seeing brands that pride themselves on being healthy and natural like Newman’s Own and Whole Foods is very disappointing. However, it’s very likely that the fault goes back to the supplier.

Apparently, the olive oil mafia has become so adept at their forgeries that even many olive oil “experts” can’t tell real from fake based on taste alone. But in my book, that is still no excuse.

Companies are responsible for doing their own due diligence.

Finding the Real Thing

You naturally want to get what you pay for. If you are paying more for extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and you care about your health, you don’t want to be buying diluted, adulterated junk.

Not only will fake oil lack health benefits, it could actually do you harm. Six hundred people died and 25,000 more were hospitalized by bad oil in Spain. (3) While that was highly unusual, I think you get the point.

A test you can try on any olive oil you currently have is to stick it in the fridge and see if it solidifies. If it doesn’t, you don’t have olive oil. If it does, this means you may have olive oil.

This will tell you that you have a mostly a monounsaturated oil, but it won’t rule out whether it’s adulterated with high-oleic sunflower, safflower, or canola oils.

olive oil tastingThe same University of California study also listed which brands met their standards for being true extra virgin olive oil. Now you and I don’t have to try to figure out the best brands on our own.

  • Corto Olive
  • California Olive Ranch
  • Kirkland Organic
  • Lucero (Ascolano)
  • McEvoy Ranch Organic

In their September 2012 issue, Consumer Reports published results of their taste test of 138 bottles of extra virgin olive oil from 23 manufacturers. The olive oil was sourced from a variety of countries including the US, Argentina, Greece, Chile, and Italy.

Olive Oil on Amazon

Their general finding was that those produced in California surpassed those from Italy. The two that earned the highest scores were McEvoy Ranch and Trader Joe’s California Estate, both from California. (4)

You might be interested to know that of these two top picks McEvoy Ranch costs $1.73 per ounce while Trader Joe’s California Estate runs $0.35 per ounce. (5) You can guess which one I’ll be buying.

This is great news if you shop at Trader Joe’s. Keep in mind that this super rating applies only to their California Estate label.

If you can’t find these top rated brands locally, you can click the links below to buy these premium oils online at Amazon:

California Olive Ranch Fresh California Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 16.9 fl oz

Corto Extra Virgin Olive Oil From California — 500ML (Pack of 2)

Also, I urge you to read Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.

It’s an engrossing and explosive expose with as many twists and turns as a mystery novel. It’s much more than a story about olive oil, it goes to the very heart of the corruption of our food supply.

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  • Joan Camara

    But isn’t California being hit with radiation from the Japan nuclear plant? I’m really worried about, and usually don’t want to buy anything coming out of California.

    • Deane Alban

      Great question! I’ve not found reliable information (i.e., scientific studies) on the safety of consuming olive oils from California. However, Radwatch is a group of scientists that exclusively covers California radiation levels. You can visit their FAQ page where they welcome questions so you could ask them specifically about olive oil. Here’s their website: They have not found radiation levels in California produce to be a problem.