Since you are reading this, we can assume that you are interested in nutrition and health and can therefore conclude that you have already come across the alarming concept of fraud in olive oil. In 2010 a report found that a large percentage of imported olive oil in the U.S. failed to meet international standards. This report generated - and continues to generate - the publication of thousands of news stories, often incorrectly describing the presence of “fake” olive oils on US supermarket shelves. This avalanche of disinformation culminated with the publication of a sensationalist cartoon, “Extra Virgin Suicide” by Nicholas Blechman, published in the New York Times on January 2014. Although it was corrected and partially retracted, the damage inflicted to our industry was considerable.
It seems that nearly all of the "fake news" about "fake" olive oil originated from the 2010 report published by the UC Davis Olive Center. This industry-funded report was actually discredited from the moment of its issue. The report claimed "69 percent of imported olive oil samples and 10 percent of California olive oil samples labeled as extra virgin olive oil failed to meet the IOC/USDA sensory standards for extra virgin olive oil." The decision to determine adulteration by a taste test alone is subjective and unscientific. UC Davis, in fact, conducted technica, physical and chemical tests on the same oils and did not find any corroboration of their original findings.
Making quality extra virgin olive oil is expensive and the demand for EVOO is growing all over the world. This invites corner cutting from the unscrupulous. Unfortunately there is no doubt that there are some adulterated olive oils out there, whether containing inferior, cheaper vegetable oils or oils that have been deodorized or doctored artificially. The other problem is simply bad oils that make it to the shelves.
The production of extra virgin olive oil is so complex and delicate that defects can appear at various stages of the process. For example, if the olives have been crushed with dirt and mud or have been stored for months before pressing, the resulting oil will be moldy. Old or rancid olive oils (look out for a tell-tale wax crayon taste) are the result of inadequate storage or exposure to damaging light, heat, or air. A grubby or dirty-tasting olive oil could be contaminated by larvae. Unfortunately the problem is not just taste or a lack of taste - a rancid olive oil contains harmful free radicals and peroxides - a far cry from the verified health-giving benefits of one of the pillars of the Mediterranean diet.
Bottom line; although there is adulterated olive oil and poor quality oil in the markets, it is also possible to source high-quality bona fide olive oil and your best bet is to find small farms doing things properly.
The most balanced source of information regarding olive oil fraud is the New York Times best-selling book, Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller. It relates the history of olive oil and the “fierce contemporary struggle between oil fraudsters of the globalized food industry and artisan producers whose oil truly deserves the name ‘extra virgin.'
We consider ourselves as part of the latter category and invite you to taste for yourself.