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NEWS: Extra Virgin Olive Oil Alert

Olive oil has long had its shady side. Purchasing a bottle of extra virgin is no guarantee of getting high quality, extra virgin oil. Studies over the years have pinpointed the shenanigans of some bottlers. The latest study, conducted by the USDA and the International Olive Council, showed that they continue. That container of EVOO may not even be 100% OO.

The study showed that nine of ten California samples (90%) met the standards for extra virgin olive oils, meaning that 10% of what is sold as extra virgin isn’t. Imported oils rated much worse: 69% of imported olive oil samples failed to meet the standards. That means that almost 1/3 of the imported extra virgin olive oil sold, isn’t.

The full report on the can be downloaded from the UC Davis Olive Center. Here are the highlights:

  • The extra virgin olive oil isn’t extra virgin. To be graded as extra virgin, according to the IOC (Intermational Olive Council) and USDA standards, an olive oil needs to have less than 1% acidity. Virgin olive oil can have up to 3.3% acidity.

You paid for extra virgin olive oil, but
what’s really in the bottle? Photo by Ramon Gonzalez | SXC.

  • It can be processed. In addition to selling higher acidity oil, the investigation showed that products labeled “extra virgin” can be lower grade olive oil that has been processed to get the acidity below 1%. However, processing destroys the nutrients that people seek in olive oil, as well as the fine flavor.
  • It isn’t 100% olive oil. While not the focus of the latest study, government investigators in Italy have found evidence indicating that the biggest olive oil brands there have been diluting their extra virgin olive oil for years with cheap, highly-refined hazelnut oil imported from Turkey. (As much as 20% hazelnut oil can be added to olive oil and still be undetectable to the consumer.)
  • It isn’t where it claims to be from. Olive oil from Greece, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey are imported into Italy, bottled and sold as the more desirable “Italian olive oil.”


What can you do about it?

Be wary that “bargain” extra virgin olive oil may not be that much of a bargain. Know that the risks are higher with imported olive oils from large bottlers. And seek out products from members of the California Olive Oil Council.

  • Find our favorite brands of olive oil in our Gourmet Oils Section.
  • You’ll also find instructive articles on olive oil that will help you become a savvier consumer.


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