Recent stories about "fake" olive oil have made consumers nervous. How can you know that you are buying authentic, healthy olive oil?
The good news is that Americans can be comfortable that the olive oil that they buy is in fact olive oil...and not adulterated with other oils or ingredients. As we have been saying for a decade now, reports about olive oil fraud are overblown. Nearly all of the articles on the internet claiming there is widespread "fake" olive oil point to reports published by the UC Davis Olive Center. We have always maintained the UC Davis reports were unreliable because of faulty methodology (and were tainted by bias as they were paid for by the California olive oil industry), such as in this blog post. A federal court has now agreed with us. The court recently threw a lawsuit out of court that had been based on the UC Davis reports, concluding that the reports were based on flawed methodology, limited in scope and out-dated.
Indeed, a more recent report by the FDA reported that that the occurrence risk of adulterated extra virgin olive oil was "low." The FDA tested 88 bottles of extra virgin olive oil randomly selected from supermarket shelves in the Washington D.C. area, and found no confirmed cases of adulteration. This is in line with our own findings. The NAOOA conducts the nation's largest olive oil testing program. We buy oil from supermarkets across North America and test the oils with chemical laboratory tests. Our test results support the finding that the risk of adulteration is as low as 2% when we adjust for market share of the samples tested.
So bottom line, you can trust olive oil you buy is not fake or mixed with other olive oils, especially when you buy from a retailer or brand that you know and trust. But there are some buying tips you may want to follow when choosing your olive oil.
How to buy olive oil
- Know the differences between the types olive oil. There are two types of olive oil generally available in most supermarkets: "extra virgin olive oil" and regular "olive oil." (Regular olive oil is sometimes called "classic," "light-tasting," or "pure"--although use of the last term is discouraged.) Generally, olive oils ranked in order of flavor intensity from most to least are: extra virgin olive oil, (classic) olive oil, and light-tasting olive oil. In terms of health benefits, all olive oils have the same number of calories, and all have heart-healthy benefits. Beyond heart health, additional health benefits such as anti-inflammation and anti-microbial properties that are associated with olive oil may be due to the presence of polyphenols and antioxidants, which are what give olive oils their flavor. So as a general rule of thumb, the more flavorful the oil, the more healthy attributes it contains. Finally, when it comes to cooking, all olive oils are safe for cooking even at relatively high temperatures and retain the majority of their healthy attributes when heated. Choose the type of olive oils you buy based on your taste preferences and budget, but keep in mind that the more flavorful oils may offer more health benefits.
- Look for a best-by date. Olive oil is best when it is first produced, but should retain its goodness for about two years from bottling, depending on how the oil has been handled. Therefore, look for the best-by-date.
- Purchase bottles sizes that you will use within a few months of opening. Although the best-by date on your bottle may be far off, olive oil is a natural product like produce and it will degrades when exposed to heat, oxygen and light. The volatile flavor compounds in extra virgin olive oil will dissipate if stored improperly or for too long. So use the oil within a reasonable time of opening for best results.
- Note the country of origin. This is required by federal labeling laws and is typically found on the back label near the nutritional information and ingredient statement. Oils from different countries are often blended in order to produce a consistent and/or specific flavor profile, so don’t be alarmed if more than one country is listed here.
- Look for quality assurance seals. The bottle may carry an origin seal that indicates the region of origin, or certification seals such as the NAOOA Quality Seal. The NAOOA Quality Seal indicates that the brand has agreed to join a program that involves random off-the-shelf testing for compliance with the widely held international standards of purity and quality.
5 olive oil buying misconceptions
- Color is an indication of quality. FALSE! - The color of an olive oil is not relevant. Color is not an indication of quality, although it can influence a taster’s perception. Professionals use blue-tinted glasses to remove any bias based on color.
- There are home tests you can do to test the authenticity of your olive oil. FALSE! The most commonly recommended tests are the Fridge-test and lamp oil test (using the oil as a fuel source). Quite simply, neither method is reliable.
- Dark, glass bottles guaranty quality. FALSE! -Dark bottles and tins are best for keeping out light which can degrade olive oil quality, but olive oil is often sold in clear bottles so consumers can see what they are getting. A dark glass bottle is not a guarantee of quality...but it will likely ensure your oil will last longer.
- Good olive oils only come from one country. FALSE! Don't focus on oils from one country. High quality, authentic olive oil comes from many countries including Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Morocco, Tunisia, Portugal, Turkey, Australia, Chile, Argentina, the United States and many more!
- Only extra virgin olive oil is worth buying. FALSE! Extra virgin olive oil may have the most flavor and health benefits, but other olive oils worth having in our kitchen. Unlike common cooking oils such as vegetable oil, canola, corn and soybean which are solvent-extracted from kernels/seeds, ALL olive oils are mechanically extracted without the use of solvents, and are have healthy attributes as discussed above. Classic olive oil and light tasting olive oils, with a milder flavor influence, are handy for baking and recipes where other flavors should shine. And for consumers looking to switch from tasteless cooking oils, they can be a good introduction to the wonderful world of olive oil!