IdeasOctober 4, 2018By Hina Khan
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Olive oil is one of the most faked foods in the world. So how can you tell whether yours is the real deal or an imposter?

In this episode of Your Food’s Roots with Zooey Deschanel, we learn about one of the most faked foods in the world—extra-virgin olive oil. The reason there are a great deal of imitators for this oil is because it’s a very expensive oil to produce. Coupled with the fact that the United States is one of the top olive oil consumers in the world, olive oil fraud is rampant. According to a study conducted by the University of California—Davis Olive Center, 69% of extra-virgin olive oil is fake or adulterated in some manner. Let’s define what extra-virgin olive oil is and what to look for in your next bottle!

What is extra-virgin olive oil?

Extra-virgin olive oil is the top grade of olive oil, according to standards set by the International Olive Oil Council and the USDA. In order to qualify, extra virgin olive oil must pass chemical standards as well as a sensory standard (taste test). And if the olive oil is produced in Europe, it must pass standards set by the European Union. That means extra-virgin olive oil must be made exclusively by physical means (such as a press or centrifuge), meet 32 chemical requirements, and have “free acidity” less than 0.8%.

How can producers create fake oil when there are chemical tests?

Savvy scammers have been producing their olive oil in high-tech refineries, according to The New Yorker, where extra-virgin olive oil is diluted with cheaper oils such as hazelnut and sunflower-seed oil. These oil mixtures have been refined and perfected to pass chemical tests.

Two-thirds of extra-virgin olive oil is fake or adulterated in some manner.

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How can I tell whether the extra-virgin olive oil I am buying is real?

Here is what you should look for the next time you’re shopping for olive oil:

Check the label

You’ll want to see where and when the olive oil is made, and this should be indicated on the bottle. If it was made in California, check to see if it has a seal from the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), which certifies extra-virgin olive oil with a chemical and sensory test conducted by the industry’s top tasters. If the oil is imported, you’ll want to look for a seal from the Extra Virgin Alliance (EVA) or UNAPROL, a respected olive oil trade association in Italy.

You’ll also want to avoid labels with words such as “light,” “pure,” or “pomace olive oil” as these are misleading. These oils may be stripped of their nutritional benefits, derived from a source other than olives, or diluted.

Olive Oil Certifications

Check out the Best-Before Date (BBD)

Extra-virgin olive oil is best when consumed from the time its bottled to it’s best-before date, which is usually set to 18-36 months after its packaged. If you’re ever unsure of whether your oil is still okay to eat, do a smell and taste taste.

Opt for a tinted bottle or tin packaging

Your extra-virgin olive oil should be in either a tinted or tin bottle to prevent oxidation, which is a natural process that occurs when your oil interacts with heat, light, and oxygen. When the package is dark or tinted, the oxidation time is reduced significantly.

Don’t worry about color

There are over 700 varieties of olives, and the color and taste of each one will vary. Much like wine, each olive oil’s flavor and color will depend on where the olives were grown, where it was harvested, and how it was processed.

It’s important to know where our food comes from, who grows it, and how it gets to our grocery shelves, supermarkets, and farmers’ markets. While it can be challenging to discern whether the extra-virgin olive oil in your favorite supermarket or gourmet is real, it’s important to know because cooking with unknown oils can be detrimental to our health over time. Check the labels on the bottle, purchase extra-virgin olive oil that is certified by trusted organizations, and get to know the growers when possible—visit their website, give them a call, or visit their farm if there is one nearby and have tasting rooms. It’s time to reconnect with our food! #KnowItorGrowIt

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