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Oct 20, 2007 04:54 PM

Adulterated olive oil

I was wondering if anyone had read the New Yorker column by Tom Mueller, Letter from Italy Slippery Business The trade in adulterated olive oil. You can find the article at the link below:

The upshot of this article is that large olive oil middlemen in Italy are cutting their product with other oils, and are being prosecuted for doing so. The disturbing thing is, that so many of us buy and consume EVOO at least partly because we have been told it is good for us, for our hearts principally. (Also, it tastes good!) I personally buy light olive oil for sauteing and the green stuff for salads and dipping. I keep it refrigerated to guard against free radicals,

I am sort of steamed that what I am buying and guarding so conscientously might be a fraud, and an expensive fraud at that,


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  1. Yeah. I'm glad I live in California and can buy local from farmers and businesses I trust.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rworange

      just got my case of Mcevoy Ranch Nuovo and cold pressed (and minimally processed) early harvest olive oil, straight from the source.

    2. The article in question was already mentioned in this board on Aug 14:

      Strangely enough, it merited no replies.

      1. One company in the US has even gone so far as putting the picture of a brainless television hostette on their bottles off EVOO. Yumm-o!

        4 Replies
        1. re: bkhuna

          There are ways to protect. Buy, where possible, a grower's bottle, not one packaged by some postal code address. For example, the Barbera firm in Sicily produce a rnage of EVOOs, and they stand behind them. The least expensive is less than $15 a litre. There are others, too, but if you see a real grower's name and address, a sell-by date, and enough label data to convice you that the grower really wants to tell you about his or her distinctive product, it's a start. Taste, remember, and listen to reputations. Throw out anything you don't like, or that tastes off.

          1. re: obob96

            Sort of reminds me of Perrier... I drank it forty years ago when it was limited and hard to get. Now it's as plentiful as tap water. How did those springs grow?

            An easier way to make sure you have good quality olive oil is simply not buy Italian. Too much of it on the market. How many olive trees are there in Italy? The same thing happened with a French wine merchant in the 60s. They were caught adulterating and prosecuted by the government.

            I really like Greek, Turkish, and Spanish olive oils. They aren't that expensive, and the market demand for them is limited compared to Italian olive oils. And California's, but they're expensive compared with the others. For cooking I just use "olive oil." NOT light or whatever. Just plain "olive oil." EVOO has too much "flavor" for some cooking, especially frying. But I mostly use peanut oil for that. When I lived in Greece, everything was fried in olive oil, including pita bread for souvlaki! You spend a lot of time licking your fingers when you live in Greece.

            1. re: Caroline1

              With all due respect to the cleverness of some Italian entrepreneurs, I think it's absurd and a wates of effort to simply boycott all Italian oil. Italy produces 25% of all olive oil in the world --Spain, 36%--and if you buy smartly, there's little danger. I've been buying and using only Italian extra virgin, from a stable of reliable producers, mostly Sicilian, for a long time, and have only once felt I was cheated (bad mistake buying some anonymous supermarket special). Will you never get a wrong bottle? Of course not, just like you might never know how much of that bottle of AOC "Bourgogne" came from, say, Languedoc-Roussillon. Or Puglia.

              1. re: obob96

                LOL! I'm not boycotting Italian olive oil. I lived in Turkey for four years and Greece for a year, and came to prefer those olive oils. And I do like Spanish olive oil. Hadn't heard about adulterated Italian oil until I read it here, and it just seemed to me that my natural preferences are a way to side step the problem. :-)

        2. I have found that the Light and Extra Light olive oils available have been highly refined olive oils. Generally, a refined olive oil will not have the polyphenols/antioxidants that are good for you. I recently sent two different samples of light olive oil to a reputable lab to find out exactly what is in them and how healthy they may or may not be. It will be interesting to see the results. All light oils have exactly the same calories as extra virgin olive oil so there is no savings in calories. Try sauteing with with extra virgin olive oil and taste the difference. If you saute at medium heat, you do not lose the health benefits of olive oil, and if you can stand the calories, fried food can actually be good for you and great for a healthy change. Medium heat puts the same nice finish on all foods: meats, fish, vegies, you just have to let the food cook a bit longer. Incidentally, good extra virgin olive oil can be used for frying several times. Just run it through a coffee filter and don't try to fry meat in an oil used to fry fish. Fry like foods in the same oil. Cuts the cost of a really good oil because it goes farther. I have a liter of really good extra virgin olive oil that I use to poach Sea Bass and other like fish. It is heavenly. On low heat, I can use the oil a dozen or so times without losing flavor and most of the health benefits of the oil.

          Regarding the fraud, it is a real shame. There are good olive oils out there and a few really good oils.

          Hope this is helpful.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Tony Sansone

            Tony, the problem with frying at reduced temperatures is oil absorbtion of the foods you're frying, especially anything breaded or battered. Probably doesn't make a whole lot of difference on, say, an unbreaded salmon steak, but try doing fish and chips at a reduced temperature and it tastes yucky!

            1. re: Caroline1

              Caroline, the frying temperature has to be high enough so that breaded foods start to gently fry when placed in the oil. Otherwise, as you say, the food will simply absorb the oil. Point I am trying to make is that nothing should be fried in quality extra virgin olive oil at a high heat where the oil pops, splatters, and smokes. I use 250 to 325F with great results. Case in point: I recently hosted an olive oil tasting event for members of Chef de Cuisine (the organization for top chefs). I offered fried breaded Zucchini and breaded fish. Both items were breaded with Italian bread crumbs mixed with Italian cheeses. This combination really brings out the flavor of the oil. One of the chefs assisting in the kitchen insisted that the oil had to be very hot before the food was fried. To make a long story short, we fried a piece of fish his way and my way. My way won and I converted another chef to the wisdom of medium heat frying with quality extra virgin olive oil. The tasting for over 180 chefs was a complete success and most of them now use my extra virgin olive oil. Try dropping a piece of the breading in the oil and when it starts to gently fry, add the foods to be fried. Yes, the temperature of the oil in the pan will go down a bit as you add the foods to be fried, but the temperature will recover quickly and the foods will not absorb the oil. Even if the temperature is too low when you add the food, when the temperature reaches the proper level, any oil absorbed is released. By the way, I do not drain foods fried in my oil on paper towels etc because breaded foods retain little oil when frying is properly completed and you want the superb taste of oil in the food. Give this a try and you will be amazed at the wonderful taste a really fine extra virgin olive oil can add to food. And foods fried in quality extra virgin olive oil are healthy for you too. Even your fish and chips will come out great if you leave the potatoes in the oil long enough. Medium heat takes longer, but the taste is worth it. Remember, when you are finished cooking on medium heat, strain a quality extra virgin olive oil through a coffee filter and use it again and again for frying. Very little of the healthy things in the oil will lost and the taste will be great. Ciao. Tony

              1. re: Tony Sansone

                When I lived in Greece, EVERYTHING that wasn't charcoal broiled (on REAL charcoal! Wish I could get that here.) was fried in extra virgin olive oil from the village press in the town where I lived. I found out a great deal about what things I do like immersed in EVOO for cooking and what things I don't. I like aubergines/eggplant in EVOO, I like okra in EVOO, I even like lamb in EVOO. I do NOT like shrimp or crab cooked in a bath of EVOO, but octopus isn't bad. In my opiunion, EVOO is too strong for French fries. It's also too strong for "heating" pita bread for souvlaki, but when in Rome... er.... Greece.

                I think things are much better fried in the less "flavorful" "olive oil" than in EVOO. That, plus I'm not particularly interested in spending fifty bucks or more to stock my deep fryer with sufficient oil. But maybe if my Greek friends had succeeded in convincing me they should send me an amphora of EVOO every month so I could eat decently in this country things might be different... '-)

                I do strongly disagree with you about breaded foods not absorbing oil at lower frying temperatures. Or maybe it's my brand of panco? '-)

                Never belonged to Chef de Cuisine, but when I lived in Las Vegas, I was nominated for membership in the now-defunct chapter of Les Amis d'Escoffier. That was way back in the days when there was no such critter as a celebrity chef. The food was MUCH better then!

                1. re: Caroline1


                  Just noted why you may have the opinions you do. Frying in EVOO should be done in a pan, not a deep fryer. If you fry in a pan, you will get a much different result. I have never fried with EVOO in a deep fryer, but I can imagine that the results would not be so good on medium heat as you say.

                  I have great results with 50% Italian bread crumbs, 50% Italian cheese, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. A quick dip in egg first and you are ready to successfully fry any fish, meat or veggie.

                  We all have different tastes. Give this a try. You may like it.


          2. One more point about quality of extra virgin olive oils. Be a good consumer and make the company that is offering the oil tell you the acidity, peroxide value, and total polyphenol content of the oil.

            For acidity the lower the number from 1% the better the oil. Low acidity is a good indicator of the quality of the oil if the oil is a true extra virgin oil. Acidity is removed from olive oil when it is refined. So are all the healthy things in olive oil. Make sure you are getting a true extra virgin olive oil, not a refined oil or a mixture of extra virgin and refined oil.

            For peroxide value, the maximum is 20. Lower than 20 is better. Peroxide value tells you how much oxidation has occurred in the oil. This is a freshness indicator and an indicator of how long the oil will last before turning rancid. Refined oil has a very low peroxide value so, again, make sure you are getting a pure extra virgin olive oil.

            Total polyphenol count really tells you the quality and healthfulness of the oil. I have read that most good extra virgin oils will have 40 - 80 ppm. Some have up to 160 ppm. More antioxidants is better. As I said in the previous posting, it will be interesting to see the results of lab test on oils and find out what they really contain. Anyone selling olive oil should be ready and willing to prove these numbers for their oil. If the oil is very low or absent antioxidants, it can not be a good quality oil.

            Light and heat are harmful to olive oil. Any oil in a clear container must be oil that the manufacturer does not care much about. Oil shipped on in cargo containers anytime except winter will be subject to an extended period of high heat that hurts the quality of the oil. The experts are still debating the wisdom of putting olive oil in plastic containers. Some reputable scientists are beginning to caution about plastic containers.

            Finally, look for the origin of the oil. Many extra virgin olive oils show countries of origin on the label. Several of the countries shown do not have food safety standards like you find in the USA and European Union. Think of it this way, some oil can be manufactured in a plant that has no food safety standards. The oil can then be loaded in a tank truck that is not regulated. From there, it goes to a ship that is not regulated. Finally, it arrives in a Europen Union country where fraud is rampant per the New Yorker magazine article which is spot on. There it is processed and bottled and sent to America. At each step in this process there is potential for bad things to happen. When I was stationed in Europe in the 1980s I remember that scores of people in Spain died from olive oil that was transported in tanker trucks that were not fit to haul edible products. There are just too many opportunities in the process for such a disaster to happen again.

            There are too many oils out there that are made from olives from one country, the oil is packed in that country, and the oil is not blended with all sorts of other oils from countries with lesser or no food safety standards.

            A bit of good old consumer investigation will lead you to a good, pure oil with all the health benefits you seek. Hope this helps.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Tony Sansone

              Thanks for all the info you have provided. As a general rule, I do not use olive oil for sauteing. I use a bottle labeled extra virgin olive oil, brand name Bertoli, for salads and occasonal dipping. I keep the bottle in the fridge, and carefully soften under warm water before using. Next oil I buy will be extra virgin, cold-pressed, and I will check everything on the label before I buy. But the Bertoli brand is owned by Unilever, and since that is a large corporation, in future I will steer clear.

              Because of your recommendation, I will probably try some sauteing with it. I am sure the flavor would be quite good. I have been leery of the low smoke point of olive oil, but as you say, you can do this with less heat.

              1. re: sueatmo

                Bertoli is mediocre - try the President's Reserve from Trader Joe's. Cheap and tasty.

                1. re: famedalupo

                  When the Bertoli is gone, I'm going to Trader Joe's. I'm also going to check the international grocery in my town. I'm really unhappy about being snookered. When I saw Unilever on the bottle, I felt suspicious that I was not getting what I thought I was getting.

                  Thanks for the good info.