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Oct 9, 2008 07:56 AM

"Fraudulent" olive oil (split from Ontario board)

After reading an article in the New Yorker about the shady side of the olive oil trade, I'd say it does matter. Outright fraud issues aside, much of the "bottled in Italy" oil seems to be Turkish and/or Turkish oil possibly cut with nut oils.There's no apparent labeling code regarding origin. I've tried the supermarket cheapies and many have a decidedly funky taste, especially the EVOOs. The Costco oil appears to be the real deal and something of a bargain at about $7/l.

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  1. That's pretty scary. Do you have any links on the internet about oils mislabeled and containing nut oils? Or reference to which issue of the New Yorker it was in? I know that most "Italian" olive oils are not actually Italian (nor does this matter; Spain, Greece, even Chile all make perfectly reasonably olive oils), but the nut oil thing worries me.

    5 Replies
    1. re: tjr

      Here 'tis:

      After this, you may think it does matter, tjr.

      1. re: Kagemusha

        That is pretty scary.

        I didn't mean that unscrupulous olive oil producers don't matter, I meant that country of origin doesn't matter necessarily. The Greeks and Spanish produce excellent olive oils as well, and even new world producers like Chile make some great oils.

        Quality, though, always matters.

        1. re: tjr

          It may to you and me but all kinds of obscure branded EVOO gets distributed around the GTA. I'd like to think the distributors are ignorant and not dishonest but crap is crap. In all fairness, would you swill "Red Table Wine" unconcerned about where it came from or what was in it? The Italians go to great lengths to assure the provenance of their wines; too bad the same care doesn't extend to their olive oils.

          1. re: Kagemusha

            Well, it's certainly horrifying to hear for me (as I'm allergic to nuts and nut oils). It's more difficult to determine provenance of foreign products in general, but for something like olive oil, it's just a basic assumption on the public's behalf that olive oil + Italian word on label = from Italy.

            It would be nice if grocery stores would attempt to show some concern for their customers, but I doubt that will ever happen.

            I've known about the importing of oils and the EU's "standards" on country of origin for a while, but the nut oil issue has really got to me, and I'll definitely be doing more research (and thereby wasting more time) researching the oils I choose to buy, even for the cheaper oils that I would use on a regular basis when high-quality evoo isn't required.

            Thanks for the article.

            1. re: tjr

              Here is a list of fraudulent oils and distributors fined by the Canadian government.
              The list may not be useful to hounds not in Canada, except that the implications are very broad. The New Yorker article states that Bertolli was one of the buyers of the Turkish nut oil from a tramp steamer.

              Regarding allergies and nut oils, this has come up on other CH threads, and someone pointed out that the protein in nuts is the culprit, rather than the oils. Nonetheless, I haven't seen "nut-free facility" on evoo labels.

              The individual, expensive olive oils from estates or family farms may be pure, but with the very high prices and profit motive, I wonder if they can all be what they say they are. Wine scandals have been detected every 10 years or so (I recall Austria, Italy, Germany, Bordeaux, and Burgundy from 1980 to 2000) so there may well be mislabelled or adulterated boutique oil, and who's to know!

    2. What bothers me is if your paying a higher dollar for what you think is 100% olive oil or from a particular region and it is not your being ripped off.
      I did notice that Sam's Club first stopped selling Colavita olive oil and moved to some brand I had not heard of and now they quit selling any brand of table quality olive oil. All they had is the super cheap grade for cooking.
      Is there some sort of worldwide olive oil crisis going on or something?

      1. There are several different, but interrelated issues:

        - Quality, for which there are generally accepted standards governing olive oil

        - Taste, which is an individual preference and not directly related to quality. There are high quality oils that I love and high quality oils that trigger a gag reflex at the back of my throat; there are mediocre oils that are inoffensive to me and quite usable.

        - Safety, which can be an important issue for those with serious allergies to, say, a nut oil, or which can be compromised by the use of toxic substances.

        - Business fraud, which can, but need not, compromise quality, taste, and/or safety. I find the oils I lake best tend to be Greek, or Spanish, more than Italian. If they are labeled as Italian, that's fraud, but the oil could still be excellent oil. Mixing oils from different regions to create a specific taste profile need not be fraudulent. Adulteration is something else altogether.

        It is quite possible to defraud an innocent large corporation. Some tests a few decades back showed that the standard lab tests at the time could not distinguish real apple juice from a mixture of a chemical - I think (not sure) it was malic acid -with sugar and water. Much of the apple juice used in baby food at that time turned out to be be fake. However, I can't imagine that Bertolli, Unilever, et al would be unable to distinguish any grade of olive oil from hazelnut oil.

        1. This issue is appalling, but not all that surprising to me considering all the other messes the world is in right now. I've been buying a local olive oil (olives grow quite well down here in the desert) which is fabulous.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Jen76

            I don't have a problem with country of origin, per se. A US coffee roaster will use beans from around the world, for example. But one study I read said that more than a quarter of Italian ev olive oils were cut with cheap neutral flavor oil. One oil I use, Zoe, is a Spanish oil, but it lists the origins of its olives: from Spain, Tunisia, Greece and more. That's pretty above board. My favorite, though, is Da Morgada, and it's 100% Portuguese.

            1. re: almansa

              I have heard of this problem in the olive oil business for years. I buy Frantoia which has a nice flavor and says it is 100% a product from Italy. It also has an explanation on the label as to the process and a discription of the types of olives used. I guess one needs to read the labels of olive oil more in order to find a good one.

              1. re: almansa

                Oh, but this is not just a US company making olive oil from imported olives. The olives are actually grown here right in their orchard. They harvest them and press them. They offer short tours of the pressing room where they let you taste fresh off the press oil. It was remarkable and wonderful.

            2. If the container says "Packed in Italy" or wherever, that may be exactly right. It was packed there, and came from who-knows-where. If it states "Italian Extra Virgin" or "Estate Packed" it has better be from Italy. The olive oil market is huge, and when I worked in the business, found that some "extra-virgins" were 30 percent soybean oil through lab tests of competitors products. Turkey, Israel and Spain are major producers, and while Spain has some cache, Turkey and Israel, especially the West Bank, may not appeal to consumers. They all can produce great oils.

              My thoughts have always been, if it tastes right for you, who cares? Unless you have political issues. Stay away from anything that says Pomace -- that is from the dregs of the barrels pressed several times, and extracted with the enhancement of gasoline.