The other day I learned something that shook me to my core. Truthfully, an exaggeration, but I did learn something upsetting. Apparently, there is such a thing as fake olive oil. There have been numerous exposés on television and even entire books written on the subject.
That's right. There is an entire criminal underground built around cutting olive oil with lesser quality versions or cheaper oils such as canola. In fact, a 2010 study conducted by scientists at UC Davis concluded that 69 percent of imported olive oils failed to meet the IOC/USDA standards for extra virgin olive oil.
Olive oil is my oil of choice. I use it on a daily basis and I always spring for the extra virgin stuff because it's higher in quality. So learning that I might be being duped into buying something other than what I'm paying for really burns my biscuit.
The question is, knowing this, how can I know for sure the olive oil I buy is the real McCoy?
I did some research and it turns out there are a few easy tests you can perform at home to make sure you're not using fake olive oil. Read on to learn how to make sure you're getting exactly what you're paying for.
Extra virgin olive oil (or EVOO) is primarily a monounsaturated fat and like other fats, it should get thicker when it gets cold. The easiest way to perform this test is to pour a small amount of EVOO in a ramekin and put it in the refrigerator. Genuine olive oil will become thicker and cloudier. It may even clump together or harden completely.
Please note, however, that this test isn't foolproof. If the EVOO you purchased is primarily extra virgin olive oil cut with oils of lesser quality, it might still pass this test. If however, it doesn't thicken at all, you likely have a counterfeit product on your hands.
Genuine extra virgin olive oil is flammable. In fact, you can use it to fuel an oil lamp. If your EVOO isn't able to burn in an oil lamp, it isn't the real deal.
However, if it does ignite, that still doesn't mean your olive oil is one hundred percent genuine. It still could have been cut with cheaper olive oil, therefore the flame test is subject to the same caveats as in the refrigerator test above.
Pour a small amount of olive oil into a glass or cup with a small opening such as a shot glass or espresso cup. Cup the bottom of the vessel in one hand and cover the top with your other hand. Swirl it around to warm it ever so slightly. Now sniff.
Genuine extra virgin olive oil will smell clean and bright. Aromas of grass, fruit, almonds or vegetables should be prevalent in the bouquet.
If your olive oil does not have an aroma or if it smells rancid, stale, fusty or musty, it isn't likely to be one hundred percent extra virgin olive oil.
After you've performed your sniff test, suck the olive oil into your mouth in an abrupt slurp. Extra virgin olive oil should taste of fresh cut grass, fruits and vegetables. You may also detect bitter, pepper, or buttery flavors as well. Good quality olive oil will not taste rancid, stale, muddy or musty.
After you've performed the taste test, swallow the oil. Genuine extra virgin olive oil will tickle the back of your throat and force you to cough. In fact, the general consensus is that the more times you cough, the higher the quality of the oil.
Keep in mind that the best way to test olive oil is in a laboratory and no home test is guaranteed to garner 100 percent accurate results. So, knowing that no test is perfect, how can you increase your chances of knowing you're getting what you're paying for at the grocery store? Here are a few tips for making sure you aren't getting tricked into buying fake or low-quality olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is not a blend. It is made from nothing but cold-pressed olives. Other olive oils are a blend made from a combination of both cold-pressed and processed oils. They generally cost a little bit less, but a bottle of olive oil lasts most households for several months. It's worth paying a few dollars more for a higher quality product.
If your extra virgin olive oil has been certified by a body such as the European Union Designation of Origin of (PDO), Italy's Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) or the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), chances are it's a high-quality product.
Beware, however, bottles of extra virgin olive oil that state they are certified, but don't include a seal or any information of what organization granted the certification. A certification is only as good as the organization behind it.
Buying good quality olive oil is like buying a good bottle of wine. A good bottle of wine will specify the name of the vineyard or vineyards the grapes were grown. The more prestigious the vineyard the more expensive the wine (and in most cases, the more delicious). Less expensive bottles of wine are less likely to include this information because their grapes are inexpensively sourced from here, there, and everywhere.
Similarly, higher quality olive oils will designate the name of the estate on which the olives were harvested on the label.
High quality extra virgin olive oils will often designate the date the olives were harvested or pressed on the label. If you see this information on the label, chances are you are holding a premium product in your hands.
Harvest and pressed dates are far more important than when the olive oil was bottled or what the manufacturer has arbitrarily set as an expiration date.
Australia has stringent testing standards for their olive oils as does the state of California. And neither Chile or Australia allow distributors to mix olive oils from multiple harvests.
If you live in an area with olive farms or know of a local artisan who sells olive oil at your neighborhood farmers market, chances are good their olive oil is of higher quality than retail brands made in giant batches.
If the olive oil you purchased doesn't taste or smell fresh, chances are you've been duped into purchasing an inferior product. If you've been using a brand that tastes and smells stale, rancid or musty, it's time to switch brands.
If you suspect after reading this article that you may be stocking fake olive oil in your pantry, don't throw it away. Hang on to it until you purchase a bottle of higher quality. Taste and smell the two side by side. This will reinforce how good quality extra virgin olive oil is supposed to taste and smell. Once you start using the good stuff, you're not going to want to go back.