Scientists at UC Davis went shopping at local supermarkets and brought back 14 of the country’s most popular imported brands to their labs for analysis. Incredibly, they found that 69% of the imported extra virgin olive oils they tested were fake, adulterated, stale, or so subpar that they failed to meet international and USDA standards for being labeled “extra virgin.”
For years, articles in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New Yorker magazine, and other publications have repeatedly warned about adulterated olive oils being shipped to America. A National Public Radio report called olive oil fraud “rampant.”
Here’s the problem...
Because of the many scientifically documented health benefits of extra virgin olive oil, demand for it is soaring the world over. Olive trees have blossomed into money trees, and this has attracted a small army of unscrupulous operators.
In a landmark investigative 2007 report called “Slippery Business,” the New Yorker magazine explained, “Olive oil is far more valuable than most other vegetable oils, but is costly and time-consuming to produce—and surprisingly easy to doctor. Adulteration is especially common in Italy, the world’s leading importer, consumer, and exporter of olive oil.”
To boost profits, for example, some producers have been caught adulterating the oil they label as “extra virgin” with much cheaper hazelnut, soy, or sunflower seed oil, among others, as well as mislabeling its country of origin.
And they keep doing it because, as one investigator explained to the New Yorker, the profits in adulterating olive oil are “comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks.” Often the well-known brand-name olive oil companies you're familiar with may not even realize that this trick has been pulled on them by unscrupulous suppliers halfway around the world—but you wind up with adulterated oil in your kitchen and on your food just the same.
According to the New Yorker investigation, in recent years “olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.’s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force.”
This is an outrageous shame because authentic extra virgin olive oil—the real stuff—is so healthy for you. Medical science has determined that it is indeed one of the healthiest foods you can consume. For example:
Scientific studies have shown that extra-virgin olive oil lowers “bad” cholesterol and cuts your risk of heart disease and stroke. It helps protect against cancer, especially cancer of the breast, prostate, and colon. It’s a godsend for arthritis sufferers because it can cool inflammation and ease joint pain without any side effects.
It has also been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce your risk of diabetes, and may even help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. If you want to avoid osteoporosis, it’s outstanding because it enables the calcium in your food to be better absorbed into your bones. Finally, it’s loaded with some of the most powerful disease-fighting antioxidants and polyphenols known to science, which fortify your immune system and help it protect every organ of your body against disease.
Way back in the fourth century BC, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was way ahead of his time. He loved his Greek olive oil and considered it beneficial for over 60 therapeutic uses, hailing it as “the great therapeutic.”
How to Shop for the World’s Purest, Healthiest,
and Most Flavorful Olive Oils
So what can you do if you want the purest, healthiest, and best-tasting olive oil you can find? Here are my best consumer tips.
The two most important words to remember whenever you shop for extra virgin olive oil are freshness and purity. Let’s consider freshness first...
Experts judge that freshness accounts for more than 80 percent of an olive oil’s flavor. This is because olive oil, unlike wine, does not improve with age. It’s at its healthiest and most flavorful the day it is pressed. Fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil, squeezed from olives at exactly the right moment at harvest time, is insanely bright-tasting and flavorful. You can taste the difference immediately. If you’ve ever traveled the picturesque countryside of Italy, Greece, or Spain and stopped at a local, family-owned farm to sample fresh, authentic extra virgin olive oil, you know why connoisseurs hail it as one of Mother Nature’s culinary marvels.
Freshness is critical for another reason—all those wonderful health benefits! A study conducted at Italy’s University of Foggia on several varieties of Italian extra virgin olive oil, found that its precious polyphenols are stable for only three months after pressing, but then decrease by about 40 percent after six months of storage. In other words, if you want to enjoy the marvelous health benefits of extra virgin olive oil, you should secure and consume your oil within the three-month window after it’s pressed.