Real olive oil needed, please
March 3, 2012 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Is there any simple way to know if the olive oil I've bought is genuine? If my olive oil does not soldify in the fridge, does that mean it is adulterated? What brand (or certification) can I buy of olive oil that I know for sure is genuine?

Lots of olive oil is fake/adulterated.

I bought a bottle of Trader Joe's organic cold pressed extra virgin olive oil from Spain. I put it in the fridge and it hasn't solidified. Different olive oil I've bought in the past has. Does this mean it's adulterated?

Is there any simple way to know if the olive oil I've bought is genuine? If my olive oil does not soldify in the fridge, does that mean it is adulterated? What brand (or certification) can I buy of olive oil that I know for sure is genuine?
posted by skjønn to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I guarantee you that anything certified by the California Olive Oil Council is the real deal, with the bonus that you'll also know its year of production. They have extensive certification as well as a tasting panel. However, it's also among the more expensive, and obviously is not from those lovely Mediterranean countries.

I don't think there's a simple physical test you can perform. The tests I've read about all rely on having a chemistry lab or DNA analysis available to you.

It is quite disappointing that even simple things like "cold-pressed," "Produce of Italy," and "olive oil" cannot be taken at face value, but that appears to be the state of things. However, I can say that olive oil is one of those products where the difference between the worst and the best are obvious on casual inspection, even to a novice. Pour a little bit on the back of your hand, suck some air into it, and taste. Is it peppery, or olivey, or grassy? Then it's the real deal. A surprisingly high percentage of olive oil is too old, too oxidized, too rancid, or otherwise crap, so taste around until you find one you like.
posted by wnissen at 5:58 PM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: To answer your last question first, it's probably impossible to ever know for certain if you olive oil is exactly what it says it is unless you harvest your own olives and press it yourself. I'm sure lots of companies believe they're selling you pure, unadulterated olive oil but unless they have a cadre of incorruptible guards standing watch over their entire supply chain there's always a chance of someone trying to pull a fast one and, if they're clever enough, getting away with it.

Consider the Baxter Heparin case.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:04 PM on March 3, 2012

You can tell by the taste usually if it's mostly olive oil.
posted by fshgrl at 6:14 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I buy this kind regularly. I think Trader Joe's would try to be careful about what products they stock and they've had this oil for quite awhile. Since they discontinue so many things it seems like if they found out they were selling fraudulent olive oil they would get rid of it.

It also tastes like extra virgin olive oil to me.

However, I also wonder about this every time I buy olive oil!
posted by fromageball at 6:24 PM on March 3, 2012

From what I've heard, "Made in Italy" pretty much guarantees it's adulterated or completely fake. I'm sure every store maintains that what they sell is real, but if you can find U.S. made oil, at least you can figure the Mafia was not necessarily involved.
posted by rikschell at 6:39 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

what about how the olive oil is bottled as another consideration...when i was in Italy this past September the places I went that made their own olive oil swore that buying olive oil in any container that is not dark glass or metal/tin is a complete sin. Trader Joe's only sells one kind of olive oil in a dark bottle - the spanish is a clear bottle - which I believe also impacts the quality of the olive oil - olive oil is not supposes to be subject to light.
posted by BlueMartini7 at 6:48 PM on March 3, 2012

As far as I know, the only thing that determines whether olive oil will solidify in the refrigerator is the percent of saturated fat--palmitic (7.5 to 20.0%) and stearic (0.5 to 5.0%) acid--which isn't directly related to whether the oil is adulterated, but varies naturally.

Unless you're considerably more paranoid than I am, I would be comfortable that USDA certified organic (which is essentially an auditable paper trail covering agricultural production, processing and post-packaging handling) and domestic single-origin oils would be unadulterated.
posted by pullayup at 7:03 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've done a bunch of reading about this, and from what I read if the oil is from the Mediterranean (Italy, Spain, Greece) it's pretty much going to be fake or adulterated. Stores don't routinely test the olive oil they get, it costs too much and customers don't want real olive oil, they want cheap olive oil. However olive oil from California is supposedly usually genuine.

As far as I know, there is no at-home way to identify real olive oil.
posted by medusa at 7:04 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this is a test or not: the other day I was listening to a podcast about olive oil (some BBC Food Programme, I think), and the way they were describing good olive oil intrigued me and I was wondering if my olive oil was good as I only used it for cooking. So, I went and took a spoonful, and sort of held it in my mouth to really taste it, and then swallowed it. As I did this, I got this crazy tickle in the back of my throat like a mild peppery bite and started coughing.

Well, it turns out that the story went on to describe how olive oil is similar to anti-inflammatory meds, and the researcher recognized this because of the bite at the back of the throat!

Well, I don't know what that means exactly, but my decent-ish olive oil bit me, so that seems to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 7:13 PM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get it from some place not famous for their olive oil. Who would fake "mexican olive oil"? If you are faking, you'd go whole hog and claim to be "italian extra virgin olive oil".
posted by pmb at 7:16 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

There isn't any way to tell if your oil is adulterated. However, even if it is, there's no reason not to eat it--it was just a poor value, as you were buying extra virgin oil mixed with pomace oil (that is, not from the first pressing, and potentially solvent-extracted), or a cheaper vegetable oil at extra virgin olive oil prices. These adulterant oils may not be awesome things to base your diet on but finishing off a suspect bottle certainly won't harm you.

(Sorry, both of these are behind paywalls unless you happen to be at a university or something)

Evaluation of the bellier test in the detection of olive oil adulteration with vegetable oils

Virgin olive oil was mixed with eight vegetable oils (sunflower, soya bean, palm, linseed, cottonseed, corn, sesame, and olive residue) at various levels. The Bellier test was applied to find the minimum detectable adulteration level and the ‘sensitivity score’ for each oil. The test was inapplicable to sunflower and linseed oils regardless of the level in olive oil. It was successful in detecting olive residue, soya bean, palm, cottonseed, corn, and sesame oils at minimal levels of 730, 150, 130, 90, 60 and 10 g kg−1, respectively. The rancidity level of the adulterant oils did not affect the performance of the test in the case of sunflower, linseed and sesame oils. The sensitivity of the test decreased considerably with increasing peroxide value of the adulterant oil: soya bean, palm, cottonseed, corn and olive residue. However, the change in sensitivity level commenced at so high a peroxide value that it has no significance for practical purposes; at such levels of peroxidation the adulterated olive would be unmarketable and rejected by inspectors due to its poor sensory quality.

Chemistry of Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Adulteration, Oxidative Stability, and Antioxidants

"The analysis and authentication of EVOO represent very challenging analytical chemical problems. A significant amount of literature on EVOO adulteration has depended on sophisticated statistical approaches that require analyses of large numbers of samples. More effort is needed to exploit reliable chemical and instrumental methods that may not require so much statistical interpretation."
posted by pullayup at 7:44 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buy many kinds and do a taste test. Take tasting notes. Become a connoisseur.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 10:07 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unless you're considerably more paranoid than I am, I would be comfortable that USDA certified organic (which is essentially an auditable paper trail covering agricultural production, processing and post-packaging handling) and domestic single-origin oils would be unadulterated.

I don't think this would be the best way to suss this out, as the issue is fraud, not contamination. Olive oil is adulterated with other, perfectly edible, but cheaper plant oils.

But in response to others up-thread, there is certainly legitimate olive oil from Greece and Spain and yes, even Italy.

In my house, our solution is to buy our really, really great olive oil from a shop that is extremely knowledgeable about the provenance of each brand they sell; we use this for non-cooked preparations where we get a lot of bang for our buck (salad dressing, homemade mayo, drizzling, etc.) For just general cooking use, we get a better grade of supermarket stuff, knowing that it's probably been stretched with some other oil.
posted by desuetude at 11:26 PM on March 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Of the two brands recommended by this guy, my grocery store only carries one: California Olive Ranch brand.

He's been making the rounds with his book, including on an episode of The Splendid Table in January.

Here is an episode from America's Test Kitchen on how to buy olive oil.

As I understand it, the issues are:

No US oversight checking to see that the oil is what it says it is
Leading to the dumping of inferior oils in the US market
Oil labelled extra virgin that are not
Oils mixed with non-olive, inferior oils
Oils that are rancid
Oils that are dyed to look the right color
Oils that are so over-processed that they no longer have any nutritional value
Including oil made from ground olives (over ripe)

I've decided to go with the California brand above, and to use it for dips and awesome occasions. Then I bought a more general cooking oil per this Eating Rules how to choose an oil chart. The high oleic sunflower oil, I think.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:06 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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