Oy Vey, EVOO Is Not So Virgin After All... ~ The Garden of Eating - a sinfully good blog about food

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Oy Vey, EVOO Is Not So Virgin After All...

In August, the New Yorker ran a fascinating piece about olive oil fraud, a practice so widespread that the EU was forced to establish an olive oil task force in the late 90's.

Apparently, the stuff we're led to believe is extra virgin olive oil is often anything but. An insider estimated that as much as 90% of the virgin olive oil sold in Italy is actually adulterated.

There are two types of olive oil fraud. The first is a wholescale substitution of other oils (like soybean and canola) that are colored with chlorophyll and flavored with beta carotene to make them resemble and taste like olive oil. Chemical testing can easily detect this fraud.

However, the more sophisticated type of fraud in which high grade olive oil is mixed with hazelnut and cheap, non-foodgrade olive oil, then packaged and sold as Extra Virgin is nearly impossible to detect through chemical testing. Instead, the EU instituted strict taste and aroma requirements and established special olive oil tasting panels to test the goods.

"According to the E.U. regulations, extra-virgin oil must have appreciable levels of pepperiness, bitterness, and fruitiness, and must be free of sixteen official taste flaws, which include “musty,” “fusty,” “cucumber,” and “grubby.”" What great adjectives! There must have been a Brit or two on that committee -- "musty" and "fusty"...

Unfortunately for food purists around the world, olive oil fraud is likely to continue for the foreseeable future due to the threat of expensive lawsuits by olive oil producers and to widespread corruption in Italy.

It made me wonder - have I ever tasted real extra virgin olive oil and, if I did, would I like it?


Chef JP said...

Great job on covering this olive oil fraud!

Chloe said...

This was a fascinating article and made me rather skeptical about the EVOO I buy, particularly here in South Africa. I have discovered a new oil--Kalamata Olive Oil. I have no idea how virgin it is but I do know that I would drink it straight but for the cost and hassle--the only place I can find it is a vineyard an hour from Cape Town! If you can find it, grab it and use in salad dressings or for dipping bread.