Is Your Olive Oil Really Olive Oil?

You know that 100% extra-virgin olive oil you bought to make your favorite vinaigrette with; the olive oil you always drizzle over those beefsteak tomatoes your family loves?

Well, sorry, but that 100% extra virgin olive oil you bought may not be olive oil at all.

Would the impostors please stand up?

The bottle may be filled instead with a nut or seed oil cleverly disguised as olive oil, e.g., hazelnut, peanut, soy or canola oil, or a mixture of olive oil with some ersatz olive oil – low grade olive-pomace oil which is used to make soaps and for industrial purposes (pomace is what’s left after pressing the olives: the pits and ground flesh).

Alas, ’tis true, your beautifully packaged bottle of olive oil may not be olive oil at all – just some sad soy oil that has been colored with chlorophyll and flavored with beta-carotene.

Like many, I grew up on olive oil, putting olive oil on everything from pasta to potatoes. So, when it came to my attention a few years back that olive oil is one of the most adulterated agricultural products in the European Union, I was shocked. The ethical issue here is pretty obvious, but what about those of us who suffer from food allergies – some of which are life-threatening? How are we to know if we are getting exactly what is stated on the packaging?

I had a mission: I would track down the real olive oil.

Before I tell you what I found – there is hope for us olive oil lovers! – here’s what writer Tom Mueller had to say in The New Yorker about the much-practiced act of substituting inferior oils for genuine olive oil. Interestingly, this is not a modern-day phenomenon:

“Olive oil is far more valuable than most other vegetable oils, but it 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. (For the past ten years, Spain has produced more oil than Italy, but much of it is shipped to Italy for packaging and is sold, legally, as Italian oil…

“…Olive-oil fraud was already common in antiquity. Galen tells of unscrupulous oil merchants who mixed high-quality olive oil with cheaper substances like lard, and Apicius provides a recipe for turning cheap Spanish oil into prized oil from Istria using minced herbs and roots. The Greeks and the Romans used olive oil as food, soap, lotion, fuel for lamps and furnaces, a base for perfumes, and a cure for heart ailments, stomach aches, hair loss, and excessive perspiration.”

(Mueller, Tom. “Letter From Italy: Slippery Business.” The New Yorker. 13 August, 2007)

Yikes! I then came across another article in Beyond Health: “The Olive Oil Scandal”, written by Raymond Francis, an M.I.T. trained scientist. In the article, Francis speaks about the common practice of companies deceiving consumers by substituting inferior oils for what they claim is 100% olive oil, and he gives the reader the following tips on how to avoid purchasing faux olive oil: you need to look for extra virgin olive oil that is cold pressed, unfiltered and looks cloudy, and which has been produced on a small estate and is packaged in dark glass bottles so that the oil is not damaged by light. No easy task! But, luckily, after a search, Beyond Health found that there was one high quality olive oil that met those standards and is used by many top chefs in many fine restaurants: Bariani Olive Oil (I have no affiliation with them and do not profit financially in any way from this recommendation). I told you there was hope! Bariani Olive Oil is a family-owned and operated organic olive oil business out of Sacramento, California:

“Today, Bariani Olive Oil is committed in producing an authentic extra virgin olive oil which is raw and once only available thru the turn of the century. Produced in a limited quantity, the olive oil is a registered organic product and with the particular and discriminatory taste of the family, the quality is always guaranteed.” (

I was truly elated to find out that they make REAL olive oil – no substitutes. The high-quality of their product was further confirmed when I went onto Amazon and read what customers were saying about Bariani Olive Oil: they raved about how good it was – although some did find it a bit bitter. I have found that their oil does have a bold rich flavor which can vary slightly in intensity from season to season depending on the crop – theirs is no wimpy olive oil.

Bariani Olive Oil, which has been described as “green gold” is packaged in a thick-glass bottle and shipped straight to your home from their orchard. Here are a few more important facts:

“It is important to note that Bariani Olive Oil is Certified Organic. Emanuele, the salesman, adds that “the lady from the Department of Agriculture lives next door; you bet she has her eye on our orchard.” The oil keeps 18-24 months in good storage conditions (a cool and dark place) and the Barianis point out that “our grandmother in Italy has had it for five years and it still tastes fresh.” As all good cooks know, not all olive oils are created equal. This oil is not only molto bene but also doesn’t cause a gasp at the price: $14 for a liter, as compared to more than $50 charged for some Californian olive oils. Our tasting panel gave it a thumbs-up as great for dipping in bread or tossing with pasta but cautioned it might be a little strong for salads. Pure olive oil is better for sautéeing since it has a higher smoke point. Some found it “pungent with a real olive taste” others “nice and meaty” and “smooth.” With its gorgeous emerald color and robust character, you have a truly natural, no-fault, high-quality product with a new orchard blend for balance and consistency.” (The Food Paper)

(Note: if you find imported oils with an IOOC certification on the label, you should pick them. As well, The California Olive Olive Oil Council [COOC] certifies purity of oil produced in California.)

Buon appetito!


2 comments for “Is Your Olive Oil Really Olive Oil?

  1. Susan
    June 5, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Thanks for the great article on olive oil. Who knew we had to be aware of such unscrupulous behavior from the olive oil industry? Love your website!

  2. ceci
    August 30, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    unbelievable; why aren’t we more informed?

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