Oil oil book

The greasy game of olive oil fraud

Olive oil fraud is a problem the world over, including South Africa. A new book, Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, the author, Tom Mueller, an American who lives in Italy, lays bare the workings of an industry that is prey, he argues, to hi-tech, industrial-scale fraud. The problem, he says, is that good olive oil is difficult, time-consuming and expensive to make, but easy, quick and cheap to doctor. The problem, too, is that it’s putting a global industry at stake.

An extract from a review of Extra Virginity:

Mueller is driven by a profound respect for the dedicated people who make good olive oil and a disdain for the fraudsters and profiteers who have always had their way with us. But much more than just getting in the faces of the good guys and the bad guys, he tells why it matters. And then you get it — you understand what olive oil really is, and why so many care about it so deeply.

After 256 engrossing pages that go by way too quickly, someone who never contemplated the tin of olive oil on the kitchen counter will know why it has brought out the best, and the worst in people for thousands (yes thousands) of years.

I tore through the book, then went back to the beginning and tore through it again. The only times I paused were to read a passage over to take it in a second time, marveling at Mueller’s way with words.

Readers of these pages know this is a critical time for the status of olive oil in the world. Producers in every region teeter on the edge of viability as a crisis of impossibly low prices — brought on by low-quality, often fraudelent oils and shady business practices — grinds on and on.

The European olive oil behemoths, or as Mueller calls them, “Big Oil,” will soon lose to some significant degree the subsidies that have long allowed them to undersell competitors. And New World producers, bolstered in part by Mueller’s 2007 exposé, are calling the Old Guard out, challenging the quality of their olive oils, and joining forces to fight for your business.

There is a lot at stake. Olive oil is, as Mueller put it, “an age-old food with space-age qualities that medical science is just beginning to understand.”…..

The Olive Oil Times: Read more

olive oilHow to tell if your olive oil is the real thing

Last month, the Olive Oil Times reported that two Spanish businessmen had been sentenced to two years in prison in Cordoba for selling hundreds of thousands of litres of supposedly extra virgin olive oil that was, in fact, a mixture of 70-80% sunflower oil and 20-30% olive.

In 2008, Italian police arrested over 60 people and closed more than 90 farms and processing plants across the south after uncovering substandard, non-Italian olive oil being passed off as Italian extra virgin, and chlorophyll and beta-carotene being added to sunflower and soybean oil with the same aim.

Most alarmingly, a study last year by researchers at the University of California, Davis and the Australian Oils Research Laboratory concluded that as much as 69% of imported European olive oil (and a far smaller proportion of native Californian) sold as extra virgin in the delicatessens and grocery stores on the US west coast wasn’t what it claimed to be.

Most commonly, it seems, extra virgin oil is mixed with a lower grade olive oil, often not from the same country. Sometimes, another vegetable oil such as colza or canola is used. The resulting blend is then chemically coloured, flavoured and deodorised, and sold as extra-virgin to a producer. Almost any brand can, in theory, be susceptible: major names such as Bertolli (owned by Unilever) have found themselves in court having to argue, successfully in this instance, that they had themselves been defrauded by their supplier.

Meanwhile, the chemical tests that should by law be performed by exporters of extra virgin oil before it can be labelled and sold as such can often fail to detect adulterated oil, particularly when it has been mixed with products such as deodorised, lower-grade olive oil in a sophisticated modern refinery. Nor do national food authorities appear particularly bothered as long as the oil isn’t actively harmful, which is rare.

In Britain, says Judy Ridgeway, one of the UK’s leading olive oil experts, the Food Standards Agency has not done any checks on olive oil in five or six years. “And it only does chemical tests, not taste tests,” she adds.

How can consumers be sure they are getting what they pay for when it comes to extra virgin, first cold stone pressed, single estate, artisan-milled etc oil? The short answer is that they can’t…..

The Guardian: Read more