Celebrity chefs have made olive oil a $720 million business in the U.S., but one book is blowing the lid off an industry that might be built in part on the backs of crooks.
That’s the argument Tom Mueller makes in Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.
Mueller told the New York Post. “He was speaking in this hushed tone, and I had to laugh, because this was not black-market plutonium or drugs, this was olive oil.”
Mueller contends that because true olive oil is so pricey to produce, some companies have resulted to doctoring bottles with chemicals and disguising cheaper oils with added flavoring. Then they slap on fancy labels with buzzwords like “Made in Italy” and “Cold-pressed” and ship them to stores without any rigorous quality control from the FDA, he says.
RELATED: How to Choose Olive Oil
How Can You Tell Which Olive Oil Is The Real Olive Oil?
Consumers spend an incredible $720 million per year on olive oil, according to the California Olive Oil Council. But, clearly, not all olive oil is created equally. Follow tips from COOC to be sure you know what you’re buying:
- Bottle color matters. True olive oil should be kept cool so bottles will be darker in color to extend shelf life.
- Check the label. States like California place quality control labels from the COOC on all bottles of oil produced in the state. To earn a seal, a taste panel puts it through a vigorous chemical test.
- Where you shop matters. Olive oil is definitely one of those products you never want to buy generic. Not all retailers keep a close eye on where they’re sourcing their oils, so look for higher-quality oils at specialty markets. When in doubt, check the label yourself to see its origin.
- Don’t believe everything you read. The FDA can’t catch every bottle that hits store shelves proclaiming to be “Extra virgin” or “cold pressed,” Mueller warns. If all else fails, try taking a whiff. Authentic EVOO should smell a little fruity.
- Avoid “Light” olive oil at all costs. This is the lowest quality olive oil on the plant.
- If you can find oils with the International Olive Oil Council certification, go for those.
Here’s what to look for when you shop for olive oil.
“Extra-virgin” and “virgin“ olive oils are processed by crushing olives into a mash, which is pressed to extract the oil (this is called the first press) without the use of heat (called cold pressing).
Extra-virgin oils are of higher quality, as the olives used to make them are processed within 24 hours of picking—the longer olives go between picking and processing, the higher their free fatty acid content (extra-virgin olive oil can have up to 0.8 percent, virgin oils 2 percent). Extra-virgin oils also have more polyphenols than virgin oils.
Oils can be “filtered”—or not. Unfiltered oils have tiny particles of olive flesh in them, which reduces