Olive Oil – How to Spot a Fake

Experts estimate that a whopping 80 percent of all Italian extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) on the market today is fraudulent. Doesn’t matter how fancy the name or pretty the picture of a vineyard on the bottle is. Consumer Reports found only 9 out of 23 olive oils from Spain, Italy and California passed as being extra virgin olive oil and a study at UC Davis Olive Center found 69% of imported ‘extra virgin’ olive oils in California supermarkets were fraud.

  Most extra-virgin olive oils on the shelves are fake!  

The fraud part comes because olive oil labeled as “extra-virgin” is diluted with non-olive oils, or in many cases diluted with non-‘extra-virgin” olive oils. And many of the big brands you trust are guilty of this. I get very passionate about this because I use olive oil a lot, several times a day, and I use it because it is supposed to be a healthy oil for me to use.

Health Fraud

So many of the health benefits dietitians, nutritionists, and the media tout are linked to having extra-virgin olive oil in your diet and this is what we THINK we are buying but in REALITY we are NOT.

If you want any of these benefits from eating olive oil in the foods you eat::

  • Diabetes Type 2 prevention and reduction
  • Heart Disease slowing down and prevention
  • Lowering of bad cholesterol
  • Prevention of cancer cell growth
  • Lowering of blood pressure
  • Antimicrobic effect to help with infections

then you need to be doubly sure you are getting the high quality extra-virgin olive oil you thought you were buying.

High quality extra-virgin olive oil can do these things for your health because it contains antioxidants. However, you don’t find these key components in as high of concentrations or in some cases at all in diluted olive oil and chemically processed oils that are really “virgin” (not extra-virgin) or just plain “olive oil”.

When an olive oil is labeled as “extra-virgin” it is also called EVOO and it is assumed it has been produced by a simple mechanical pressing of the olives. Other, lesser quality olive oils are either chemically processed or pressed mechanically more than once which changes the desirable acidity, peroxide and antioxidant levels which effect both the taste and health benefits of the oil.

The main antioxidant responsible for so much of the health benefits I listed above comes from the compound polyphenol.  The only way you can get polyphenols that are amazing for your health like mentioned in the research is with true “extra-virgin” olive oil.

  You are missing out on getting polyphenols in the fake extra-virgin olive oils  

Polyphenol content is effected by 5 factors:

1. Harvesting method – Rougher treatment means less polyphenols.

2. Age of trees – Older trees produce higher polyphenol content.

3. Olive maturation – Green olives are picked before ripening and have more polyphenols, and black olives are picked while ripe and have less polyphenols. It helps to know that ripe olives are easier to squeeze oil from. Also, green olives can be oxidized to become the black olives we see in grocery store shelves. So don’t think green olives that you see in the stores are better.

4. Processing – The less, the better for polyphenol content. This is why “extra virgin” olive oil has the highest polyphenol levels.

5. Storage and heat – Exposure to heat and air reduces polyphenol content.

This last one I want to expand on – heat. Higher heat destroys more of the polyphenols. We don’t know the threshold point, but I have looked at this closely since I want to know how my cooking affects polyphenols. Until I see studies indicating otherwise, I will play it safe with regards to heating extra-virgin olive oil. These extra virgin olive oil polyphenols are simply too important to risk damaging through heating too high. The 200-250˚F (93-121˚C) temperature range is the one I feel safest with when it comes to heating extra-virgin olive oil and protection of its healthy polyphenols. So if I want to preserve the polyphenols, I will keep the heat below this temperature when cooking.

I have a cheaper extra-virgin olive oil for cooking when the temperature I am using will go higher than the 200-250˚F (93-121˚C). I have a higher quality, more expensive extra-virgin olive oil I use for low heat and room temperature dishes like salad dressings, bruschetta, pesto and finishing a dish just before it is served (finishing means drizzling some high quality olive oil over the dish just before serving to give it a buttery-like oil flavor and a boost of health).

How to Pick an Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Here are 5 tips for selecting an authentic extra-virgin olive oil:

Harvest Date: Ignore the best-by or sell-by date. Instead, look for a harvest date. Unfortunately, there is no standard on what a sell-by or use-by date means and most packagers often give a date two years from harvest for the oldest oil in the diluted mix in the bottle. Instead, look for a harvest date. The problem though is most bottles do NOT have on them a harvest date. Try it out.I have gone through 20 bottles to find maybe one or none with a harvest date on them. You want a harvest date in the last year to 18 months. The harvest date is the date the olives were picked and means in most cases all the olives for that bottle came from the same geographical region.

Dark Container: Make sure the bottle is in a container that protects the oil from the light. Typically it is a dark glass or tin.

EVOO: Make sure it is labeled as “extra-virgin olive oil” which means it is pressed mechanically only one time (versus chemical or even multiple mechanical presses).

Specific Location: The listing of a specific location means a single family farm, estate or local coop. Also, if you see the variety of olive used on the label that is a good sign. You will see words like: Arbequina, Picual, Frantoio, Hojiblanca and others.

Certifications: There are some certifications you can trust: The California Olive Council seal and Australian Olive Oil seal. I have pictures of them below. I would not trust other certifications at this time. Some are trying to clean things up but they still have a ways to go yet. Also, there is a list of California certified oils for the last year harvest dates on their website.

California and Australian Olive Oil Seals

If you are ready to buy some EVOO that has been tested and verified as the real thing, here are some names that I verified are on the 2015 list so they are good through the end of 2016 and first part of 2017.

Bottom Line: Check out the bottles of olive oil you have in your kitchen RIGHT NOW! If they do not pass the tips for picking an extra-virgin olive oil then find one on the California certified oils for the last year list or one of the names I listed to use for when you are cooking below 200-250˚F (93-121˚C). And for heating above this temperature, get an extra-virgin olive oil that is less expensive that you know is truly extra-virgin or use canola oil for your higher heat cooking.


I am a mother of 4, active in my church and community, and passionate about making food food fun, high energy and fascinating. I have no extra time to be slaving away in the kitchen or going to special markets for unusual ingredients and I doubt you do either. I will never ask you to eat food you don’t love. Read more >>

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