Has it ever occurred to you that your extra virgin olive oil is most probably adulterated, thanks to the Mob?
It’s true! The Mafia is making quite a fortune selling fake olive oil because the olive oil sales are a $1.5 billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone? In point of fact, the olive oil is currently Europe’s most adulterated pomace product!
Unregulated olive pomace oil sometimes contains harmful components known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) like benzopyrene, which research has shown to be highly carcinogenic and mutagenic.
According to Tom Mueller, an investigative journalist who wrote an awareness expose on fake olive oil states that high 70% of the extra-virgin olive oil sold is adulterated — cut with cheaper oils that is!
This is an excerpt from Mueller’s Book:
“Many olive oil scams involve straightforward mixing of low-grade vegetable oils, flavored and colored with plant extracts and sold in tins and bottles emblazoned with the Italian flags or paintings of Mount Vesuvius, together with the folksy names of imaginary producers.
More sophisticated scams, like Domenico Ribatti’s typically take place in high-tech laboratories, where cheaper oils of various kinds, made from olives, but also from seeds and nuts, are processed and blended in ways that are extremely difficult to detect with chemical tests.”
Who would know this fakeness? Disease rates support the theory that many Americans who have been buying olive-oil labeled “extra-virgin” for decades have actually never tasted the real unadulterated thing!
The Godfather novel
In truth, the olive oil racketeering is considered one of the Italian Mafia’s most lucrative businesses. Their success can be measured by the fact that most of the olive oil quantities sold is either adulterated or completely fake.
Since genuine olive oil is pricy and rather time-consuming to produce, very easy to adulterate, but quite difficult to tell the real olive oil from the fake one, fabricating fake olive oil would prove to be an enormous moneymaking enterprise for Mafioso impostors.
In the original Godfather novel, protagonist Don Vito Corleone was addresses as “The Olive Oil King.” But did you know that his character was in fact based on a real-life olive oil mobster named Joe Profacani?
The olive oil has been highly-established both as food and as medicine in Mediterranean culture for over two millenniums. At the Roman times, per-capita consumption of olive oil was estimated to be up to 50 liters a year! And the “extra-virgin” type of olive oil is the most desirable one.
The Olive Oil Times defines extra-virgin olive oil as:
In chemical terms, extra-virgin olive oil is described as having a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams and a peroxide value of less than 20 milliequivalent O2.
It must be produced entirely by mechanical means without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil (less than 86°F (30°C)).
Why would the Mob have a deal in fake extra -virgin olive oil?
1: One olive oil fraud investigator told Muller: “Because profits were comparable to cocaine trafficing, bar the risks.”
2: The olive oil production and sales is a big, big international business. The Americans alone spend approximately $700 million on olive oil each year.
3: The olive oil consumption is on the rise — it’s up 37% in Southern Europe and more than 100% in North America.
4: Although the olive oil is far more expensive than other oils, and has a unique nutritional profile, it’s very easy to fake.
“The enormous popularity of the “Made in Italy” label worldwide makes it an appetizing target for food fraudsters, who earn an estimated €60 billion a year selling counterfeit or adulterated faux-Italian foods. In some of these crimes, mafia syndicates and other criminal networks sell substandard or unsafe products at huge profits.” – Tom Mueller
From historic aspect, the olive oil has been one of the most adulterated products in Europe, and what is worrying is that the fraud continues! In the past, olive oil fraudsters used to cut the oil with lard. Terrible!
The earliest written record of the olive oil, on cuneiform tablets at Ebla in the 24th century B.C., describes teams of inspectors who toured olive mills on behalf of the king, looking for fraudulent practices. The Romans established an international trade in olive oil, and certain emperors rose to power on olive oil wealth—they were the ancient predecessors of today’s oil kings.
“What real olive oil gets you from a health perspective is a cocktail of 200+ highly beneficial ingredients that explain why the olive oil has been at the heart of the Mediterranean diet,” Mueller explained during his interview with NPR. “Bad olives have free radicals and impurities, and then you have lost that wonderful cocktail that you get from fresh fruit, from real extra-virgin olive oil.”
UC-Davis (University of California Davis) and adulterated extra-virgin olive oil
In 2010, UC-Davis published a detailed report titled Tests Indicate That Imported “Extra-Virgin” Olive Oil Often Fails International and USDA Standards.
Researchers found that fake extra-virgin olive oils are flooding supermarket shelves in California.
In 2 studies the UC Davis researchers tested a total of 186 extra- virgin olive oil samples, both imported and domestic, using standards established by the International Olive Council (IOC), as well as olive oil scrutiny used in Germany and Australia. The study concluded that 69% of imported, and 10% of California-based olive oil labeled extra–virgin, did not pass the International Olive Council (IOC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture sensory standards set for extra-virgin olive oil!
The grim reality
Over 2/3 of common brands of extra-virgin olive oil found in California’s grocery stores are not what they claim to be, according to a report by researchers at UC Davis.
Put in another way, approximately 69% of all store-bought extra-virgin olive oils in the U.S. are likely fake. By comparison, while 11% of the imported, Italian samples failed both sensory olive oil testing panels, the Australian and Californian samples failed one panel only.
As expected, some questioned the UC-Davis study results, because the research was funded in part by the California Olive Ranch and the California Olive Oil Council and both groups are connected to the Australian Olive Association. Yet, a preponderance of evidence clearly indicates that the UC- Davis olive oil analysis accurately reflects reality.
The adulteration of the olive oil was a commonplace in the late 1990s. Conclusive evidence that olive oil was often mixed with cheaper oils, like hazelnut and sunflower seed, became widespread. In fact, the European Union declared the olive oil to be their No.1 adulterated agricultural product. It got so bad that the E.U.’s Anti-Fraud Division established an olive-oil task force!
But alas, the olive oil fraud remains a major international problem.
How to tell if your olive oil purchase is the “real deal”
You can read on labels this oil grading: extra-virgin, virgin, light, pomace, filtered, cold-pressed, stone milled, organic… The list goes on and on. If you are perplexed about which olive oil to purchase, you are not a single isolated case. We think that there are a few keys to choosing the right olive oil:the first is knowing the types of olive oil available,the second is considering what you will use it for.
However, learning the different grades of olive oil and their characteristics will help you make sense of what you read on labels and make up your mind which grade to choose.
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Sources and references:
Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil
University of California Davis Report of 2010