In April 2007, US Marshals burst into storage facilities in New York and New Jersey to seize a counterfeit and potentially dangerous substance.

The product they seized? Olive oil labeled as extra virgin – 10,000 cases of it. Turns out it was mostly soybean oil. The street value of this bust? Around $700,000.

Olive oil fraud is rampant

More than two-thirds of common brands of extra-virgin olive oil found in California grocery stores aren’t what they claim to be, according to a University of California at Davis study.

Instead, the oils were spoiled or made from lower quality olives unfit to be labeled “extra virgin.” Worse, some were outright counterfeits, made from soy, hazelnut, and even fish oils mixed with low grade olive-pomace oil.

Here’s a video I made about counterfeit olive oil

Why bother counterfeiting olive oil?

Olive oil is big business. Americans spend $700 million on olive oil annually.

Far more valuable than other vegetable oils, olive oil is also more costly and time consuming to produce. So people have been adulterating it since the time of Christ.

These days, olive oil is the most adulterated agricultural product coming out of Europe.

Part of what makes olive oil so valuable is its many health benefits. Rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, olive oil can lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure while stabilizing blood sugar levels and reducing inflammation in the body.

Is your olive oil lying about its virginity?

If you buy olive oil at a supermarket, the odds aren’t stacked in your favor. This is doubly true if you shop by price or consume “light” extra virgin olive oil. According to this NPR interview, it’s possible that some shoppers in America have never had 100% pure, extra-virgin olive oil in their lives – even though they’ve been buying products labeled that way for decades.

How to get real olive oil

  1. Avoid “Light” olive oil at all costs. This is the lowest quality olive oil on the plant.
  2. If you can find oils with the International Olive Oil Council certification, go for those.
  3. Buy Californian olive oils, which are far less adulterated than imported oil.
  4. Do your homework. Find a reputable company or source and buy small bottles from them.

What Olive Oils to Buy… and Avoid

In the UC Davis study, these brands failed to meet extra-virgin olive oil standards:

  • Bertolli
  • Carapelli
  • Colavita
  • Filippo Berio
  • Mazzola
  • Mezzetta
  • Newman’s Own
  • Pompeian
  • Rachel Ray
  • Safeway
  • Star
  • Whole Foods

In the same study, these olive oils met the extra-virgin standards: