How to Tell if Your Olive Oil is Fake

What Is Fake Olive Oil

Fake olive oil is oil that does not meet both the chemical and organoleptic (sensory) requirements for the quality of oil the product claims to be.

For example, an olive oil labeled as extra virgin must have a free fatty acid (FFA) below 0.8%, a peroxide level below 20, and be free of sensory defects. If the lab results and organoleptic profile indicate otherwise that olive oil is fake and mislabeled.

How To Tell If Olive Oil Is Fake

The only way to know if an olive oil is fake is to send it for lab testing and sensory panel tasting.

Brands and producers are responsible for ensuring their products are of high quality and labeled properly. It is not the responsibility of consumers to verify whether a product is real or fake.

What Does Fake Olive Oil Taste Like

Undesirable qualities in olive oil include but are not limited to cheesy, fusty, musty, muddy, winey, rancid, or oxidized.

Many have also described the product as smelling or tasting like plastic, wax, flat, or crayons.

How to Avoid Fake Olive Oil

The best way to avoid fake olive oil is to purchase from small reputable brands that produce their own products, like EXAU. Smaller companies often own their own trees and work directly with a growing partner to source high-quality fruit each harvest.

For example, our family has been growing olives for almost 100 years, therefore, we own our own groves.

In addition, small producers often have an interesting selection of cultivar(s). They usually stay away from high density farming which isn't sustainable for family managed estates. If you can, develop a relationship with small producer(s) or follow them on social media to stay up to date on their work.

Really great OO is not limited to a geographic region! There are incredible producers on almost every continent and the olive tree grows in over 50 countries including the Spain, Italy, Greece, Australia, China, the United States, Morocco, Tunisia, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. Therefore, there's a huge selection of excellent EVOO to choose from.

70% Of The Olive Oil In The U.S. Is Fake

You may have heard that '70% of the olive oil in the U.S. is fake' or 'America is full of fake olive oil brands'. However, these statements are false and have been debunked multiple times over the past 15 years.

The olive fruit, and its by products, is one of the most intensely studied foods in the world. Between 1991 and 2018 alone there have been 732 studies shared in 178 publications discussing the fruit (source). And currently, researchers are studying the ways in which EVOO can prevent alzheimers (source)!

The UC Davis Study

In 2010 UC Davis published an article titled Most imported olive oils don’t match ‘extra virgin’ claims, study finds. It states, "The research team found that 69 percent of the imported oils sampled, compared with just 10 percent of the California-produced oils sampled, failed to meet internationally accepted standards for extra virgin olive oil" (UC Davis).

This article shook the industry to its core and sent consumers into a frenzy. It was also the point of origin of the infamous '70% of olive oil in the U.S. is fake' hookline.

UC Davis then published another article titled Imported olive oil quality unreliable, study finds in 2011. The article states "...the research team examined 134 samples of eight high-volume brands of olive oil, purchased in major supermarkets throughout California" (UC Davis).

The articles spread across social media like wildfire and it got ugly. There were class action lawsuits and trade commission hearings. Consumers in the U.S., both businesses and individuals, believed they had been cheated, and rightly so. The information within the study clearly indicated that imported brands were producing fake olive oil (OO).

fake-olive-oil

Olive Oil Fraud Explained

Unfortunately, there were issues with the UC Davis studies. First, they only sampled olive oils from the state of California.

The article states, "The intent of the study was to provide consumers and retailers with an accurate picture of the quality of olive oils now being marketed through grocery stores and other retail outlets in California" (UC Davis). Therefore, this was not a comprehensive study of the U.S. import market as a whole, but rather the state of California.

Second, and mostly importantly, the study could not be replicated. In order for a study or experiment to be considered conclusive and factual outside parties must be able to replicate it. To this day nobody has been able to replicate the study and get similar results. In addition, the study was not peer reviewed. It was also not performed over a very long period of time.

Third, the study was industry funded. At the bottom of the articles it list the parties that paid for the study. They're companies that have major interests in the California olive oil industry. This is similar to a U.S. domestic car manufacturer performing studies and tests on foreign manufactured vehicles without the supervision or input of the EPA or NHTSA.

Good, reliable studies must include neutral sources of funding. And if the organization performing the study is not going to include neutral sources they should at the very least allow the study to be peer reviewed before publishing it.

Lastly, the UC Davis study was debunked by the FDA. This is interesting because the FDA does not regulate the different types of olive oils. However, when industry issues such arise they may insert themselves to ease the concerns of the public.

The FDA performed a peer reviewed study titled Authenticity Assessment of Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Evaluation of Desmethylsterols and Triterpene Dialcohols. The study states that there's "...a low occurrence rate of adulteration (<5 %), based on purity criteria for desmethylsterols and triterpene dialcohols, was detected for the 88 products labeled as EVOO" (FDA).

The Impact On The Public And The Industry

Almost 15 years later both the industry and the public are still haunted by the UC Davis study. The New York Times shared an illustration indicating that the U.S. is full of counterfeit olive oil. The NYT also shared an interactive titled Food Chains Extra Virgin Suicide. The name speaks for itself. The New York times late made corrections to the original publication but the damage was done.

Many domestic brands saw this as a huge marketing opportunity, a way to dig at imported products. The line '70% of olive oil in the U.S. is fake' is still shamelessly used by brands as a fear-mongering marketing tactic.

Many consumers look for ways to prove their OO is real. For example, putting it in the fridge and seeing if it freezes. The only thing that does is ruin the product and wastes your money.

This entire situation is incredibly sad. Consumers should not fear olive oil fraud when exploring the cooking fat section of the grocery store. Shopping for the product should be a pleasant experience.

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If you learned something new or have opinions on this topic, please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts! We love to hear from you and do respond to comments. If you’re on Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook don’t forget to tag us and use #EXAUoliveoil so we can repost!

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