Olive oil is good for us. Studies have shown that olive oil is an especially healthy food that is good for the heart, protects against cancer, reduces pain, lowers blood pressure, protects against oxidative damage, prevents gallstones, protects against ulcer development, controls cholesterol and protects against cognitive decline. The road to getting healthier includes incorporating natural olive oil into your diet. So you probably have some “extra virgin” olive oil in your cupboard that you use to make “healthy” salads.
But what if you found out that your olive oil was a sham—a fake food designed to fool both regulators and the public, made from a mixture of olive oil and processed sunflower, soy or hazelnut oil? That it wasn’t healthy at all; in fact it wasn’t any better or less toxic than the processed supermarket oils you must avoid. You’d probably be pretty angry about it.
Well, if you don’t already know about the olive oil scandal, be prepared to be outraged.
One of the problems is that it’s easy to fake “extra virgin” olive oil results under current testing methods. As olive oil’s popularity has exploded, so has the temptation to cheat. Even large retailers operating in good faith unwittingly purchase the fake oils.
Using sophisticated testing, scientists at the University of California Davis found that 69 percent of imported olive oil samples and 10 percent of California samples labeled extra virgin olive oil failed to meet international and USDA standards. Among those oils that failed the test were Bertolli, Newman’s Own, Pompeian, Rachel Ray, Safeway, and Whole Foods brands.
A previous study by the FDA found 96 percent of olive oils tested were phony. Raymond Francis has made such an extensive study of olive oil that he’s been interviewed by major television networks as an olive oil expert, and he believes the FDA’s 96 percent is closer to the truth than the UC Davis study.
Raymond discovered the scandal in 1998, when the European Union’s anti-fraud office established an olive oil task force because olive oil had become the most adulterated agricultural product in Europe. Raymond was the first outside of Italy and Switzerland to write about it—see The Olive Oil Scandal. (Tom Mueller wrote an article about olive oil adulteration in Italy for The New Yorker in 2007 and later expanded it into a book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.)
When Raymond learned of the scandal, he immediately started looking for “real” olive oil that Beyond Health could carry. He found a small family-owned and operated olive vineyard in California, where olive oil was being made the traditional way and was full of all the wonderful nutritional value olive oil is known for. This is why when UC Davis tested our oil, it had the highest antioxidant content of all the oils they tested. That’s why we call it “supplement grade.” Better nutrition actually adds better flavor to this delicious olive oil, and we are proud to offer it to our customers.
Caveat emptor (buyer beware) has never been more true than today, yet most people don’t have the time to do the kind of exhaustive research necessary to make sure they’re getting what they pay for. That’s where Beyond Health comes in. We do the work to find the best in each of our product categories so you don’t have to.
- Frankel EN. Report: Tests indicate that imported ‘extra virgin’ olive oil often fails international and USDA standards. July 2010. UC Davis Olive Center. Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, University of California, Davis.
- Mueller T. Letter from Italy: Slippery business. The New Yorker, August 13, 2011.
- Garner D. Olive oil’s growers, chemists, cooks and crooks. A review of Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller. The New York Times, December 7, 2011
- Francis, R. Olive Oil from Beyond Health, Beyond Health News, 2005.