Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the highest grade of olive oil and people are often willing to pay a higher price for bottles claiming to be filled with EVOO. By definition, EVOO has been made by cold-pressing olives, without using any sulfates or other chemicals in the extraction process. It’s also supposed to have a superior taste compared to all the other forms of olive oil, although the average consumer is unlikely to be able to tell the difference. Unfortunately, there are plenty of olive oil manufacturers who rely on that ignorance.
Although we all do it, there are a few problems with buying a bottle just because it’s labeled “extra virgin olive oil.” The first is that bottles bearing that label are all too easy to obtain here in the U.S., despite the fact that real EVOO is the best of the best, and yet a glance at American grocery store shelves would have you believe that virtually every olive oil sold here is EVOO.
The truth is that EVOO is one of the largest (and oldest) scams in the world. Tests conducted by the University of California-Davis to the National Consumers League have found that more than half the olive oil labeled EVOO in the U.S. is actually adulterated with other oils, such as sunflower seed and peanut oils. Not only do these oils lack taste, they also lack the renowned health benefits of EVOO and can even cause allergic reactions in some consumers.
Since the presence of other oils can be detected through testing, other olive oil distributors have mixed their EVOO with other types of olive oil that are lower quality and/or older than the fresh EVOO they claim to be selling.
Deoleo USA, the parent company that makes Bertolli olive oil, is the latest company to come under fire for allegedly selling subpar oil that’s marketed as EVOO imported from Italy. In addition to paying $7 million to settle a class action consumer lawsuit outside of court, Deoleo has also agreed to change its packaging and refrain from claiming that its oil is “imported from Italy” unless it is made solely by olives that were grown and pressed in Italy.
The complaint also questioned whether the product was worthy of the “extra virgin olive oil” label that it bears. If some or all of the oil is imported from Italy, the conditions of travel (including exposure to heat and sunlight) degrade the oil, causing some of the beneficial fats to break down and lowering both the quality and the taste of the oil.
Since the first report in 2010 alerted the public to the state of most of the so-called olive oil they were consuming, buyers have remained skeptical of olive oil manufacturers. This has meant that olive oil producers, both here and abroad, have had to work hard to regain the public’s trust. This latest lawsuit and settlement against Bertolli is not going to do anything to help boost the public’s confidence so it will be interesting to see what Bertolli’s next move will be to regain its reputation.
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