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The Tragedy of the Diluted Commons [SLNYT]
January 27, 2014 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Extra Virgin Suicides is an interactive graphic from the New York Times about the global business of counterfeit olive oil. The NYT graphic is pretty slick, too.
posted by Mad_Carew (71 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
The NYT graphic is pretty slick, too.

I see what you did there. Thanks for posting this, I'm looking forward to greasing myself up and diving in.
posted by nevercalm at 9:27 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


This is sourced from Tom Mueller's blog, Truth In Olive Oil. New Yorker interview: Olive Oil's Dark Side
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:39 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Olive oil: Not what it says on the tin. The infographic is really cool.

Outside of food allergies from peanut oil, what is the actual negative impact of this, though? Seriously asking.
posted by KGMoney at 9:39 PM on January 27


Good to know, but it's pretty specific about Italy. If you tend to buy Greek or Spanish oil (as in my house) you're left wondering if they have problems on a similar scale.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:40 PM on January 27


They're conning you into spending more money on a cheaper product. It would be better to buy soybean oil directly from china for $2/L than olive oil for $10 or $20/L. That difference would go into your pocket rather than theirs.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:42 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]




Bottles are labeled "Extra-Virgin" and branded with the globally respected "Made in Italy." (Oddly, this is legal, even if the oil does not come from Italy.)

I wonder if this is like the law in Canada. "Canada's food labelling laws allowed companies to use "Product of Canada" labels if 51 per cent of the production costs, or the "last substantial transformation" of the product, happen in Canada." CBC's Marketplace did a great investigation on this a few years ago and revealed, among other things, that none of the fish that was being packed into boxes labelled "Made in Canada" at the High Liner fish plant in Lunenburg was caught in Canada or by Canadians.
posted by looli at 9:45 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


One suggestion, buy Californian. Far lower food miles, better oversight -- and we make the laws.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:00 PM on January 27 [19 favorites]


I was in Italy in early December. This was, apparently, just a few weeks after the olive harvest took place, so the oil from this year's pressing was just appearing in markets and restaurants. Many markets advertised "olio nuovo" — new oil.

It tasted quite a bit different than any olive oil I had tasted in the US. I wasn't entirely sure I liked it at first. The taste is difficult to describe—the best I can come up with is that it was "greener," more vegetal, than what I'm used to. But by the end of my time there I had definitely acquired a taste for it.

At the time I attributed the difference to a) the extreme freshness of the oil, having just been in olives on trees a few weeks before, and b) the fact that the oil there generally appeared to be unfiltered, with tiny specks of crushed olives visible in it. But now I'm wondering if some (most? all?) of the difference is because what I'm used to is adulterated oil.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:34 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Italy's lack of oversight made it so that many people I know have sworn off oil from Italy in lieu of California olive oil.

That's the type of reputation you can't back as quickly as you lose it.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:39 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


... what is the actual negative impact of this, though?

People are less likely to appreciate the good oil when you serve them some.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:46 PM on January 27


In the grand scheme of things that doesn't seem so bad, StickyCarpet. I don't think people should be selling faux-Italian pseudo olive oil but I was kinda expecting one of those YOUR CHOCOLATE IS MADE WITH THE BLOOD OF SLAVE LABOR pieces we get about, like, tomatoes and chocolate and trendy grains from South America and shoes and electronics and diamonds and so on, but this wasn't that. It was only "the olive oil you're buying is possibly moderately overpriced".

That's one of the least alarming and least surprising things I've read on Metafilter.
posted by Justinian at 10:50 PM on January 27


... what is the actual negative impact of this, though?

It enriches organised crime, destroys an industry etc
posted by quarsan at 10:51 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


what is the actual negative impact of this, though?

Where does one begin? Others have mentioned the economic impact and so forth, but for many people, it's about health. EVOO has many health claims associated with it, backed by research. If you are consuming EVOO with the idea that you are deriving those health benefits, but instead you are being conned and cheated, your very health might be impacted. And that can be in two ways. One is by the denial of positive health benefits and the other is by certain substitutions might be unhealthy especially for some people - different fatty acid compositions have differential health effects, including negative ones.
posted by VikingSword at 10:53 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


It was only "the olive oil you're buying is possibly moderately overpriced".

I read it as "the olive oil you're buying isn't necessarily even olive oil and may include stuff that's not even food grade and certainly has evaded inspection."

That's one of the least alarming and least surprising things I've read on Metafilter.

To those with an actual interest in the subject, that it's not a red murder exposé doesn't invalidate it as a matter of interest.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:56 PM on January 27 [11 favorites]


That's exactly the difference, DevilsAdvocate. The real stuff tastes greener and fruitier and not gross and oily.

Buy Californian, as George_Spiggott suggests. It's fresher, and closer, and there are actual industry promulgated standards.

UC Davis has been doing some work testing various olive oils and their purities:olivecenter.ucdavis.edu.

Big surprise? The stuff in the giant Kirkland jugs at Costco is real high quality.
posted by notyou at 11:01 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


It was only "the olive oil you're buying is possibly moderately overpriced".

Well, as you say, it's not a blood-and-slavery level exposé, but it's more than merely "possibly moderately overpriced." It's "possibly diluted with oils other than olive oil."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:02 PM on January 27


For comparison, let's pretend the article says that the milk you're buying may be up to 70% pig, dog and/or rat milk...
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:12 PM on January 27 [11 favorites]


To those with an actual interest in the subject, that it's not a red murder exposé doesn't invalidate it as a matter of interest.

And it just might be a case of murder. What if a person has cardiovascular problems and as part of a life-saving diet is advised by their cardiologist, to avoid saturated fatty acids and opt for EVOO? What if instead of EVOO they are getting more n6 FA and this further imbalances their FA consumption profile ultimately leading to death. That is, assuming that a more direct route is not chosen, as was done back in the 80's when over 1000 people died in Spain, when olive oil was adulterated with motor oil. Is over a thousand people dying, and the biggest case of food poisoning in modern European history enough of an alarm bell? Yes, it was olive oil that was involved.

You have no idea what is being put into the "olive oil" - once it is being adulterated, why would you trust that the criminals would stop at harmless adulterants instead of poisonous ones? You can have no such assurance - not long ago, infants in China died, because formula was being adulterated with malamine.

Adulterating any food on a large scale, for profit - including olive oil - is done by organized criminals. There is every reason to fear such food. And yes, it may result in very deleterious health effects up to, and including, death.

Red murder indeed.
posted by VikingSword at 11:12 PM on January 27 [17 favorites]


Whatever your choice, food miles probably don't matter. Even oil from Italy to North America uses a minuscule amount of fuel per litre. Even if it's 5 cents per bottle, that's maybe 0.05L of diesel. “Buying local” is typically a kind of charity for people who have the happy accident of living closer to you.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:27 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Yikes, VikingSword. I found the incident you're referring to. 600 people killed by counterfeit olive oil. It seems heating the dirty oil released compounds which caused chronic lung damage.Toxic oil syndrome.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:32 PM on January 27


Does anyone know the brands that aren't adulterated? I remember reading that almost all supermarket brands were, but I think it was...maybe Trader Joe's?...that was actually olive oil. Maybe from California, but I'm not sure I care where olive oil came from as long as it's actually olive oil.

As far as why care -- as others said, it's a price difference, olive oil is more expensive than vegetable oil, but also I try to eat as simply as possible (simple manufacturing-wise) and try to avoid artificial coloring and such unless I've made a decision like 'I'm in the mood for some crap food today' and deliberately eat a plate of nachos with delicious fake melty cheese.

It's a truth in labeling thing - if it's not labeled correctly, you haven't actually made a decision, the ingredients are foisted upon you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:17 AM on January 28


Presumably people with severe nut allergies must have noticed that something wasn't right if olive oils were being contaminated heavily with hazelnut oil.

The whole food chain in Europe is slowly getting looked at in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, but it will take a lot of time to iron out because the standards of enforcement vary wildly across countries and in places like Italy, with 25%+ grey economies, criminal tentacles extend deeply into the economy.

Five events have coincided over the past decade:

- The explosive growth of supermarkets
- The explosive growth of own label products in supermarkets
- The growth of the EU in 2005
- The downturn and pressure on disposable income as well as government enforcement
- The rising cost of food, feed, fuel, agricultural land

So at the same time the entire supply chain is getting a good shake up, the number of EU routes to market has shot up, costs have shot up, there is huge pressure from retailers and consumers to keep prices competitive. In the case of horsemeat, the supply chain was obscure and circuitous, with multiple levels of wholesalers and distributors and middlemen. The same is true of honey and olive oil. It will also be true for other high value products where processing affords the chance to mislabel or adulterate them. A brewing scandal, for example, is the amount of water added to pork and chicken meat and mixing meat proteins (which are used as bulking agents).

This is changing slowly, a trend known as clean labelling, which encompasses everything from simplifying ingredients lists, removing additives from ingredients lists, processing food less, writing ingredients lists in plainer language, as well as being clearer about the provenance of products. It is primarily being driven by the supermarkets, rather than specific legislation.

The US is well behind Europe. As a broad generalisation, northern European countries particularly are more proactive about enacting regulation on food quality and labelling via the EU. Processed foods account for a far smaller share of the market. The food lobby is powerful, but not nearly as powerful as it is in the US. Consumers are also less habituated to (very) cheap food - particularly cheap meat. And Walmart.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:04 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


VikingSword: back in the 80's when over 1000 people died in Spain, when olive oil was adulterated with motor oil

As the wikipedia link above explains, it was colza oil for industrial use sold fraudulently as OO, not OO adulterated with motor oil. And it had been sold door-to-door and in street markets in a very illegal way for a suspiciously low price, not in stores.

A consumer reports investigation in 2012 found (Spanish language link) that some household brands were selling extra olive oil as extra virgin, and some of the oil could taste a bit rancid if it had been kept for too long on the shelves, but nothing that could harm health. Then again, what Spaniards cook with is extra olive oil in plastic 1L bottles (or 5L jugs) from brands like La Española, Carbonell or Ybarra, not EVOO in tiny glass bottles.

EVOO is for seasoning vegetables or salads, *never* for frying. As for my family, we source it from regional co-ops.
posted by sukeban at 3:31 AM on January 28


The US is well behind Europe.

The EU is well behind the US, you mean?

The EU has much weaker agricultural controls than the US. Even their product and toxic chemical safety standards, which are stricter on paper, are weak in practice.

In pretty much every area, they have tough regs, but lax enforcement. In agriculture they don't really even have tough regs. Given that they've only been at this for a decade while the US has been working on this since Sinclair's Jungle, it's not really so surprising.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:35 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


FWIW, the "Made in Italy" olive oil I've bought has always had a disclaimer on the label noting the other countries of origin.


One suggestion, buy Californian.

I'd love to, but, holy moses, California olive oil is stupid, crazy expensive where I live.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:29 AM on January 28


The EU is well behind the US, you mean?

No, I was pretty clear on what I meant.

At the point of consumption, food quality in the US is poorer than the EU. It contains more additives, is more processed, and is often produced from more intensive farming techniques because US consumers will not tolerate expensive food.

In terms of clean labelling, as I've described it above, the US is some distance behind Europe. US food contains more additives and a greater percentage foods are heavily processed.

The EU is much more stringent on use of hormones, pesticides, GMO, animal welfare and health claims.

I agree that policing it varies from good to bad, especially in southern/eastern Europe, but the point still stands - at the point of consumption Americans are eating poorer quality food than their European counterparts.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:14 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Outside of food allergies from peanut oil, what is the actual negative impact of this, though? Seriously asking.

You don't believe that consumers should know what is actually in the product they are purchasing? You don't see that lying about what is in a given product is an obvious negative all by itself?

EVOO is for seasoning vegetables or salads, *never* for frying.

This sort of blanket declaration is utter nonsense. If frying in extra virgin is good enough for Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, it's good enough for me.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:16 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


The infographic is maybe a bit sensationalist and misleading. According to the New Yorker article, the fraud it describes, of adulterating soya oil with flavouring and beta carotene, is a pretty minor part of the overall industrial olive oil shenanigans. This was cited as one pretty extreme example that produced a product that was obviously pretty nasty, sold under dodgy labels in Germany and was easily detected. The majority of the fraud perpetrated by suppliers to companies like Bertolli has been to pass off low-grade oil (virgin and 'lamp oil') as extra virgin.
posted by Flashman at 5:21 AM on January 28


Farmers in the US state of Georgia are now producing olive oil. If I had a big enough yard I would plant some olive trees. They apparently will do well in several parts of the southern US. In some parts of the world there are community olive presses. Here is one in Nazareth. A relative of mine lives in southern France and has a small olive grove. He takes his olives to the community-owned press every year.
posted by mareli at 5:27 AM on January 28


If frying in extra virgin is good enough for Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, it's good enough for me.

Well, it's a waste of money. EVOO is a lot more expensive than extra olive oil. Besides, the flavor of EVOO is lost when you use it for frying. It is intended to be tasted as it is, without being heated.

We Spaniards are the biggest producers of olive oil in the world. I've never fried anything in butter or lard in my life. But you don't fry in EVOO unless you have money to burn. Extra olive oil is good enough for that.
posted by sukeban at 5:48 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


* Kindly replace "extra olive oil" with "virgin olive oil" in my two previous comments, because I'm a bit under the weather today and slightly stupider than usual.
posted by sukeban at 5:58 AM on January 28


I find it a lot simpler to just have one sort of oil I can use for everything, unless specific flavours are warranted.

I'm also a professionally-trained chef, FWIW, and broke as fuck. I can spend $X on EVOO and use it everywhere, or I can spend (and yes, I have worked this out) rather more money to have virtually identical products in my home.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:50 AM on January 28


You kind of have to know that this is going on, since I've never seen anything (at least recently) but "extra virgin" olive oil for sale - what happens to the rest? I'd like to be able to buy other grades depending on use.
posted by 445supermag at 7:08 AM on January 28


I'm also a professionally-trained chef, FWIW

Okay. I was talking about Spanish home cooking. It can be a bit different. :/
posted by sukeban at 7:19 AM on January 28


You kind of have to know that this is going on, since I've never seen anything (at least recently) but "extra virgin" olive oil for sale - what happens to the rest? I'd like to be able to buy other grades depending on use.

In UK supermarkets you usually get various varieties of extra virgin, then just plain "olive oil" (good for roast veg, roast meat where high temp would destroy the flavour of EV), and "light/mild olive oil" which is supposed to have a milder flavour (and is lighter in colour) for use in frying.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:22 AM on January 28




Going back up the comment thread a bit ... when I was in Tunisia the olive farmers told me they shipped most of their stock to Spain and Italy so that they could be labeled "Spanish" (or Italian) oil. Of course, from their perspective it was because their olives were better, not because they had an inferior, cheaper product.
posted by kanewai at 7:40 AM on January 28


The main impact of adulteration is we get inferior product. Real olive oil has an amazing, rich taste. Most commercial olive oil is bland. Now we know why. The same thing has happened to honey; real honey is way tastier than the dyed sugar water that you buy in the store. In both cases buying from the US is a way around the global defrauded market, but yeah, it's expensive.

Maybe I'm too cranky this morning but I thought the graphic was ridiculous and childish. What value does animating an arm stamping "Italy" on a bottle add? Do we really need a little cartoon bandit pouring vials of fake oil into a bottle of real oil? I'd argue that particular image (#9) detracts from the story, making it look like it's s some nefarious shifty-eyed crook sneaking the bad oil in when really it's systemic, regularized corruption in the whole supply chain. Better to show a bored factory line worker pouring two things together repeatedly while a paid-off inspector watches, smoking a cigarette. Also weird to cast the olive as the villain in the last couple of images; the olives are the victim here, not the perpetrator. OK, yeah, I'm probably just taking this too seriously and it's supposed to be light hearted fun. Harumph.
posted by Nelson at 7:42 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


What value does animating an arm stamping "Italy" on a bottle add?

I don't think you're the target audience. This is directed towards people that have never heard about this, or maybe never really looked into it. Now we get a cute animation that maybe helps people make better choices. I'm fine with it.
posted by cellphone at 7:53 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I found an article on this topic in our local alterna-weekly that mentioned some Texas producers. Time to check them out.

There's also an olive-oil "heart-healthy" spread out there that I used for a while. Since it's made with Mediterranean olive oil, though Italian isn't specified, one does wonder whether it's also using adulterated oil or whether the manufacturer knows.
posted by immlass at 8:33 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I've been going with Portuguese olive oil as my "everyday oil" lately - cheap, and tastes wonderful. It's available in little metal cans (and giant metal cans) at the local Portuguese market, and the can is beautifully decorated. For the fancy EVOO, I've got a bottle of California Olive Ranch, which is surprisingly reasonable.

The last time I bought an Italian olive oil, it claimed to be Tuscan, cost almost $25 and tasted pretty greasy.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:39 AM on January 28


It was only "the olive oil you're buying is possibly moderately overpriced".

"The government service you're paying taxes for is moderately overpriced."
posted by dirigibleman at 8:45 AM on January 28


For comparison, let's pretend the article says that the milk you're buying may be up to 70% pig, dog and/or rat milk...

Oi! Nothing wrong with dog's milk. Full of goodness, full of vitamins, full of marrowbone jelly.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:47 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


The graphic was cute, but the New Yorker interview was quite illuminating. This stuck out to me: Olive oil has historically been one of the most frequently adulterated products in the European Union, whose profits, one E.U. anti-fraud investigator told me, have at times been “comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks.” (Also that the first written mention of olive oil in history is in the context of inspection for fraud.)
posted by epersonae at 9:06 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


PRO TIP FOR LONDONERS:

Some of the best olive oil comes from a small electrical shop in Farringdon, Embassy Electrical Supplies.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:12 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


What's the big deal? Probably that it's a misrepresentation of good olive oil. Pisses me off to think I've been buying what I thought was olive oil but was in large part something else - I'm not even sure what other kinds of oils were put in there. Also, the idea that because something says "Made in Italy" or "USA" or "France" or whatever high-status country, people trust it's a good product. People have such ridiculous perceptions of what's quality and where it comes from. Something can be manufactured almost entirely in one country, and processed and labeled as having been made in another, and everyone will go "Ooh, Made in France" when it's a Louis Vuitton bag made of canvas, coated in PVC, and has a designer label added to it, which qualifies it as something that can be sold for thousands of dollars.
posted by ChuckRamone at 9:12 AM on January 28


To add to the fun, once the conventional wisdom caught on that Extra Virgin is a bit greenish compared to the "let's see how much more we can get out with industrial solvents, nuclear waste and angry shouting" variety, they deliberately started letting some leafy bits make it into the press so there'd be some really unmistakeable chlorophyll tint. I assume this will keep on until all the olive oil you can buy looks like army-issue vehicle paint.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:36 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


This is why I tend to avoid "Italian" olive oil whenever possible (and I use olive oil in at least half of what I cook) in favor of Spanish or (if possible) California First Cold Press.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:58 AM on January 28


My husband scoffed when I started buying California olive oil, but the first time he cooked with it, he had to admit that there was a definite difference. A few days ago, my mom was over and I had her try both my olive oil and maple syrup to show her that real is better.
posted by Ruki at 11:19 AM on January 28


Just to reiterate what quarsan said above because I haven't seen anyone else really mentioning it: this olive oil racket is a huge source of income for the mafia and organized crime in Italy. I'm pretty sure the article that clued me into this was on here somewhere two years ago or so. Not saying that matters of health, inferior product, and the like aren't valid concerns, but the reason I seek olive oil from other sources now is that I can't shake the feeling that I could be financing murder somewhere.
posted by Krazor at 11:51 AM on January 28


> not OO adulterated with motor oil

those are earlier incidents:

"later cases of organophosphate poisoning occurred in Germany, Spain, Italy, and, on a large scale, in Morocco in 1959, where cooking oil adulterated with jet engine lubricant from an American airbase led to paralysis in approximately 10,000 victims, and caused an international incident"

Jake Leg Blues previously
posted by morganw at 12:06 PM on January 28


> California olive oil

previous ask.me looking for real EVOO recommends oil with the California Olive Oil Council imprimatur
posted by morganw at 12:08 PM on January 28


One suggestion, buy Californian.

I'd love to, but, holy moses, California olive oil is stupid, crazy expensive where I live.


Yeah, but some of the reasons why it's expensive are worth paying for; such as the absence of cost-cutting adulteration and commingling of dodgy sources, adequate voluntary quality programs, and so on. We eat pretty low on the food chain and buy almost no prepared foods, so we save a bit of $/calorie at the price of more intensive home labor in meal preparation. (Full disclosure, we don't have kids, so that makes it easier.) The money we save goes toward quality ingredients and rewarding practices we like and businesses conducted where laws we have some say in are in effect. It's tough and you have to make choices, but, as with others in this thread, olive oil is pretty key in our diet.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:30 PM on January 28


The complaints about California oil being to expensive are kind of interesting, as part of the byproduct of this whole racket is that the fraudsters have driven down their own value by flooding the market with adulterated (mostly-)olive oil. I don't doubt that all things being equal quality the California oil would cost more, but probably not to the extreme it does right now. And as someone who lives in California, but always bought the (slightly) cheaper store brand EVOO, but this whole thing is news to me. I have to go to the store on the way home tonight so I'll see how big the price difference is. There's always little bottles of boutique stuff there too, but I know there are big bottles of California Olive Oil right next to the store brands.
posted by Big_B at 12:35 PM on January 28


For people asking "how do you know if it's real olive oil," look for:

- Location: California, France, Spain, Turkey, Greece and others

- price (small 500mL or 750mL bottle for what you used to get 1-2L)

- "best by" date is actually stamped on the bottle

- dark bottle

- taste.. extra virgin may be mild on taste (depending on the type of olive) but most olive oils taste... like olives. Has a deep earthy flavor.

- smell... if it smells rancid it is old... BUT....this is a good sign for the brand itself (i.e. their olive oil is real and fresh, so it DOES go bad; crappy olive oil will never go bad much like how twinkies are unreal because they never spoil).
>>>Therefore find a fresher bottle from the same brand.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:16 PM on January 28


Here's a link with the denominaciones de origen protegidas (similar to French AOCs) of olive oil in Spain, which are more controlled than usual. Some of the EVOO brands are made with just one type of olive variety depending on the DO.
posted by sukeban at 1:38 PM on January 28


I agree that policing it varies from good to bad, especially in southern/eastern Europe, but the point still stands - at the point of consumption Americans are eating poorer quality food than their European counterparts.

If you have an ineffective policing regime, you don't actually have any way of verifying this is true. I think it's tempting to think that Europe is a haven of good governance, and maybe it once was, but the stuff I'm seeing on toxic substances control, financial regulation, and product safety, added to the revelations on agriculture that have been coming out of Europe for a few years now all points to the fact that there's potentially (and in many cases actually) a wide gap between what consumers think they're getting and what they're actually getting.

The processes that worked twenty years ago are gone now, and they have yet to be adequately replaced.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:43 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


(i.e. their olive oil is real and fresh, so it DOES go bad; crappy olive oil will never go bad much like how twinkies are unreal because they never spoil)

This is wrong. One of the real problems with things like hazlenut oil sold as oilve oil is it goes bad lightning fast. Which means you are probably eating mildly rancid oil, which besides not tasting good, is actually bad for you.

That said, yay California olive oil,especially California Olive Ranch (which is not some small farm, despite what it sounds like.) Trader Joe's has some smallish (500ml? 375?) round bottles of "californian" olive oil that is pretty high quality and I'm pretty sure is COR overstock, and costs about 2/3rds what the "real" stuff costs. Costco, as has been mentioned, has a damn good Tuscan house oil (I really like Tuscan oil) that's actually the real deal. They basically have turned entire villages into a giant costco coop, they buy everything, and then when it's sold out that's it for the year.

If buying European oils generally the advice I've gotten from people who actually know the ins and outs is buy Spanish oil, it's much less likely to be adulterated or mislabed, and buy oil from some places you are pretty sure has a high turnover. Some high end grocery store that has tons of boutiquey bottles, probably not what you want. (That said there is a place for boutique olive oil, but you need to know it's fresh, and probably where it came from.)
posted by aspo at 3:27 PM on January 28


(I just checked, the TJ's olive oil I was talking about is called "California Estate Olive Oil")
posted by aspo at 3:29 PM on January 28


And one last clarification, the Costco oil I mentioned comes in a glass 1 liter bottle, not giant plastic ones.
posted by aspo at 3:34 PM on January 28


Holy oil change, Batman!
I've noticed my local giant NY/Long Island supermarket food chain has been selling a larger variety of EVOOs. And prices have been regularly discounted (50-60%). The last one I got was labeled Tunisian EVOO, 1L and it cost about 8$ marked down from the regular price of 14$.

Now I know why--Market Crash! Thanks.
posted by xtian at 4:02 PM on January 28


what is the actual negative impact of this, though? Seriously asking.
Italy’s organized crime syndicates—namely the Camorra in Naples, the ‘Ndragheta in Calabria, the Cosa Nostra in Sicily and the Sacra Corona in Puglia—run a lucrative “parallel economy” in Italy. Some figures say that organized crime profits are upwards of 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, but those who work for organized crime companies can do so tax-free as part of the lucrative black market.
Three-Year-Old Coco Is The Italian Mafia’s Littlest Victim
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:15 PM on January 28


Oh wow. Kull wahad. Sokath, his eyes uncovered.

After reading some of this thread earlier today, I went and checked my (nearly-empty) bottle of Bertoli "Imported from Italy" extra virgin olive oil. Indeed, reading the fine print on the back of the bottle, which I had never done before, I was surprised to find that the olives were sourced from Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia. Not outraged, mind you, merely surprised, and keeping an open mind about whether its quality was due to the source of the olives, some aspect of processing, or adulteration with either non-olive oils or lesser grades of olive oil.

Since I was nearly out anyway, I decided to buy some this evening. And, perhaps for the first time, I read the labels of the bottles in the supermarket, front and back, carefully.

Despite the NYT graphic, I didn't see any that used the exact words "Made in Italy."

Many were labelled either "Imported from Italy" or "Packed in Italy," but those were actually blends of olives from several countries, according to the back labels. There were also some labelled "Product of Italy" or "Prodotto D'Italia," and those were made entirely from Italian olives, at least according to the back labels.

The store I was at also carried one Greek extra virgin olive oil, one Spanish extra virgin olive oil, and one Californian extra virgin olive oil. I bought the Californian one (California Olive Ranch®, $10.99 for 500mL), curious to try it.

I got home, and first tasted a sample of the Bertoli I still had, just to calibrate. Yes, it tasted as I remembered it and similar "Italian" olive oils tasting in the US.

Then, the California Olive Ranch. As I said at the beginning, oh wow. That tasted almost entirely unlike the Bertoli, and much more like the olio nuovo I had had in Italy, as I described above. In fact, it tasted enough like what I had had in Italy that it reminded me of an aspect of that which I had forgotten when I wrote my earlier description, but now tasted again, and remembered: in addition to the other characteristics, it had a spicy, peppery flavor—almost a bit of heat to it—which was completely absent from the Bertoli.

So, thank you, MetaFilter, and Mad_Carew, and others who commented in this thread; you have opened my eyes. I won't be buying "Imported from Italy" or "Packed in Italy" EVOO again. Not that I have reason to believe that Greek, Spanish, Tunisian, or other olives are inherently worse than Italian ones, but that blends such as those are more likely to be lower quality due to poor processing and/or adulteration. But I may try one of the "Product of Italy/Prodotto D'Italia" EVOOs in the future. Dunno if those are likely to suffer the same defects as the other "Italian" EVOOs, but this UC-Davis report (thanks notyou for pointing me in that direction) looked at the five top-selling imported EVOO brands in the US, the top-selling "premium Italian" brand (a Prodotto D'Italia), one Californian brand, and one Australian brand. The five non-premium imports scored badly, but the Californian, the Australian, and also the "premium Italian" they evaluated scored well.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:33 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


Awesome, DA.

Just a note on that peppery flavor -- that's an indicator that the oil is fresh and recently pressed. The pepperiness fades as the oil matures.

There's an olive oil store in my neighborhood (WeOlive) and in the fall when the fresh, just harvested stuff arrives, it's so peppery you cough.

So, uh, don't drink it straight.
posted by notyou at 8:37 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


A Terrible Llama, the fellow behind all this has a blog with an exploration of Trader Joe's --- with good and bad things to say.
posted by spbmp at 11:52 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


If you have an ineffective policing regime, you don't actually have any way of verifying this is true.

I'm not clear what evidence you have for this is. Nor whether you are talking about policing by the member states or policing at EU level.

You also talk about processes fading out, but upthread you talk about regulatory enforcement only being around for a decade or so. Again, I'm not sure here whether you are talking about member states or the EU in general, or where in the food chain you think food safety is compromised.

It is a whole conversation in its own right to look at policing of regulations in Europe and the US. I'm sure you're correct that within the EU member states there are many and several abuses. But to jump from that to an implication that the whole regulation of the food chain is suspect and therefore substantive policy differences in food safety are unverifiable is a big leap.

I'm not really sure your narrative makes sense, either. Taking federal (or in the case of Europe, pan-national) initiatives as an example: FDA inspections on food were in decline for decades and, as they have done on all sorts of oversight bodies, Republicans have sought to pare them back and withhold funding. In Europe EFSA was established in 2002 and pan-national funding is on the increase.

the stuff I'm seeing on toxic substances control, financial regulation, and product safety, added to the revelations on agriculture that have been coming out of Europe for a few years now all points to the fact that there's potentially (and in many cases actually) a wide gap between what consumers think they're getting and what they're actually getting.

I don't think financial regulation has any relevance here. Even during the largest food-related financial scandal, Parmalat, there has been little or no suggestion it impacted on food safety.

No doubt there is a gap between perception and truth, but that holds true anywhere and I doubt is less true in a US environment in which large vested interests are pushing back against funding for oversight. It feels like you are referring to the BSE scandal of the late nineties/2000s - an interesting case study because every large beef producing country had huge incentives to a) undereport and b) ban imports from other beef producing countries. Hence France and others banned British beef - a move which allowed them to position their own beef as top quality. But 65 countries banned US beef, where there had been very few cases of BSE, because they believed testing practieces were poor.

If I understand you correctly, you appear to be arguing that European consumers don't know if bans on GMO, hormones, pesticides and health claims still allowed in the US are valid. That's question begging. Europe isn't in the grip of a mass food safety scandal on these issues. By contrast, a recurring theme on EU/US food safety issues, which is right in the public eye now because of a large trade agreement in the works, is European concerns about US practices, not the other way round.

And, leaving aside the quality of agricultural oversight for a moment, there really isn't any debate about whether the US lags Europe on clean labelling, in terms of removing additives. It just does. US consumers eat more processed food. US food manufacturers have been much slower to adopt clean labelling. US food consumption mirrors income inequality to come degree - the wealthy few eat well and can shop at Whole Foods or equivalents. The poorer mass market is wedded to cheap food, which remains cheap in the face of substantial cost pressure upwards because it's produced very efficiently and very industrially, and because it is heavily processed.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:38 AM on January 29


Extra virgin olive oil isn't great for frying or baking. You can smell the flavour volatiles evaporating off when you put it in the pan and the phenols are damaged.

The last bottle of EVOO I got was a cheap one from Lidl and allegedly Italian, I will have to check the bottle and taste it. I generally use light olive oil for frying and baking and EVOO for dressings, spreads etc. Over Christmas I was staying in rented accommodation so I only had one small bottle of EVOO for all tasks, so I did a fair amount of cooking with it. I love the smell that it makes as it goes into the pan, but I couldn't taste any difference between food cooked in EVOO and food cooked in light olive oil. The light stuff should be easier to doctor as it is yellow in colour and it costs the same as big brand EVOO, but I don't know if anyone is bothering to do the research into it.
posted by asok at 3:55 AM on January 29


Just a note on that peppery flavor -- that's an indicator that the oil is fresh and recently pressed.

Yes...it's hard to say for sure, as it's been nearly two months since I tasted it, but as far as I can recall the freshly pressed oil I had in Italy was even more peppery than the Californian olive oil I just bought.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:44 AM on January 29


I've had two similar investigative experiences to DA's since I posted here. Noticed the same thing - "imported from italy" and then a whole slew of actual countries listed. Also a note on the pricing, again I'm in California so this is very likely not true for anywhere else especially the east coast, but for every 3 or 4 "imported from italy" bottles in the $8 range there are similarly sized California bottles for $10 (didn't check the size, maybe the 500 ml?). Not really all that much price difference for actual olive oil versus "green stuff that is oil of some kind, mostly olives probably."
posted by Big_B at 10:27 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]




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