In Mario Puzo’s acclaimed best seller, The Godfather, Vito Corleone runs his illegal operations under the cover of his olive oil importing business, Genco Pura Olive Oil. The business may appear to be a legitimate importing company serving as a front for his other activities, but Mario Puzo based his character on a real-life mafia Joe Profaci, known as the Olive Oil King.

For centuries, olive oil has been a prized commodity, traded in some cultures as currency and guarded fiercely by the many including the Romans. But more recently, olive oil has become the business of choice for the mafia. Not because olive oil has always been in high demand and has skyrocketed since World War II, but because altering olive oil is highly lucrative business that is not very well regulated. As New Yorker writer Tom Mueller put it when assessing the viability, “Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking with none of the risks.”

Even though authorities broke up an illegal operation in 2005, confiscating 100,000 liters of fake olive oil worth over $8 million, reports continue to surface around fake or adulterated olive oils. In 2007, it was reported that only 4% of the olive oil leaving Italy was pure.

Suspicions were raised when it was discovered that Italy sells three times as much oil as it produces. Recently, it was discovered that Italy was importing almost twice as much oil as it was exporting, raising questions about where the imported oil was ending up and launching an international investigation said to include13 of the biggest olive oil producers.

A recent study at UC Davis found more than two-thirds of common brands of extra virgin olive oil were NOT what they claimed to be. The problems are two-fold. First, many companies are importing cheaper lower grade oils such as hazelnut oil, sunflower oil canola oil or soybean oil mixed with flavoring chemicals to give it the look and taste of olive oil, and mixing them in with some pure olive oil.

This is a concern not only for those with allergies to other oils but also to those consuming olive oil to improve heart health and cholesterol among other benefits. Buyers seeking the monounsaturated fat and polyphenol health benefits of olive oil are actually consuming less healthy polyunsaturated fats heavy in omega 6 instead. These oils are overly consumed in our diets and are exactly what we are trying to reduce in our imbalanced diets. They are also more likely to turn rancid and oxidize, causing the very inflammation we are consuming the olive oil to avoid.

The other concern is that there are no enforced regulations around what constitutes extra virgin olive oil, the premium and desired form that provides the health benefits we seek. Because it’s not regulated or enforced effectively, in addition to using other cheaper oils, manufacturers can mix non extra-virgin olive oil in with some extra virgin and still call it extra virgin. This means low-grade olives that would normally be used for industrial purposes or low-grade oils can find their way into your extra virgin olive oil.

Because it is such a lucrative business, producers are getting better and better at the deception. It used to be recommended that you put your olive oil into the refrigerator for a couple days and see what happens. Olive oil is about 70-85% oleic acid, which will solidify when cold. And that is still a good test because if your oil does not solidify, then it’s a cheap grade imitation and you should toss it.

But now manufacturers use high-oleic oils, such as high-oleic sunflower, safflower oil, or canola oil, designed to better mimic the properties of olive oil. These high oleic versions will solidify as well, so just because your oil turns solid does not mean it is true and pure olive oil.

While olive oil connoisseurs can taste the real thing because of its unique flavors, we don’t always have the opportunity to do so. (Though if you ever have the chance to go to an olive oil tasting, I highly recommend it. You will experience first-hand what pure olive oil should taste like and find the flavor profile/manufacturer that most appeals to you. Farmer’s markets may have tastings and specialty shops are springing up around the country.)

Like everything else, though, the more you know and the closer you are to the source, the better. Local oils and domestic oils from California, etc. are more likely to be the real deal. You may have to spend a little more, but the health and flavor benefits are well worthwhile. Look for a harvest date on the label as opposed to a best buy date, a specific place of production, and/or a D.O.P. seal on European oils and a California Olive Oil Council seal on oils made in the U.S.

If you want to have some fun trying new and different oils, have a look at the winners of the Los Angeles International Olive Oil competition.

Or you can use the list below as a guide (and I’m willing to bet your brand is among them). The list was provided by the UC-Davis and includes brand names of olive oils falsely labelled as extra virgin for one of the previously mentioned reasons.

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

They found the following to be accurately labeled as extra virgin:

  • Kirkland Organic
  • Corto Olive
  • California Olive Rand
  • McEvoy Ranch Organic

For more information, read the full report.

To your wellness and health:  your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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