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Fake extra virgin olive oil: all you need to know

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The very high fines issued by the Anti-trust to some well-known brands in the last few days, together with the legal investigation opened six months ago by the public prosecutor’s office in Turin against seven Italian companies, have focused the magnifying glass on the delicate issue concerning fake extra virgin olive oil.

The investigations and the subsequent measures were initiated by the investigators based on reports published in a specialist magazine that is responsible for testing food products that are for sale in order to protect consumers. The experiment consisted of analysing a sample of 20 bottles of extra virgin olive oil found on the market: once the regular tests were performed by the relevant Authorities, the content of 9 bottles was found to be different from that stated on the label, hence they were fake.

But how does the counterfeiting process take place? The various checks carried out over the years have revealed various techniques and tricks to market 100% extra virgin olive oil when it is not. The most basic and common method is obviously to mix the extra virgin oil with other types of oil of significantly lower quality and cost. The laws in force allow this practice which, however, must be done within certain limits and which requires a specific reference on the packaging label that indicates the non-purity of the product. In the worst case, the product is diluted with other types of oil that are unrelated to olives, which are eventually added to natural colorants and other additives to mask the taste.

For extra virgin oil to be called so, the oil must be exclusively obtained through a mechanical pressing process that brings it to a degree of acidity that is lower than or equal to 0.8%. The products beyond this threshold and up to 2% of acidity are defined as virgin olive oil as they are obtained through the same process but are of much lower quality.