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Delhi Wine Club
Hotels Beware of Mixed Olive Oil

Posted: Wednesday, 04 January 2012 17:14

Hotels Beware of Mixed Olive Oil

Jan 04 : There is hardly a hotel or a decent restaurant in major cities of India that does not use olive oil and with a majority of health conscious wine drinkers there has been a phenomenal increase in the consumption of olive oil-the Italian produce considered the best. However, a major scandal has come to light that is likely to tarnish the image of Italian olive oil and to some extent, the Spanish oil, opines Subhash Arora

A report in Daily Telegraph yesterday indicated that 4 out of 5 bottles of olive oils with the “Made in Italy" label are mixed with cheap Spanish, Tunisian and Greek oil, citing an ongoing investigation by different police agencies in collaboration with Italian agriculture trade group Coldiretti. Italy exports 250 thousand metric tons of oil every year, but imports total 470 thousand tons. Last year oil imports jumped by 100 thousand tons, prompting authorities to look into the fraud.

Italians and the foreigners worldwide are fooled into thinking they are buying olive oil from the world's most celebrated producer, writes La Repubblica the full translation of which you may find it at

The well-respected national Daily exposes the Italian oil mafia through an investigation by State Forestry Department and the Guardia di Finanza, in collaboration with Coldiretti . Four out of ten bottles of oil sold in supermarkets tasted of mold in a study by UNAPROL Coldiretti and Symbola, the three independent agencies The Italian agri-mafia reportedly do not press olives anymore- they simply transform, manipulate, deodorize, aromatize and lastly but importantly import. Hundreds of thousands of tons of low cost oil produced in the Mediterranean basin is rebottled by these companies, giving it a false Italian identity.  

‘There are a dozen big companies some of them are well-known- that formed a cartel of oil. Through a subtle commercial fraud they deceive the consumers. They control prices and the market. Earlier, these well-known Italian companies used to press olives in frontaios (mills)- now there are only silos- tanks filled with oil from the olive groves of Andalusia, or Tunisia’, says the report, adding that ‘a beautiful Italian label takes them to the shelves of supermarkets.’

‘The agro-mafia bosses purchase foreign mixtures sometimes for less than 25 cents a pound. Then they mix them, deodorize them and put them on the market at inflated prices, € 2-4 a kilo. In this investigation, Customs reconstructed, ton by ton, a sophisticated system of imports and exports: a web of "inflows" and "outflow" imports.’

‘Take the example of oil made in Spain passed off as Italian extra virgin oil. At the supermarket the first price is € 3. The first national survey on the quality of olive oil sold in Italian supermarkets had disastrous results. Of twelve samples from the shelves (of the best selling brands) collected and analyzed in the laboratory, almost half were musty. The organoleptic tests showed serious defects such as rancidity and heating.’

‘The mixtures come from several places including Jaén, a city in Andalusia in South of Spain. The province is an olive giant.  Italian importers sell this at five times as much. In Tunisia, it costs only 10 cents a kilo according to La Repubblica. In Italy, it costs € 4-5 (€ 7 in the Centre-North, € 3.53 in Apulia, € 3.64 in Calabria). African oil costs 20 to 23 cents to import.’

Of course, this is not the first exposé of a scandal in Italian olive oils. If you check out the website:

you will realize that there are regular reports of fraud- the site records those in the last 30 years, starting from 1981 when 402 people died of food poisoning in Spain due to adulterated olive oil. In 2007 Daily Telegraph had reported that only 4% of the olive oil leaving Italy was pure Italian olive oil. In 2009, USA today reported a Connecticut research that indicated that 90% of the extra virgin olive oil was in fact Soybean oil.

Book on Scandals

Interestingly, well timed with the latest revelation of the scandal, a new book titled ‘Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil has been released in the USA. This would be a revelation to an average consumer, or even an enthusiastic amateur cook, who has probably never even tasted a real, superior extra-virgin Italian olive oil- full-bodied, aromatic and often quite peppery, feels the author Tom Mueller who is a Harvard graduate, writes for New Yorker and lives in Italy.

Tom has researched widely to illuminate olive oil’s place in religion, literature, cuisine and cultures both ancient and modern. He writes about scandals, romance, history, personalities and pop references. Apparently, Don Vito Corleone of Mario Puzo’s Godfather was modeled after a real Italian-American olive oil importer and mobster. As Mueller makes clear, the chances are extremely high that if you buy an ordinary bottle of extra-virgin olive oil in (an American) supermarket, you are most likely getting what a connoisseur would contemptuously call lampante: low-grade lamp oil, worthy only of burning.

Such inferior olive oils are not virgin, much less extra-virgin. They are adulterated with sunflower, soybean and other oils, deodorized and tarted up to a bland in being offensive. They’re probably not even made from olives grown in Italy. Cheap supermarket oils most often are made from olives grown in Spain before being shipped in tanker-size bulk consignments to Italy for blending and bottling.

Oil companies get away with this because regulation of olive oil is loose in Europe and virtually nonexistent in the United States (much less in India where hotels and consumers increasing consumer it extensively) . Other gourmet food products, such as butter or wine, are highly controlled both within their industries and by governments, according to a Review of the book.

Thirty years ago in Spain, Mueller says, more than 20,000 people were poisoned and some 800 died from consuming “fake olive oil made from rapeseed oil denatured with aniline, a highly toxic organic compound used to manufacture plastics.

A bottle of super-premium oils is extremely difficult to find even in the USA but for a few high-end restaurants and the Culinary Institute of America, cites the author. A bottle super-premium EVOO from Spain, would cost you $32 plus shipping at Even a California premium olive oil will cost over $18. The top quality is described by Mueller as ‘sublime, every one so spicy and distinctive it made my teeth hurt.’

So next time, you ask for the bottle of extra virgin olive oil at a restaurant, try to figure out if it is a 10 euro cent cheap olive oil from Tunisia or a super-premium $32 a liter oil.

Subhash Arora



Subhash Arora Says:

Dear Dolores, Thanks for your valuable comments. The purpose of the article sourced directly from numerous recent authentic media reports, talks of the 'cheap' oils from Spain, Greece and Tunisia etc. Obviously, Spain, Greece and definitely Italy too, produce excellent quality oils which are also expensive just like quality wines indeed. The Article is meant to be a word of caution to our readers not to be enamoured by any big or branded Italian olive oil (or Spanish) simply because of its origin. Especially in India where the olive oil was considered to be meant to message babies till a few years ago, and is now becoming a lifestyle product for the health conscious reasons, the hoteliers and consumers should beware as they are generally not knowldegable enough about olive oils and are inclined to buy the cheapest product in the market-perhaps giving priority to Italian olive oil because of its strong country branding. Subhash Arora

Posted @ January 11, 2011 12:48


Dolores Smith Says:

Dear Natasha Vohra, The Article mentions that oils were mixed with "cheap Spanish" oils. This general statement without any other qualifier will give the impression that any "Spanish" olive oil is of poor quality, which is not true.One of the oils used at the Nobel Prize Award Banquets is a Spanish oil. One of the most awarded, if not the most awarded olive oils in the world, is also Spanish. Many 3-star Michelin restaurants in Europe also use good quality Spanish olive oils. The quality of olive oil depends on the attention to details at every stage of the elaboration process just as in wine. There are good producers and bad producers. Given that Italy is a country that exports more than it produces and consumes, and are excellent marketers they import a great deal to drive their mass market export business. Now, it stands to reason that firms that are into mass markets for olive oil will be looking at the highest possible margins and, therefore, purchase cheaper oils. The mass market consumer is not well educated regarding different quality levels of olive oils. But, we cannot lead readers of the newsletter to assume simply that cheap oils come from Spain, or that Spanish olive oils are of poor quality in general. Yours Sincerely, Dolores Smith. The Olivar Ontario, Canada

Posted @ January 11, 2011 12:06


Alfred Martínez Says:

I'm adviser on Spanish food and wine and I can said you that excellent olive oils in 5 l. packaging from Catalonia in Spain and variety Arbequina are sold here in Spain at 5 euro/l. to consumers. Olive oil is an special sector and prioe for huge buyers in this 5 l.plastic packaging (2 l. is also normal) are no much lower than this 5 euro. In glass bottles ( 750, 500 and 250 ml.are the most common mesures ) price is higher. Price for a glass bottle of 500 ml could cost usually from 3 to 4,5 euro -export prices- . Kind regards . Wines Inform Assessors

Posted @ January 05, 2011 15:31


Subhankar Ghosh Says:

That's an example of how Italians' excel in marketing EVOO originating from other med countries. Infact, down in Spain there are several D.O. which controls quality & production of some high grade EVOO from Royal and Picual grade olives whereas due to lack of knowledge and awareness - we resort to Pomace and Pure, which are nothing but mixed with low grade Olive Oils but have big fat A&P budgets to market them.

Posted @ January 05, 2011 14:10


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