The “extra-virgin olive oil” in your kitchen is probably not extra-virgin at all. To qualify as extra-virgin, olive oil is supposed to be subjected to minimal processing and be made exclusively from fresh, high-quality olives. But a highly publicized research report from the Olive Center at University of California, Davis, found that 69% of the olive oil sold as “extra-virgin” in the US does not meet those standards. The flavor of these fakes typically falls well short of the real thing. Also, a diluted or heavily processed olive oil might not provide the same cancer and heart disease–fighting benefits of a true extra-virgin olive oil.
Producers get away with selling fake extra-virgin olive oil because the US government does little to enforce olive oil standards…and because most Americans have never tasted a true high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil, which makes it difficult to spot fakes.
What to do: Buy from trustworthy brands, such as California Olive Ranch (from $12.59 for a 500-ml bottle, CaliforniaOliveRanch.com)…Cobram Estate (from $12.99 for a 375-ml bottle, CobramEstate.com)…Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value brand (from $6.99 for a 500-ml bottle)…and Oro Bailén (often $20 or more for a 500-ml bottle, OroBailen.com).
Or buy from an importer or a distributor of high-quality olive oils, such as Oliviers & Co. (OliviersAndCo.com) and Zingerman’s (Zingermans.com). Alternately, you could join the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club and receive three bottles of stellar olive oil four times a year ($99 per quarter for three 250-ml bottles, FreshPressedOliveOil.com).
Other good bets include any US-produced olive oil that has the “COOC” seal of the California Olive Oil Council on its label…or any Italian olive oil that says “100% Qualità Italiana.” Extra-virgin olive oil produced in Australia is a reasonable choice, too—Australia enforces the world’s strictest extra-virgin olive oil standards.
Note: To read research results from the University of California, Davis, go to OliveCenter.UCDavis.edu and click on “Research” and then “Reports.”