University Study Finds Fake Extra-Virgin Olive Oils Are Flooding Grocery Store Shelves

Do you know that your extra virgin olive oil is probably fake, thanks to the Mob? Did you know that the Mafia is making a small fortune selling fake olive oil or that olive oil is a $1.5 billion dollar industry in the United States alone? In fact, olive oil is currently Europe’s most adulterated agricultural product! According to Tom Mueller, an investigative journalist who wrote an eye –opening expose on fake olive oil entitled : Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, 70% of the extra virgin olive oil sold is adulterated — cut with cheaper oils.

olive oil

Excerpt from Mueller’s Book:

“Many olive oil scams involve straightforward mixing of low-grade vegetable oils, flavored and colored with plant extracts and sold in tins and bottles emblazoned with the Italian flags or paintings of Mount Vesuvius, together with the folksy names of imaginary producers. More sophisticated scams, like Domenico Ribatti’s typically take place in high-tech laboratories, where cheaper oils of various kinds, made from olives, but also from seeds and nuts, are processed and blended in ways that are extremely difficult to detect with chemical tests.”

Who knew? It’s probable that many Americans who have been buying olive-oil labeled extra-virgin for decades have never tasted the real thing!

The Godfather

Olive oil racketeering is one of the Italian Mafia’s most lucrative businesses. Their success can be measured by the fact that most olive oil sold is either adulterated or completely fake.


Since genuine olive oil is costly and time consuming to produce, yet easy to adulterate but difficult to detect the real from the fake and in high demand, producing fake olive oil would prove to be an enormous moneymaking enterprise for Mafioso fraudsters. In the original Godfather novel, protagonist Don Vito Corleone was known as the“The Olive Oil King” but did you know his character was based on a real-life olive oil mobster named Joe Profacani?

Olive oil has been highly valued as a food and as a medicine in Mediterranean culture for over 2,000 years. During Roman times, per-capita consumption of olive oil was estimated to be up to fifty liters a year.
The most coveted type of olive oil is “extra virgin.”

The Olive Oil Times defines extra virgin as:

In chemical terms extra virgin olive oil is described as having a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams and a peroxide value of less than 20 milliequivalent O2. It must be produced entirely by mechanical means without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil (less than 86°F, 30°C).

Why Would the Mob deal in Fake Extra -Virgin Olive Oil?

1) One olive oil fraud investigator told Muller: “Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks.”

2) Olive oil is very a big international business. Americans alone spend approximately $700 million on olive oil annually.

3) Olive oil consumption is on the upswing — it’s up 37 percent in Southern Europe and more than 100 percent in North America.

4) Counter intuitively, although Olive oil is far more expensive than other oils and has very unique characteristics, it’s very easy to fake.

The enormous popularity of the “Made in Italy” label worldwide makes it an appetizing target for food fraudsters, who earn an estimated €60 billion a year selling counterfeit or adulterated faux-Italian foods. In some of these crimes, mafia syndicates and other criminal networks sell substandard or unsafe products at huge profits.” – Tom Mueller (Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil)

Historically, Olive oil has been one of the most adulterated products in the Europe and the fraud continues. In the past, olive oil fraudsters used to cut the oil with lard.

Olive-oil fraud has been around for millennia. The earliest written mention of olive oil, on cuneiform tablets at Ebla in the twenty-fourth century B.C., describes teams of inspectors who toured olive mills on behalf of the king, looking for fraudulent practices. The Romans established an international trade in olive oil, and certain emperors rose to power on olive-oil wealth—they were the ancient counterpart of today’s oil sheikhs.

In this NPR interview  Tom Mueller stated,

“What [real olive oil] gets you from a health perspective is a cocktail of 200-plus highly beneficial ingredients that explain why olive oil has been the heart of the Mediterranean diet,” Mueller explained during his interview with NPR. “Bad olives have free radicals and impurities, and then you’ve lost that wonderful cocktail … that you get from fresh fruit, from real extra-virgin olive oil.”

UC-Davis (University of California Davis) and Adulterated Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Back in 2010 UC-Davis published a detailed report entitled: Tests indicate that imported ‘extra virgin’ olive oil often fails international and USDA standards. Researchers found that fake extra-virgin olive oils are flooding supermarket shelves in California. In two studies the UC Davis researchers tested a total of 186 extra- virgin olive oil samples both imported and domestic using standards established by the International Olive Council (IOC), as well as olive oil analysis used in Germany and Australia. The study concluded that 69 percent of imported and ten percent of California-based olive oil labeled extra–virgin did not pass International Olive Council (IOC) and US Department of Agriculture sensory standards for extra virgin olive oil.

The Reality

“More than two-thirds of common brands of extra-virgin olive oil found in California grocery stores aren’t what they claim to be, according to a report by researchers at UC Davis.”

Put another way, approximately 69% of all store-bought extra-virgin olive oils in the US are likely fake. Interestingly, while 11% of the imported, Italian samples failed both sensory olive oil testing panels the Australian and California samples only failed one panel.


Understandably, some questioned the UC Davis study results, because the research was funded in part by the California Olive Ranch and the California Olive Oil Council and both groups are connected to the Australian Olive Association. But a preponderance of evidence clearly indicates that the UC Davis olive oil analysis accurately reflects reality.


The adulteration of Olive oil was a well established fact in late nineteen-nineties. Indisputable evidence that olive oil was often cut with cheaper oils, like hazelnut and sunflower seed, was widespread. In fact, the European Union declared


Olive oil to be their number one adulterated agricultural product. It got so bad that the E.U.’s anti-fraud division established an olive-oil task force! Still olive oil fraud remains a major international problem.

How to Tell if Your Olive Oil is the Real Deal

Olive Oil Grading
From the Olive Oil Source:

Extra virgin, virgin, light, pomace, filtered, cold pressed, stone milled, organic, …. The list goes on and on. If you are confused about which olive oil to buy, you are not alone. At the Olive Oil Source, we think that there are a few keys to choosing the right olive oil: first is knowing the types of olive oil available, the second is considering what you will use it for. Learning the different grades of olive oil and their characteristics will help you make sense of what you read on labels.