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Slick Olive Oil Label Designed to Deceive (mouseprint.org)
51 points by apsec112 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

At least to me it makes no sense to mix a "premium" product, i.e. extra virgin olive oil with sunflower oil, so - personally - I doubt that the 20% olive oil (provided there is actually 20% of olive oil) is actually extra virgin.

I find also queer that on the label of something with the name "Iberia" is depoicted what appears as an Italian (likely Tuscany) landscape.

And BTW is actually Tuscany, more precisely San Quirico d'Orcia:


P.S.: does that thingy really cost US$ 48.50 on Amazon? For 2 liters, that is 24.25/lt. Locally (Italy) the best of the best (and possibly even better) 100% EVO can be max (retail) 14-15 Euro/lt.

Premium olive oil can cost around $24/lt in the US, but most people pay more like $8 per liter for something you probably wouldn't identify as olive oil. It would appear that the US is largely considered a dumping ground of olive oil that is subpar in Italy or Spain, and is frequently sold mislabeled as a higher quality olive oil than it is (or very old, or not even olive oil).[0],[1]

I can't find a source right now, but I read at some point that Italy doesn't actually export their top grades of olive oil, as producers have trouble even meeting local demand.

0: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/12/06/166662525/u-...

1: https://consumerist.com/2010/07/07/us-is-a-dumping-ground-fo...

Italy has stopped meeting local demand for a while at this point.

The bulk of the EVO oil sold here seems to be Spanish, and if you go in any grocery store (big or small) you'll have trouble finding a bottle of EVO oil that is 100% made in Italy. Most of them (I'm tempted to say the majority, but I only have anectodal data) have a disclaimer on the label stating that the oil was "made from oils sourced from the European Union". Last time I saw an actually made in Italy bottle of oil was in a specialized store, and it costed about 3x more than those in the grocery shops.

There was recently a very thorough investigative journalism report by an Italian program on public television called "Report" that dug quite deep into the whole deal with Italy and oil. Turns out that there's also a lot of shadiness going on in the industry. I'd link to it, but it's entirely in Italian and last I watched it there were no subtitles whatsoever. Sorry.

I had a quick look at amazon.com, and easily found this:


which - while being obviously an "industrial" oil (i.e. something that an Italian wouldn't probably buy anyway as small, local producers that do not export have better products) - is definitely a good quality/brand at US$ 36/lt, the 24 US$/lt for 20% of it + 80% of sunflower oil ( something that is valued around 6-10 US$/lt retail) is "still steep":




>P.S.: does that thingy really cost US$ 48.50 on Amazon? For 2 liters, that is 24.25/lt. Locally (Italy) the best of the best (and possibly even better) 100% EVO can be max (retail) 14-15 Euro/lt.

A nice-ish jacket costs maybe tens of American dollars in India (I use the word "maybe" mostly to account for what other people consider "nice", a jacket I would wear costs under $20USD). Once it's imported to the US you move the decimal place to the right at least once. Importing stuff is expensive. There's a lot of overhead to pay for.

I can’t wait for India to open up its equivalent of AliExpress.

At least to me it makes no sense to mix a "premium" product, i.e. extra virgin olive oil with sunflower oil

You're thinking from a culinary rather than marketing standpoint. And quite frankly Extra Virgin olive oil doesn't have to be that expensive. Here's a company that sells (what it claims to be) extra virgin olive oil for less than $1.50 a liter when you order by the ton: https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/Extra-Virgin-Olive-Oi...

Uhhhhhhh, you'd consume something from Alibaba/Aliexpress???

You're likely to be getting Gutter Oil: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutter_oil

I think I'll pass that... deal.

I obviously wouldn't touch the stuff. But if I was an unscrupulous company who wanted to be able to write the words Extra Virgin on my "Premium Blend" oil then I'd consider it a great deal.

So , at best it is an american product with a spanish-sounding name that contains 20% of supposedly italian EVOO which is probably not italian itself, but greek.

Greek olive oil is considered the best in the world and doesn't suffer from Mafia infiltration which is a huge problem in Italy.

Here is some great Greek olive oil available in US, that you can buy without fear of adulteration or other shadiness:



I can attest to that, as i am a producer. But the problem is that vast quantities are sold wholesale to italy/spain instead of being marketed directly to consumers.


>Greek olive oil is considered the best in the world and doesn't suffer from Mafia infiltration which is a huge problem in Italy.

Well, maybe you are generalizing a tad bit too much. You should provide some sources for both claims, anyway.




From the last link: "It's reliably reported that 80% of the Italian olive oil on the market is fraudulent."

Combine that with Camorra dumping toxic waste and poisoning vast areas of the Italian countryside and it's pretty obvious that Italy has a huge problem.

Well, those say nothing about the actual quality of "real" and "really italian" extravirgin olive oil.

They only say that there is a lot of fake (or partially fake) oil around marked as Italian.

And that some (good) producers of (good) olive oil are intimidated or forced to cooperate with Mafia.

>Combine that with Camorra dumping toxic waste and poisoning vast areas of the Italian countryside and it's pretty obvious that Italy has a huge problem.

Actually Italy has more than one huge problem, but this latter one you cited has nothing to do with "real" olive oil and its quality.

> which is probably not italian itself, but greek.

Why would that be? AFAIK there's more cheap/low quality Italian olive oil in the US than there is Greek.

Greece grows a lot of olives, but doesn’t have much processing/bottling capacity, so it gets shipped to Italy for that.

As a result, the country of origin on the label could have Italy written on it.

One of the most important life lessons I've learned as an adult is how easy (and common) it is to mislead people without actually lying to them.

I took statistics in high school, and the first day the teacher gets up and says, "Let me show you how statistics lie." He gave example after example about how the graphs and data presented were not wrong, but they were definitely meant to bias you into thinking something else.

I remember one story in particular, and this is totally anecdotal, but I think it makes a good point. During the cold war, supposedly, there was a foot race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The story goes that the U.S. athlete won the race. The Russian newspapers published, "U.S.S.R. takes second place. U.S. athlete finishes next to last." I don't know if it's true or not, but it makes a good point.

Once upon a time, I was in a seminar discussing performance papers and pointed out that plotting exponential data points (1x, 2x, 4x, 8x...) on a linear graph was misleading. A professor asked, "what's wrong with that?"

The right half of the graph had 3 data points, making it almost a straight line.

I find it's easiest to avoid a lot of these scammy practices without the mental load of double- and triple-checking labels by only shopping at places that stake their reputation on the quality and curated nature of what they carry.

Costco and Trader Joes are two great examples.

The Aldi brothers have their share of scandals in Germany when it comes to tainted and mislabeled food. I wouldn’t be so confident that Trader Joe’s is what it claims to be. They are very secretive about where their food comes from and have shunned independent food tracking services to verify the non GMO status of their foood. I’m not opposed to GMO food so this doesn’t bother me but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that their honey or olive oil isn’t pure. It’s hard to find non adulterated products these days.

The website is non-responsive for me, but archive.org saves the day


But this is what happens when the government doesn't impose strict ethics on companies. You get phrases "Up to..." or "save up to X or more", or text and color games, or plenty of other ~~dark patterns~~ fraud on the populace.

But it makes some people lots of money that they can then turn around and fend off these legal attacks. Might makes right, I guess.

I actually fell for this scam two weeks ago. In fact, the bottle in question was a dark _plastic_ bottle shaped like a traditional square olive oil glass bottle. It is also from one of the reputable national Israeli brands, whose products I had no problem paying a premium for.

So now that brand's reputation is shot for me, and I'll buy either less familiar brands or imported olive oil. However, I feel that the experience was worth the cost. My ten-year-old daughter was the one who caught the fact when she tried to use the oil while cooking, and she learned a life-long lesson to trust, but verify, at age ten. I'm learning it at forty one.

It says right on the bottle, "premium blend". That should have been the very first clue this wasn't 100% olive oil.

Why? Premium blended scotch doesn't blend scotch with vodka.

Fair enough, but I don't recall ever seeing that on a bottle of olive oil.

Because the word "blend" it has a definite and not necessarily negative meaning for Scotch but it is definitely not the case for Olive Oil.


Well, it may nevertheless contain grain alcohol. They're trying to match a flavor and nose, not trying to use the same proportions of everything each time.

Premium blended scotch is an oxymoron though.

And it says right in the article:

> One might believe this means, for example, that it is a blend of various extra virgin oils from several regions

.. which I agree with. That would certainly be my first thought, especially after the word "premium". The phrase brings to mind an expert balancing of tastes and properties, not that it's been diluted 80% with a cheaper substitute they have carefully de-emphasized on the packaging. It's definitely misleading and I hope the book is thrown at them.

It doesn't need to immediately convey exactly what it is - it does make it obvious this is not pure EVOO. That should be enough to take a closer look, and a closer look is all you need to actually read the label and see what's in it.

> and I hope the book is thrown at them

What book? Nothing here is illegal. Smarmy, absolutely, and I would buy this or anything else from that brand, but come on. "Throw the book at them!!1" doesn't really mean anything in this context.

> it does make it obvious this is not pure EVOO

How does it make that obvious? A blend of multiple different EVOOs is not uncommon.

> Nothing here is illegal.

Clearly they intended to deceive. I'm not certain it's illegal in this case, but deceptive labeling sometimes is.

Also, it's a cheap clear plastic bottle. Olive oil is never sold in clear bottles, UV light degrades the oil. I doubt I would even register this as olive oil at a first glance simply because of the packaging.

This is one of those things I never really acknowledged but looking back, all the good olive oil I've ever used has been in a dark glass bottle.

What's funny is that you don't need a label like this to not be olive oil, most "olive oil" in the US isn't really olive oil, it's a blend with a bunch of additives and it's actually spoiled and been packaged up for US-based suckers:


You should also NOT BE COOKING with olive oil in most cases. It has a very low smoke point compared to things like Grapeseed Oil or refined Safflower Oil so it's not good for baking, pan frying, or other common cooking techniques. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_point

If you are going to go through the effort to use Olive Oil, find a store that carries olive oil from trusted producers with a batch date. NOTE: This is most likely not a supermarket.

One of the big challenges with eating food in the US is that the FDA does little to nothing to make sure consumers are aware of what's good quality and good for you.

If you weren't already aware of it, a large percentage of things found in US-based supermarkets have little to no nutritional value and are bad for your body. You should generally stick to things that spoil in the outer isles but there's a lot of research to be done to find proper foods in the US.

Often, local chefs will teach classes about shopping. They can be incredibly valuable and save you thousands of dollars over the next few years on your grocery bill.

I buy a small bottle of unknown brands first and don't buy italian olive oil [0].

I mainly buy local Californian EVOO as it is high quality and reasonable priced.

[0] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-italy-crime-food/italian-...

I too buy direct from Californian farms as you know the press date which is generally more fresh, you can interact with the owners, it goes through far less travel than something from Europe and you're essentially guaranteed a high quality oil.

Two things to look for when selecting olive oil at the supermarket - a dark glass bottle, and a harvest date printed on the label. Granted, this doesn't guarantee you're getting a high-quality, non-blended EV olive oil, but without these you most assuredly are not.

Don't go to a supermarket to get good olive oil in the US. There are a few small stores scattered around that sell good olive oil.

Dark glass is cheap and so cheap oil at a premium price comes in a fancy dark bottle. You are paying for the fancy bottle (which doesn't cost much more than a cheap plastic bottle of the same stuff - profit)

A harvest date is useful if you can find one, but doesn't really mean quality. If the date is more than 3 months ago it means subpar though which is something.

This isn't strictly true - you can get good, real extra virgin olive oil at, say, Whole Foods, but it's gonna be from California. Tinted glass keeps UV light from degrading the product, similarly to why no decent beers come in clear glass.

You're completely correct about getting good imported olive oil from a supermarket though, absolutely.

Glass is opaque to UV

The main thing about the dark glass bottle is that UV damages olive oil making it taste worse. If your olive oil is in a container that lets in UV you're guaranteed that the manufacturer doesn't give half a hoot about quality.

I'm a bit skeptical of claims like this. All standard transparent soda lime glass is opaque to short wavelength UV (UV-B and UV-C) but is in fact trasparent to long wavelength UV (UV-A) (transmission drops off rapidly under 350nm). However, what tinting is actually being employed in any particular bottle and how effective is it at blocking long wavelength UV? To be sure, there are some tinted glasses that are effective at blocking long wavelength UV, but can the consumer identify those by sight? Amber glass is meant to be pretty good at blocking UV, presumably UV-A since regular glass will block UV-B and UV-C, but amber glass seems to be a fairly complex formation and it's not clear to me if some formulations are more or less effective than others. Beer sold in clear glass is relatively rare, but green glass isn't particularly uncommon and from what I can tell ferric ion green glass doesn't seem to block UV-A any better than clear glass. Green glass made with didymium is often used as UV filters, but I don't think that's used in beer bottles.

I suspect tinted glass has more to do with marketing, consumer expectations (and maybe cargo cults) than UV protection.

(Also, what brand is in the habit of leaving their bottles of EVO sitting out in sunlight instead of in warehouses, in shipping containers, in stores, etc? When you avoid direct sunlight and electric arcs, the UV threat should be minimal.)

True, but irrelevant. Dark glass is more likely to mean that someone is trying to get extra profit from the unsuspecting at the supermarket.

By far the best indicator of quality I have found is the acidity level. The higher acidity oils tend to omit this detail in packaging. I aim for 0.3%.

The higher quality olive oils have been sold in 'tin-cans', but that alone does not indicate quality.

Agreed. The post is from Nov 2018, both Amazon and Target now have different product images. The post is accurate about deceptive mislabeling, but the example is out of date.

We have these in South Africa of a different brand. I wonder how many people buy it thinking it's the real thing. It's priced quite highly too.

I only trust California Olive Oil Council products. https://www.cooc.com/

I don't even trust the IOC process, or store reputation. It either has the COOC seal and the testing that backs it, or it doesn't. Pretty binary and therefore simple.

Do they even mix? i would expect a band of olive oil at the bottom of the container.

seriously though this is ridiculous and please don't use it, buy cheaper sunflower oil instead (I don't even trust that these guys used actual sunflower oil).

Modern chemistry: impossible happens!

Mirror (site seems to be unresponsive): http://archive.is/ju5ka

The misleading label notwithstanding, the bottle looks nothing like olive oil, it's much too light/yellow to be that.

Random hack: the most consistently good olive oil i’ve bought in the US has been Costco own label.

I call BS, deceive how? I bought 2 of these a couple weeks ago at my local Walmart for $6.99 ea. It's a great deal, and tastes a lot better than good old canola and veggi-alts

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