Is your olive oil really what it says on the bottle? It may not be. The Mafia has infiltrated the olive oil industry in Italy, and is scamming consumers on the quality of their olive oil. It's estimated that 75-80% of the olive oil in American grocery stores labeled as "extra virgin" doesn't meet the standards for that designation. While the olive oil you buy in the store may not be the real deal, this sure is.

The Italian Mafia is known for a host of devious activities: corruption, arson, and some classic gangster movies. But who would've thought that they're also guilty of food crime?

Say hello to that knowledge. So how can you tell if your extra virgin olive oil is truly what it claims to be?

Fake vs. Real

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Betsy Chilcoat

You might think you'll be able to just know the differences by taking a good, long look at your oils: are they the right color? Do they smell alright? Do they taste okay? 

But here’s the bad news: identifying olive oil purely by taste, smell, or color is difficult, and unreliable at best. Even the experts in taste-testing the authenticity of olive oils often cannot tell the difference between high-quality and low-quality olive oils. Also, olive oils vary in color from the appropriately named olive green to sunny yellow.

Oh, and the Italian Mob has been known to use chemicals like chlorophyll to color olive oil. Well, there goes that.

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Bernard Wen

There are a few famous methods for verifying olive oil’s authenticity. For example, there's the “fridge test,” that alleges real olive oil placed in the fridge will solidify and get cloudy, while fake olive oil will not. However, researchers at the UC Davis Olive Center proved this false, as many oils that could be mixed with olive oil will solidify at cold temperatures.

Or there's the “lamp oil” method. Apparently, pure olive oil will burn a candle wick, but unfortunately, so can other oils, so this also isn’t a good test.

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Jessica Payne

Honestly, the best way to guarantee that your olive oil is high-quality and authentic is really to buy it from trustworthy sources. Get it from a local farmer if you can, or at least one that's made in the USA from single or co-op producers (which basically means one company who oversaw the oil from when the olives were picked to when they were bottled).

That'll guarantee there's no shady middlemen that could’ve messed with your oil, just some good ‘ole U S of A. I’ll take my olive oil with a healthy dose of freedom, please.

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Betsy Chilcoat

If you can’t buy local or domestic (which is okay, that stuff can be expensive and we’re broke college kids), then look for either a certification seal by the California Olive Oil Council or the Australian Olive Association. Their certifications are a lot more strict than the USDA’s standards, so you can trust them.

Basically, make sure you’re reading labels. The Mafia is banking on the fact that you’ll just grab the cheapest thing you see. For example, if you see the phrase “olive-pomace oil” on a bottle, put it back on the shelf. Olive-pomace oil is extracted out of the waste left over from the process of making olive oil, and it’s pretty gross.

Wine grape pomace

Oregon State University on Flickr

Ew. Just....just ew.

And if after reading this you don’t feel completely betrayed by Italian olive oils, bottles stamped with PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) or PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) seals are generally okay.

Personally, I feel attacked by how much the Mob has corrupted the Italian (and Spanish and Moroccan and Greek. Oh, and also Turkish—yeesh) olive oil market. But if it’s good for you, go for it. Apparently, Americans are already used to the taste of bad olive oil, and sometimes you just gotta settle for what you can afford.

All this conspiracy talk got you curious? Learn more about what "extra virgin" really means, and get to know exactly what's in that bottle of oil you're buying.