Escalating prices pave way to olive oil fraud

Examination of fatty acid and sterol compositions are the most common analytical methods used to identify adulterated products. (Image source: Adobe Stock)

As the olive oil industry continues to face unprecedented challenges, there has been a gradual increase in fraudulent activities involving the sale of counterfeit mixtures that closely resemble authentic olive oil

The Mediterranean region responsible for the majority of the world's extra-virgin olive oil production has been hit by a severe drought, resulting in significant reductions in output from countries like Spain, Tunisia, Greece and Italy. This scenario has led to a dramatic surge in prices, in turn attracting counterfeiters who are exploiting the situation by introducing fake products into the market. With more than 260,000 litres of fake olive oil seized in Italy and Spain, Europol's recent investigations have shed light on the alarming prevalence of counterfeit olive oil within the market. 

Fraudulant schemes like these involve the substitution of high-quality olive oil with cheaper, inferior seed oils that are manipulated with additives like chlorophyll and carotenoids to mimic the appearance of authentic olive oil, thus deceiving the unsuspecting consumer. Mixing olive oil with lower-quality lampante oil is another method used to dilute the purity of olive oil while reducing costs. This not only compromises the quality but also misleads consumers about the product they are purchasing. Extra-virgin olive oil, a popular staple in culinary traditions has therefore, come under scrutiny wordwide, urging consumers and restauranteurs alike to exercise caution and vigilance.  

The presence of polyphenols are responsible for olive oil's unique flavour profiles, ranging from sweet to bitter or zesty. These compounds not only contribute to the oil's taste but also offer numerous health benefits. Characteristics like taste and aroma that are distinctive to authentic olive oil cannot be replicated by seed oils. However, distinguishing genuine olive oil from fraudulent mixtures can be challenging. Examination of fatty acid and sterol compositions are the most common analytical methods used to identify adulterated products. 

Moreover, since certain countries do allow the sale of blended oils, it is extremely important for consumers to carefully examine product labels for harvest dates, locations and certification seals from reputable third-party organisations, prior to selecting extra-virgin olive oil. Advances in technology, such as blockchain systems for traceability, offer promising solutions for enhancing transparency in the olive oil supply chain. However, the effectiveness of these tools is contingent upon consumer awareness and engagement.