Olive oil production is largely based in Spain (51.5% of production) followed by Italy (8.5% of production). While Spanish extra virgin oil costs circa 306 euro/100kg, Italian virgin oil costs circa 473 euro/100kg. This substantial difference inevitably tempts several illegal players and, given the forecast of a dramatic decrease of the Italian production, the number of frauds is likely to increase further. Besides the economic damage of fraud, there is a strong healthcare risk as well. In 1981, rapeseed oil contaminated with aniline, sold as olive oil in Spain, caused the intoxication of 20,000 people and 800 deaths. In 2016 in the UK, only a third of oil products tested by the RPA were compliant with international standards.
Counterfeit Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The International Olive Council defines “virgin olive oils” those “obtained from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea L. ) solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration”. Among these, Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is a “virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams, and the other characteristics of which correspond to those fixed for this category in the IOC standard.” The Acidity is measured prior to bottling, and the fresh oil has to pass an examination from a tasting panel to ensure it is free from any defect (mustiness, muddy sediment taste, rancidness etc..). Only after this very strict exam, an oil can be sold as Extra Virgin.
It is worth noting that “fruity, bitter and pungent” are three adjective that describe good quality olive oil, in particular, it is normal to cough when tasting excellent EVOOs, as the high concentration of polyphenols will give a strong feeling of itchiness on the back of your throat. Despite these strict regulations and guidelines, it is likely that many oils (even EVOOs) from your local supermarket will not present the aforementioned features. Indeed, a various trials and investigations, conducted mainly by Italian and Spanish authorities between 1993 and 2013, have led to estimate that up to 60% of the oil sold as EVOO may be in some way fraudulent. This includes:
- Oils sold with a fake denomination of origin (i.e. non-EU oils sold as Italian EVOO)
- Non virgin (deodorized, lampante) oils, coloured and flavoured with chlorophyll and beta-carotene , sold as EVOO
- Non-olive oil (hazelnut, sunflower, soybean), mixed with low amounts of olive oil, sold as EVOO
Scientific literature shows clearly that Raman spectroscopy is able to discriminate between EVOO and other edible oils. Raman spectroscopy, supported by more advanced chemometric methods, is able to detect EVOO adulterated with soybean, hazelnut, corn and pomace oils in concentrations as low as 1%. This makes it possible to detect and stop many frauds in the oil market.
VeriVin’s challenge, now, is to be able to perform these analyses directly in the original container, providing this rapid and advanced techniques directly on field, for the guarantee of the producers and the safety of the consumers.
Tom Mueller “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil” 2013
J. Agric. Food Chem.2003, 51216145-6150
J. Agric. Food Chem. 2009, 57, 6001–6006