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Olive Oil Fraud

The photo above is a bead I made (I’ve expanded my hot glass activities to include lampworking as well as glassblowing, lately). I love making glass jellyfish! It is completely unrelated to this post, which is about an interesting article I came across regarding olive oil fraud.

On Monday, the New Yorker published an article on olive oil fraud entitled Slippery Business: the trade in adulterated olive oil by Tom Mueller. The article describes the incredible pervasion of olive oil scams in terms of drug rings, with a lot of fascinating descriptions of how the European Union’s official olive oil tasting panels ferret out the frauds. I was surprised to read that:

More sophisticated scams, like Domenico Ribatti’s, typically take place at high-tech refineries, where the oil is doctored with substances like hazelnut oil and deodorized lampante olive oil, which are extremely difficult to detect by chemical analysis. In 1991, the E.U., recognizing that laboratory tests fail to expose many acts of adulteration, instituted strict taste and aroma requirements for each grade of olive oil and established tasting panels, certified by the International Olive Oil Council, an office created by the United Nations, to enforce them. According to the E.U. regulations, extra-virgin oil must have appreciable levels of pepperiness, bitterness, and fruitiness, and must be free of sixteen official taste flaws, which include “musty,” “fusty,” “cucumber,” and “grubby.” “If there’s one defect, it’s not extra-virgin olive oil—basta, end of story,” Flavio Zaramella, the president of the Corporazione Mastri Oleari, in Milan, one of the most respected private olive-oil associations, told me.

Musty, fusty, cucumber, and grubby! Cucumberish olive oil sounds like it would taste wonderful to me! What could the other dozen official olive oil taste flaws be?

My research uncovered the Olive Handbook, which revealed that the International Olive Oil Council’s standards for Olive Oil and Sensory (Organoleptic) Assessment list the sixteen official taste flaws as:

fusty, musty-humid, muddy sediment, winey-vinegary, metallic, rancid, heated or burnt, haywood, rough, greasy, vegetable water, brine, esparto, earthy, grubby, cucumber.

The Nibble provides an article on The Flavors & Aromas of Olive Oil, which includes a glossary defining the terms for the various desirable and undesirable flavors/aromas in olive oil. Reading that list was quite an education, let me tell you. It defines “cucumber” as

An off flavor that can develop if oil is kept in sealed bottles or tin cans for a prolonged period.

I would never have guessed that on my own! Poor, maligned, tastytasty cucumbers, I feel for you.

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7 Responses to “Olive Oil Fraud”

  1. Kristen says:

    I read something about this fraud earlier this month. Interesting, isn’t it?
    That bead is gorgeous! Well done. I made a glass blown ornament this summer. What a fun thing!

  2. Yvo says:

    Does a lot of the fraudulent olive oil come from China? *sarcasm* Grrr, they make me so mad! Anyway.
    Yea, cucumber oil sounds refreshing and delightful. And I find it odd that earthy is listed as a flaw; since earthy olive oil is meant to be a good thing sometimes no? I don’t know. I don’t slurp/taste my olive oil like some do, so. Interseting stuff!

  3. Adam says:

    Wik, wikka, wha? Glass-blowing?!? No way! Where do you go? Have you done it for long?

  4. Danielle says:

    Kristen – It is!

    Yvo – I really enjoy olive oil tastings. You can wander into O&Co on Bleecker any time and taste something like 30 different olive oils, which is really fun.

    Adam – I’ve been glassblowing for about 7 months now, and I love it! I go to Urban Glass.

  5. Lisa says:

    I love your jelly-fish and bubbled bead! How big is it and what will you do with it? Is there just the one?

    I love to cook with EVOO (Thanks Rach! *eyeroll*) but I wouldn’t say I’m a connoisseur, so those 16 taste flaws mean absolutely nothing to me. har! BUT I would have to agree, wholeheartedly, that I would love LOVE cucumber olive oil. :D


  6. Danielle says:

    Lisa – it’s maybe an inch, inch and a half long? Something like that. I’ve made a few of them, because after I first showed the photo to some friends, a friend commissioned me to make two more for her.

    I think the market is clearly calling for cucumber olive oil. We must create it!

  7. what a cool bead! they look like jellyfish!

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August 2007
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