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WORLD OF OLIVE OIL - The Perfect Crime Scene - PART 6
05 December 2012 @ 18:44

Olive oil adulteration has been a continuous practice since the olive oil quality grades were introduced in 1985 by the International Olive Council, before then it was all just “olive oil”.  In Spain, quality control before this time wasn’t a major priority nor was it in any part of the Mediterranean basin, as a matter of fact, but it especially came of importance when Spain entered the European Union in 1986. Prior to entering the European Union any surplus harvest that needed to be intervened was purchased by the Government at the going rate for olive oil and on entering the EU, Europe said, “We will pay the going rate as well, but the rate according to quality” and from that point on honest producers started to look after quality but it also opened the door for fraudsters to make fortunes adulterating olive oil and passing it off as Extra Virgin. 


Why is Olive Oil the perfect crime scene? Well it’s perfect for the crook and the crime scene investigators! Olives once they have fallen from the tree are instant sponges, they soak up everything instantly, and I mean everything. If the soil was damp and wet or muddy when the olives fell to the ground this will be passed on to the oil, if the olives are stacked for a while and start to oxidise this taste will pass on to the oil, if the there is also damp on the floor or in the air, this smell will be passed on to the oil, if they are stored in wooden boxes the taste of wood will be passed on to the oil, if the olive was hit by a cold front while on the tree it will effect the taste as well, if the tree was attacked by the olive fly it will adopt a different taste, if it wasn’t decanted properly it will leave a trace, if it was milled at too high a temperature it will leave its mark, they soak up everything carrying the evidence of errors and defects with it all the way to the bottle. Nothing escapes the olive; if you have treated it wrongly it will always tell the story in a very precise and descriptive way. It is the best informer the police could have. So it is particularly simple to know exactly what happened to your olive oil just by tasting and smelling it and evaluating the evidence. Every wrong act has its own distinct smell even if it occurred before pressing. Once pressed it will still keep on soaking up aromas and tastes, there is no stopping it, it devours any bad smell or the slightest fermentation, even dirty tanks and the taste of metal. Olive oil is relentless in collecting evidence. So why is it so “perfect” for the crook? 


It is perfect for the crook because some evidence can be covered up in pretty efficient way. Olive oil that is normally full of defects, chemical or organoleptic, is refined chemically or physically at a temperature of around 200-250ºC, this process neutralises the oil but also changes the chemical compound of the oil leaving clear evidence behind that it has been refined. However if one has an olive oil that is chemically ok but has many organoleptic defects, (except defects derived from fermentation) this can be “deodorised”, cleaning the crime scene of all evidence. This would be considered a “professional job”.  So how on earth do you deodorise olive oil? In the industry it is referred to as cold refining and what it entails is forcing an inert gas in vapour form through the oil at a temperature of around 80-100ºC. It is not hot enough to alter the chemical structure of the oil, so it leaves no trace and the vapour works as a magnet for all organoleptic properties. So every smell; good or bad and every taste; good or bad will be carried out of the oil with the vapour, leaving it neutral. What are referred to as “the volatiles” are completely whitewashed leaving an almost perfect crime scene. The crooks now have a chemically perfect extra virgin olive oil, which is just missing a bit of flavour. Next step? Add a little bit of authentic extra virgin to the base olive oil; as little as 5% is enough for the organoleptic qualities to be appreciated in the oil, even though they may not be potent attributes, there are no defects and the positive notes are detectable. This is sufficient for it to be classified as extra virgin olive oil and suddenly the value of the liter has shot up by at least 30%. Big business, millions of euros every year! In fact it is unclear how much it is as it is totally undetectable. This is when it becomes the perfect crime scene for the crook!


So where does this leave the consumer, well buying on "trust" basically. The more you now about a brand and the more information they give you on the bottle the chances are the more authentic it will be. If you haven’t read my article on “How to recognise an authentic extra virgin olive oil”, take a look and improve your chances of buying the real thing!



Other popular articles by Ian Mackay ©

Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - Introduction-Part 1 

Go to article: The World of Olive Oil- Olive Oil Categories-Part 2

Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - How to recognise an authentic extra virgin olive oil - Part 3

Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - Olive Oil Tasting - Part 4

Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - True Virginity - Part 5

Go to article: Spanish Cured Ham-What you need to know

Go to article: Can I fry with Oilve Oil?


Like 0


Rob said:
08 December 2012 @ 08:39

You should provide links within rhe article itself to your previous articles. I would like to read the whole serries but don't see the link to the first one

Sam said:
08 December 2012 @ 13:04

Read all your articles on olive oil with great interest. I would love to buy good extra virgin olive oil. Please tell where I can buy "The real McCoy" I live in the Marbella area and will travel!

Pete Bruckshaw said:
08 December 2012 @ 13:27

And why not link to an online shop where you can buy high quality olive oil? - with your affiliate link! This is a fascinating subject.

eos_ian said:
08 December 2012 @ 17:55

Thanks all for your comments, as you can see I've added the links to make it easier!
I will consider linking to a reputable online seller once I have found one!

eos_ian said:
08 December 2012 @ 17:57

SAM try out this shop .....

Calle Nueva 9
Marbella Málaga

Located in the heart of Marbella’s Old Town, D.OLIVA is a delightful shop with a distinctive rustic Andalucian look and feel that specialises in premium Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Lovingly sourced from Spain’s top olive mills, there are no less than 68 varieties to sample and choose from.


Pieter said:
10 December 2012 @ 09:50

Thank for the explanation and insigt.... !

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