I’ve suspected for a while now that the “extra-virgin” olive oil I’ve been buying for $8 at the grocery store isn’t totally legit. It’s yellow without a hint of green (the greenish tint is standard for pure olive oils), can sometimes turn bitter, and doesn’t mention the region where the olives were grown on the bottle. My budget is often more important than making sure I’m purchasing the purest items, so I’m not about to split hairs. I don’t mind so much if the oil isn’t actually from Italy, but it would be nice if the oil I’m buying is actually extra-virgin, or at least comes from olives — not soybeans, nuts, or cheap vegetable fillers.
Since olive oil is notoriously one of the healthiest fats out there, it’s soared in popularity in the United States in recent years. Consumption in the U.S. increased from 209,000 metric tons in 2000 to an estimated 317,000 metric tons in 2015 — a 52% increase. Not surprisingly, most people expect their extra-version oils to come from Italy, the country that’s renowned for its olive oil production.
Unfortunately, many olive oils that say they’re from Italy are imported from elsewhere. While that’s technically an issue, the bigger grievance is that many oils labeled “extra-virgin” don’t actually qualify for that distinction. To make matters worse, several popular brands in the U.S. have been accused of cutting their premium oils with cheaper fillers like vegetable or nut oils — sometimes filling entire bottles without a drop of the real thing.
Though olive oil is one of the more easily counterfeited food items in the grocery store, it’s definitely not the only one. Here are six of the most commonly faked items, and how to spot whether you’re buying the real thing.