The trade in fake olive oil, by some estimates, is as profitable as the cocaine trade. I heard that watching the Dr. Oz Show. The popular TV personality recently examined food fraud, in the process shining a welcome spotlight on bogus extra virgin olive oil. Dr. Oz also shared his own “test” – one we don’t recommend – to check if an extra virgin olive oil is real versus inferior oil labeled as “extra virgin.” Put the bottle in the fridge, he advised.
If the oil “freezes” and doesn’t pour, Dr. Oz added, that’s a good sign the oil is extra virgin; but he also noted it’s not “100 percent foolproof.” The fridge test, however, isn’t reliable for practical and scientific reasons. We and other olive oil experts believe you should instead rely on better and faster methods, especially while shopping at the store. (Click here to see story in Olive Oil Times.)
“One of the many enduring myths surrounding extra virgin olive oil is that you can easily check its authenticity by simply putting it in the fridge and seeing if it solidifies,” Australian olive expert Richard Gawel writes in his blog, noting that various “complications” make the test unreliable.
Here are tips for steering clear of inferior or adulterated oil labeled as pricier “extra virgin”:
Dark Glass: Buy extra virgin olive oil sold in a dark glass bottle. Avoid clear or plastic bottles. “Light, together with heat and oxygen, is one of the enemies of olive oil. Light causes olive oil to degrade. So dark glass that filters out light is very important,” olive oil expert Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity (W.W. Norton & Co., 2012), told us. “If it’s in clear glass or plastic, the quality is likely to be low.”
Harvest Date: “Look for a harvest date on the bottle,” Dan Flynn, executive director of the Olive Center at the University of California Davis, told Dr. Oz on the show. “Only the harvest date is going to let you know when that oil was made.” Our harvest date is on the back label of our bottle, in a box. Once bottled, the oil has a two-year shelf life.
Quality Seal On Bottle: “Look for a quality seal,” Flynn said. “The California Olive Oil Council requires oils to pass strict chemistry and sensory criteria to get their seal.” You’ll find the COOC seal on the back of our bottle. The organization certifies our oil as extra virgin.
Dr. Oz’s own test, I noted, involves putting a bottle of extra virgin olive oil in the fridge. “If it freezes – so when you turn the bottle upside down, nothing comes out – then you’re pretty sure it’s pure,” he said. But if it doesn’t, “it’s not a good sign,” he added, saying “a 100 percent extra virgin olive oil usually will freeze at the temperature of your fridge.”
But we don’t recommend it for a variety of reasons.
“The temperature of your fridge is a huge variable,” our science guru Mary Bolton says. Mary, a food scientist who heads our team that evaluates and tests our oils, notes the temperature of your fridge “ideally” should range between 35 degrees and 41 degrees Fahrenheit. “If your fridge is above this range it will take longer to solidify the oil.”
Plus, the bottle’s size will affect the time it takes to solidify the oil. It’s a process that will likely take a couple days, Mary says. And where you place the oil in the fridge is important.
“The door is usually not as cold as the center or back side of the fridge,” she says.
Besides, Mary notes, putting your bottle in the fridge can cause more harm than good. “Allowing the temperature of the oil to go below 50 degrees F can negatively affect the quality and flavor.”