SFist Investigates: Olive Oil Fraud- by Tiffany Maleshefski
For a couple of years now, enterprising crooks have been fooling American consumers with fraudulent incarnations of extra virgin olive oil; diluting the pure, unadulterated, stuff with soybean, hazelnut, and peanut oils, cheapo vegetable oils, and even lampante. Also known as "lamp oil," lampante is the term used to describe the oil squeezed from olives that have fallen from the tree. In other words, the crappy discarded stuff that's been mashed around in the ground a bit. The impure product is then labeled "EVOO" and sold at a heavily discounted price, usually more than half the price of its authentic competitors.Ramekins, the cooking school / bed and breakfast in Sonoma, where olive oil fraud was the slippery topic of the evening.
And especially in this economy, where the idea of buying $25 bottles of olive oil isn't incredibly appetizing, spying a huge jug of the stuff on the bottom shelf for the bargain-basement rate of $9.99 seems like one amazingly awesome deal. Except, chances are it's probably not the real thing. Fraud in the industry was, not surprisingly, a hot topic at the Feast of the Olives dinner that took place in Sonoma over the weekend. One of many events held to celebrate the county's three-month olive festival was a massive, seven-course feast athere.) The bill will also sets about enforce regulations similar to those overseen by the International Olive Oil Council based in Spain. Olives are Sonoma Valley's second largest crop after grapes; in fact, Napa and Sonoma counties are home to 150 olive oil producers and 375 olive tree growers throughout the state. It's still only 1 percent of the 70 million gallons of olive oil this country consumes each year, but domestic olive oil isn't the issues. See, when olive oil is imported into the U.S. it's not super high on the FDA's radar for purity testing. So? A lot of devious oils gets through.
The event shed some light on the importance of Senate Bill 634, which aims to get down on paper legal definitions for "virgin," "extra-virgin" and "olive pomace" oil, among other things. (You can read more about the bill
Enter savvy New Englander Luciano Sclafani, who has been blowing the lid on this whole EVOO shitstorm. If not for Sclafani, we could be guzzling a whole host of watered down oils, loaded with products we didn't mean to purchase. His company, Gus Sclafani Corp., sells all kinds of gourmet Italian products, like San Marzano tomatoes and pasta. The product nearest and dearest to his heart, however, is the one-liter bottles of Frantoia EVOO, which retails for $25. Scalfani believes in the product so much, he takes a shot of it everyday, and says its what keeps his hair full and luxurious at 62 years of age.He sensed trouble when he saw a competitor's three-liter tin of "EVOO" selling for $9.99.Since then the FDA has cracked down on fake EVOO and seized more than 10,000 cases of olive oil from storage facilities in New York and New Jersey, worth more than $700,000 in 2007.
More than a commitment to keeping consumers safe from rip-offs, the regulations will keep consumers safe from possible allergic reactions that could happen if all the ingredients are not disclosed. Think nut oils. What's worse, if Sclafani is right on the whole hair-rejuvenation thing, there could be millions of men out there who are sucking down oil and finding themselves gaining thick waistlines instead of hairlines.