Olive oil fans beware: Your beloved and expensive fruity tasting oil might be nothing more than soybean oil mixed with olive oil.
Much of the olive oil manufactured in Italy is cut with soybean oil or other cheaper oils and mixed with beta-carotene and chlorophyll to disguise the taste and flavour, Tom Mueller, who runs the blog Truth in Olive Oil, has uncovered.
The fraudulent oils are then exported with inaccurate labels to countries like Canada, ultimately leading the consumer to believe they are spending more money for a premium grade olive oil.
"It's hard and expensive to make really good olive oil," Mueller, author of Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, explains to the Toronto Star.
"Consumers don't benefit; they're being ripped off, and honest producers are being undercut unfairly because a substandard product, which costs a lot less, is being sold under the same label as their good oil."
It's a scandal of great proportions that got the attention of government officials in Canada, the United States, and other parts of the developed world in the late 1990s.
In an effort to crack down on the problem, the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CIFA) updated their regulations at the end of 2013 in order to increase control on the quality of imported olive oil.
Essentially, the law threatens olive oil importers, distributors and retailers with a fine and jail time if they sell fraudulent oil olive.
Guilty parties could face a fine of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment for up to six months on summary conviction. Those convicted on indictment could face a fine of $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.
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As for whether the CFIA is doing routine inspections within the industry, it appears they are leaving much of the burden to the industry to self-regulate. While they do have an olive oil testing program, most inspections are conducted on olive oil already suspected of being fake.
The olive oil scandal is further compounded by the fact that many olive oils with the label "Made in Italy" are not produced with olives from Italy, but rather Spain, Morocco and Tunisia.
Also adding insult to injury, much of the extra virgin olive oil sold in Canada is not actually "extra virgin" -- meaning it does not use a cold-pressed process to extract the oil from the olive.
Want to know how you can avoid this olive oil trap? Check out Mueller's website, extravirginity.com, which lists what to look for in a quality oil -- and which reputable producers are safe bets for legitimate products.