Did You Know a Lot of Italian Olive Oil Isn’t Actually From Italy?

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: librakv)

Italian olive oil, especially “extra virgin,” is a common, and essential household item in nearly any kitchen. But don’t be fooled by the olive oil bottle that sports a scenic Tuscan landscape or waves the Italian flag; these signals don’t necessarily mean that the olive oil is exclusively from Italy.

After learning more about canola oil and its history, I was intrigued when I was pointed to an article in The New York Times back in January about the controversy of olive oil in Italy. In the GIF-like animated article, Nicholas Blechman explains how a lot of olive oil that we think is from Italy, is in fact, not.

Blechman’s article is based on Thomas Mueller’s book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. According to an interview with Mueller on NPR: “Italy is the number one importer, exporter, and consumer of olive oil,” but “produces less than a third of what Spain produces.”

(Image credit: B. and E. Dudzinscy)

So how do you tell the difference between an olive oil that is actually produced in Italy and one that has olives from other countries? As you could probably guess, it’s all in the label. Labels that say “packaged” in Italy often means just that: that olives from Italy were combined with the olives from other nearby countries.

According to an interview with Marco Oreggia in Parade, the way to figure out if a bottle of olive oil is actually from Italy is to see if the label says “produced” and “bottled” in Italy on the label. If it, however, says “produced bottled” (confusing, right?) it could mean that it was simply bottled there. You can also look on the label to see if it indicates the region of Italy or even mill where the oil produced.

The concern for this blending is that the “extra virgin” olive oil is adulterated in the mixture of these olives.

After doing some research, I went into my own kitchen to inspect my olive oil, et voila! My olive oil is “packaged” in Italy, but the olives are from Spain, Greece, and Tunisia.

Does this labeling confuse or concern you at all? Or does taste trump sourcing?