Not all that glitters is gold

 

 

North America has seen an explosion of olive oil shops and tasting bars over the last five years.  Stores run by olive oil entrepreneurs and enthusiasts have sprung up like spring flowers across Canada and the United States, as have the locations of several oil and vinegar franchises.  In all, something like 500 stand-alone olive oil specialty stores are operating in North America, and their number is growing rapidly.  Oil-tasting bars are also on the rise in gourmet food spots like delicatessens, cooking schools, and high-end supermarkets.

The best of these establishments are bringing superb, fresh olive oil from around the world – the Mediterranean, Chile, California, Australia, South Africa and beyond – to a continent that hungers for quality, and all too often can’t find it in supermarkets.  Their passionate, experienced staffs are educating North Americans in the fine art of fine oil – the vastly different tastes and styles of various olive oil varieties, how to use them in cooking, why they make us healthy – and helping to drive a revolution in olive oil quality.  I’ve written about Beyond the Olive, City Olive, McEvoy Ranch outlets, the Oil & Vinegar franchise, The Olive Press, stores supplied by the Veronica Foods Company, the We Olive franchise, and numerous others.  (For more information on these and other organizations, visit this page on the Great Oils in North America.  Some of the companies mentioned there have supported parts of Truth in Olive Oil’s work – see here.)

Yet a very different sort of olive oil boutique exists as well, one that’s holding back the revolution, and may be short-changing consumers.  They often have the same look as the more careful stores – glossy bottles and gleaming fusti (stainless-steel olive oil containers), lush décor, catchy olive oil lingo, high prices.  Eager salespeople push products using polished lines and elaborate cooking tips.  All too often, however, oils they sell taste dreadful:  flat, rancid, musty, dead.  These oils must have been poorly made to begin with, and/or gotten worse with age, meaning that consumers could easily be missing health benefits offered by real extra virgin olive oils.  Some of the oils these companies sell under fancy foreign titles may have been adulterated with cheaper vegetable oils.

Truth in Olive Oil has denounced low-grade, faux extra virgins that are widely sold in grocery stores, restaurants, and throughout the food service industry.  But bad boutique oils can make supermarket specials seem downright delicious.  They are the false friends of the olive oil world, the wolves in sheep’s clothing.  The unsuspecting, inexperienced consumer can be attracted by the mystique of olive oil and the sheen of clever marketing, and instead of delicious, healthy, fresh olive juice – the highest grade of olive oil in the world – may get low-grade liquid fat, at a high price to boot.  Sellers who ought to know more about the oils they’re selling may themselves be victims.  Wherever in the supply chain bad oil seeps in, it results in a betrayal of the consumer’s trust.

As part of its ongoing quality testing program, Truth in Olive Oil has been checking on a number of oils widely available in North America, both boutique and supermarket, and will continue to do so in the future.  Among those we’ve looked into are several olive oil boutique shops in Arizona, which are part of a larger network of stores called The Olive & The Grape, an organization which has grown rapidly in recent years – we’ve encountered stores in several US states, as well as in Canada.  The Olive & The Grape is headquartered in Tubac, Arizona at the Tubac Olive Oil Company.  In a phone interview, Sunil Patel, owner of Tubac Olive Oil and head of The Olive & The Grape network, described how his business operates.  He said he began the network about 3 years ago; he now owns 13 stores, mostly in Arizona and Florida, and in all supplies customers in about 250 locations, primarily in the USA with about 8 in Canada.  (These customers include stand-alone olive oil stores, wineries, kitchen supply shops, etc.)  He said that the packaging and bottling of olive oil for all stores is done in Tubac; and that they sell oil both already bottled, and in 10-liter bulk containers.  Patel said they sell more bottled than bulk, packing bottles without labels and affixing a label on the outside of the shipping box, so that their customers can label the product to their own specifications.  Patel told me that The Olive & The Grape buys its organic olive oil in bulk containers, and either rebottles it or puts it into their own bulk containers before shipping to their customers.  They infuse some of their flavored oils in-house, Patel said, but buy many already infused.

This summer I visited Tubac Olive Oil Company, and another store that Patel owns, the Scottsdale Olive Oil Company, in Scottsdale, Arizona.  I also spoke with an employee at another of Patel’s stores, Sedona Olive Oil in Sedona, Arizona.  The stores I visited were in up-market locations, with sleek interiors, friendly and energetic staff, and rows of shining bottles containing a wide range of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  The names of the single-varietal olive oils were enticing; I recognized many olive oil cultivars from my travels in oil-making lands.  There was koroneiki oil from Greece, moresca and coratina from Italy.  There were oils from Spain, Egypt and Morocco.  There were house blends, made from an enticing mélange of different olive cultivars.

Yet when I started tasting the oils, I sensed something wrong.  Although a few of the oils tasted fine, others had 1 or more of the official sensory flaws detailed in the USDA, EU and other trade standards for grading olive oil:  rancid, fusty, muddy sediment, and more.  (For details, see the olive oil trade standards of the USDA, p. 7ff, and the EU, p. 75ff.)  Certain oils had other bizarre flavors or aromas that I didn’t even have names for.  Though a few oils appeared to be extra virgin, all in all, I’ve rarely encountered a wider or more unpleasant range of sensory defects in one place.

Not relying on my palate alone, Truth in Olive Oil bought a total of fourteen samples of olive oil from the Tubac, Scottsdale and Sedona shops, and had them put through a wide range of tests, chemical and sensory, at Modern Olives, located in Victoria, Australia.  Modern Olives is one of the most experienced and expert olive oil laboratories in the world, and a pioneer in chemical testing for quality and authenticity in olive oil.  I have seen Modern Olives test results for other olive oil distributors, and have had various supermarket and boutique oils tested by them.  Their conclusions regarding the samples of The Olive & The Grape oils I sent to them included the following:

  • 3 samples, from the Tubac, Scottsdale and Sedona stores, were indeed extra virgin:  they met the chemical and taste requirements for that quality grade of olive oil.
     
  • 1 sample, from the Scottsdale store, was extra virgin according to the USDA standard.  However, this oil failed the pyropheophytins (PPP) test, an ISO-recognized test for the presence of refined or soft-column refined olive oil, and/or of improper storage, which was developed by the German Society for Fat Science (DGF) and which is part of the Australian quality standard for olive oil.  Therefore, under the Australian standard, this oil was virgin grade, not extra virgin.  Since the USDA standard does not currently recognize the PPP test, though, this oil is graded as extra virgin according to the USDA.  (For more on the meaning and significance of the PPP test, see this UC Davis report, pp. 4, 6-7.)
     
  • 3 samples, from the Scottsdale and Sedona stores, were not extra virgin, but only virgin oils, because they exhibited marked sensory defects (rancid and fusty).
     
  • 5 samples, from the Tubac and Scottsdale stores, were lampante (which in Italian means “lamp oil”) – which by USDA standards is classified as “not fit for human consumption without further processing” – because of serious sensory defects (rancid, fusty/muddy sediment, etc).
     
  • 2 samples, from the Tubac and Sedona stores, contained canola oil – in 1 sample up to 50% of the oil was canola – and lampante or second-extraction olive oil.

 

Reading these results alongside the descriptions of the oils that I saw at the stores and on The Olive & The Grape website, I saw discrepancies that troubled me.  Here are a few examples:

  • The organic olive oil was described as follows:  “This beautiful extra virgin oil has a flavor profile of ripe olives with a hint of green apple and a nice small pepper finish.”  Instead, in samples from Scottsdale and Sedona, the taste panel at Modern Olives detected serious levels of 2 taste flaws – rancid (both Scottsdale and Sedona) and fusty/muddy sediment (Scottsdale) – with limited positive attributes of fruitiness, pungency (pepperiness) and bitterness.
     
  • The description of the Moroccan oil on the website is as follows:  “From Morocco, crushed with Picholine olives, this extra virgin olive oil is a toasty little gem with small hints of sunflower seeds, very creamy and buttery with a wonderful smooth pepper finish. This extra virgin olive oil has less than 0.1% acidity.”  But according to the Modern Olives laboratory, both samples of Moroccan oil tested (from Scottsdale and Tubac) had significantly higher free fatty acidity (0.4% and 0.3%).  Moreover, 1 of the 2 samples (from Tubac) failed the K270 test (with a value of 0.281), and contained canola oil and lampante or second-extraction olive oil.
     
  • The description of the koroneiki olive oil is as follows:  “The olives for this oil were hand picked in the Peloponnese and cold pressed to produce this fabulous oil.  Some say this is the crown jewel of Greek extra virgin olive oils.  Loaded with flavor, often used in recipes for chicken or lamb.  Also perfect for dipping and salads.  Monovarietal oil made from Koroneiki olives.  Acidity is less than 0.4%.”  Modern Olives found rather different results.  2 of the 3 samples tested, bought at Tubac and Scottsdale, had free fatty acidity of 1.1% – well above the limit for the extra virgin grade – and major sensory defects (rancid, cucumber):  Modern Olives classified these samples as lampante.  The lab said that the 3rd sample of koroneiki olive oil, bought in Sedona, in addition to equally serious sensory flaws (rancid and fusty/muddy sediment), contained approximately 50% canola oil, as well as lampante olive oil.
     
  • For further details on the tests performed, see the Footnote at the end of this article.

 

The Olive & The Grape stores sell many other oils, which Truth in Olive Oil hasn’t tested – they may be excellent.  Conceivably, if Truth in Olive Oil repeated the same tests on different batches of the tested oils, they might all pass the next time.  Also, Truth in Olive Oil has only tested oils from 3 of the approximately 250 locations supplied by The Olive & The Grape.  But the samples tested came from the network’s packing and distribution center in Tubac, and from 2 other stores in The Olive & The Grape organization owned by company head Sunil Patel, which suggests that they may be representative.

When informed of these results, Sunil Patel said he was very surprised, given that his company buys its varietal oils from a reputable importer in California which provides documentation on the quality of the oil with every batch.  Also, he said, The Olive & The Grape themselves occasionally test random samples of their products.  “So far we had successful results, so we haven’t had a bad batch so far,” Patel told me.  He said he preferred to buy their varietal olive oils, which represent only 5% of their sales, from a reputable importer, given the risks of fraud inherent in the olive oil business.  “I know how it works overseas,” he told me.  “You could make safflower oil into olive oil if you can pay the people.  So I don’t want to get into that part.  I would rather pay a 7-10% premium over here but have a buying house that does all my buying.”

In an email, Josh Moffitt, national sales manager of The Olive & The Grape, said he that had read my book, Extra Virginity, after which he was “in shock as to the number of incidences of fraud in the olive oil business.”  Moffitt said that after reading my book, he had 2 of his company’s oils – the Moroccan, which “we use as the base for all of our flavored olive oils and represents the largest percentage of our production,” and the koroneiki – tested at Baker Wine and Grape Analysis in Paso Robles, California.  The results, he said, showed that the oils were indeed extra virgin.  Moffitt shared these results with me.  (These results are discussed in more detail below.)  “After Sunil’s conversation with you,” Moffitt wrote, “he and I spoke and thought it would be a good idea for us to immediately send samples of our products to UC Davis for testing.  That was before I saw that you can spend upwards of $1,000 per sample.  We have a lot of different products and we may have to look at a less expensive alternative.  The testing I had done previously at Baker Wine and Grape Analysis was only $50 per sample.”

In a subsequent email, Moffitt reported that, after my conversation with Sunil Patel, he had sent samples of all of their varietal oils to Baker Wine and Grape Analysis for testing, and that all but 1 had passed their tests.  He also shared these results with me (discussed in more detail below).  Regarding the 1 oil sample that Moffitt says failed testing – organic oil which he says his company buys in California, and which had a peroxide value of 24 meq/kg (the USDA peroxide limit for extra virgin oil is 20 meq/kg) – Moffitt wrote:  “We are immediately discontinuing this product.  We are also going to share all of these test results with our customers and offer a voluntary recall on the organic extra virgin olive oil.  We stand behind our product quality.”  Moffitt further reported that oils from 1 store supplied by The Olive & The Grape, located in Florida, had been tested by the Florida Department of Agriculture.  “As expected,” Moffitt wrote, “the test results from the Florida Department of Agriculture showed that it was, in fact, Extra Virgin grade olive oil.”  Moffitt has not shared with me the results of the Florida Department of Agriculture testing.

The testing results that Moffitt has shared with me so far comprise 2 chemical tests, free fatty acidity (FFA) and peroxide value.  Unfortunately, these 2 tests are only a small part of what is needed to determine whether an olive oil is 1) of extra virgin grade and/or 2) entirely made from olives (ie not adulterated with other vegetable oils).  The FFA and peroxide tests are 2 of an entire battery of chemical tests laid out in the USDA standard for grading olive oil, which mirror the chemical testing detailed in the European Union trade standard from which the USDA standard was largely derived.  Moffitt was also under the impression that sensory testing for olive oil is not an official part of the olive oil grading system, but sensory testing is in fact an integral part of the standard (details here; see especially pp. 3, 6-7, 9).  As Moffitt discovered from UC Davis, the full battery of tests, both chemical and sensory, is expensive.  The $50 he mentions only covers FFA and peroxides – which, I understand, are among the easiest for a dishonest producer or oil trader to circumvent via chemical manipulation of the oils.

Patel and Moffitt both mentioned taking occasional random samples, but again, all test results Moffitt has shared with me so far only involve FFA and peroxides, which are a small subset of the chemical tests that make up the USDA, the European Union / International Olive Council, and other major international olive oil standards.  It is not clear what other random testing The Olive & The Grape has performed.

Sunil Patel stated that varietal oils represent only about 5% of their business (as compared with about 25% flavored olive oils and 70% balsamic vinegars).  However, varietal olive oils are prominently mentioned on The Olive & The Grape and Tubac Olive Oil websites, and the company sells, according to Patel, some 2,500 gallons of varietal oils a year.  Also, Josh Moffitt indicated that the company uses the Moroccan oil as a base for their flavored oils.  The Modern Olives laboratory detected the presence of canola oil in 1 of the 2 Moroccan oils tested, bought from Tubac Olive Oil Company.

Truth in Olive Oil commends The Olive & The Grape for discontinuing the organic oil which failed the peroxide test, and for offering its customers a voluntary recall of that product.  Truth in Olive Oil also urges The Olive & The Grape to exercise greater vigilance and perform more extensive testing on its products.  If the recent test results done by Modern Olives laboratory on 14 samples of The Olive & The Grape’s oils provide a representative picture of the company’s product offering, then this is a real concern for olive oil quality in North America.  In 3 years of operation, the Olive & The Grape has grown rapidly.  A page on the company’s website is called “Open a Store”.  It explains how their staff will help people open their own olive oil tasting store, describing in alluring detail the artisanal, high-quality nature of their products and stressing how these products can be sold in a wide range of ways:

Whether you are a seasoned entrepreneur or just taking the first step to financial independence, we have all of the product, knowledge and support you need to get your business opened, running and generating cash flow right away.  We even have a business consultant available with 30+ years retail experience in all types of stores all over the country that can help you to select a great location, get necessary permits and licenses, devise a business plan and train you and your staff to ensure your success.  [. . .]  Our offerings are hand-crafted in small batches and therefore we are able to provide the freshest, highest quality product possible.

It may be that trusting but inexperienced consumers are spending hefty sums for extra virgin olive oil that isn’t extra virgin in flavor, or in some instances, may not even be made entirely from olives.  After a bad experience, these people may lose interest in olive oil forever.  On their “Open a Store” page, The Olive & The Grape states:  "You can sell from your retail location(s), farmers markets, online, to restaurants and other retail locations…."  Bad-tasting oils could have far-reaching effects, when sold through such a wide range of sales outlets.

Store owners themselves may also be swayed.  Read another excerpt from The Olive & The Grape “Open a Store” page, which tells potential shop owners “We’ll get you started right away!”:

This is not a franchise.  You have your own private label and brand.  You own your own independent business.  [. . .]  You come first.  Customer service is our top priority.

Some managers of stores supplied by The Olive & The Grape may be influenced by fancy product descriptions, sexy business models, and the recent upsurge in excitement about olive oil in many parts of North America.  If the test results obtained by Truth in Olive Oil are indeed representative, then The Olive & The Grape and its client stores may unknowingly be perpetuating the problem of olive oil fraud in America.  A revolution in olive oil awareness and enthusiasm is sweeping North America, enabling more and more Canadians and Americans to enjoy fresh, well-made olive oils.  But if at any point in the supply chain people are taking advantage of this revolution, they may simultaneously be helping to end it before it brings a lasting improvement in olive oil quality.

Do you know a store in The Olive & The Grape network, and like its oils?  Do you own or work in an olive oil tasting establishment that’s being supplied by The Olive & The Grape?  If so, I’d be glad to know how you feel about the oils you’re getting.  As a consumer, have you ever tried olive oils with names and descriptions like those mentioned in this article – and what was your reaction?  Whoever you are, however you feel about this subject, I want to hear from you.  Please leave a comment below, or write a private message via the contact form.

 

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Footnote

Chemical and sensory analysis were performed in August-September, 2012, by Modern Olives laboratory on 14 samples of The Olive & The Grape olive oil.  Among the lab’s results were the following:

  • 3 olive oil samples – arbosana olive oil (from Sedona), Papa Patel Arbequina (from Tubac), and Moroccan (from Scottsdale) – had all the necessary chemical and sensory characteristics of extra virgin olive oil.  Classification: extra virgin
     
  • 1 olive oil sample, the moresca (from Scottsdale), was graded extra virgin according to the USDA standard.  However, this oil failed the pyropheophytins (PPP) test (18.5), an ISO-recognized test for the presence of refined or soft-column refined oil and/or improper storage which was developed by the German Society for Fat Science (DGF) and which is part of the Australian quality standard for olive oil.  (For more on the meaning and significance of the PPP test, see this UC Davis report, pp 4, 6-7.)  Therefore, under the Australian standard, this oil is graded virgin, not extra virgin.  Since the USDA standard does not currently include the PPP test, though, this oil is classified as extra virgin by the USDA.
     
  • Koroneiki olive oil (Sedona), K232 = 2.858, K270 = 0.395, sensory defects = 3.0 (fusty/muddy sediment, rancid), stigmastadienes and sterols profile indicate the presence of a large amount of canola oil (around 50%), together with lampante olive oil.  Also, the sample had PPP of 32.9 (as explained above), and a 1,2-diacylglycerol (DAGs) value of 29.4.  DAGs is an ISO-recognized test for olive oil freshness and authenticity which was developed by the German Society for Fat Science (DGF) and which is part of the Australian quality standard for olive oil, but which is not currently included in the USDA standard.  (For more on the meaning and significance of the DAGs test, see this UC Davis report, pp 4, 6-7.)
     
  • Organic olive oil (Sedona), sensory defects = 2.0 (rancid), classification: virgin
     
  • Papa Patel Moroccan olive oil (Tubac), K270 = 0.281, stigmastadienes and sterols profile indicate the presence of canola oil, and of lampante or second extraction olive oil
     
  • Papa Patel Koroneiki olive oil (Tubac), FFA 1.1, sensory defects = 3.0 (rancid, cucumber), classification: lampante.  Also, PPP 31.4 (as explained above), DAGs 28.9 (as explained above)
     
  • Papa Patel Moresca olive oil (Tubac), sensory defects = 3.0 (rancid), classification: lampante.  Also, PPP 24.9 (as explained above)
     
  • Papa Patel Organic olive oil (Tubac), sensory defects = 3.0 (fusty/muddy sediment), classification: lampante
     
  • Koroneiki olive oil (Scottsdale), FFA 1.1, sensory defects 3.0 (rancid, cucumber), classification: lampante.  Also, PPP 32.8 (as explained above), DAGs 27.3 (as explained above)
     
  • Organic olive oil (Scottsdale), sensory defects 3.5 (fusty/muddy sediment, rancid), classification: lampante
     
  • Coratina olive oil (Scottsdale), sensory defects 2.0 (fusty, rancid), classification: virgin.  Also, PPP 26.7 (as explained above), DAGs 29.9 (as explained above)
     
  • House Blend olive oil (Scottsdale), sensory defects 2.0 (rancid), classification: virgin.  Also, PPP 34.5 (as explained above), DAGs 29.7 (as explained above)

 

Comments

Very impressive research and

Very impressive research and testing. This new info helps me build my case here; and continuing teachers our customers what real )fresh) olive oil is all about.

Excellent analysis, Tom.

Excellent analysis, Tom. Thanks for your hard work. Always an interesting read and a step in the right direction.

Recently tasted a few oils at a Michigan chain's store; the oils I tasted had a couple very distinct flaws that I would characterize as musty or just plain old, though I'm relatively knew to identifying oil quality.

Thank you for the detailed

Thank you for the detailed article and research. Someone from Arizona recently mentioned being a little suspicious of another olive oil company in Arizona. Have you heard anything about Queen Creek Olive Mill?

I frequently travel to Sedona

I frequently travel to Sedona, AZ and Carlsbad, CA, where there are these Olive Oil Boutiques. In Sedona there is a store that claims to be Arizona Olive Oils, and yet every oil in the store is from California, nothing from the Queen Creek Olive Mill at all, which is about three hours from Sedona.
Queen Creek Olive Mill has their own grove (as well as contract growers) and their own Italian Olive Press. They actually make their own oils, they don't import them like 'Papa Patel'. I have always found their oils to be of very high quality, and they have several unique flavored varietals (Chocolate infused especially, used in their chocolate olive oil cake recipe).
I would be very interested in seeing a review of Queen Creek's oils in the future.

Tom, it is always a pleasure

Tom, it is always a pleasure to read and review the results of your untiring work to expose those who would prefer to profit from misleading health conscious consumers of premium EVO brands and producers. Team Gustare continues to educate our guests with the help of your TiOO movement. We have heard negative customer feedback from guests who have tasted and purchased from the AZ locations.

I'll be driving to Florida

I'll be driving to Florida soon, from upstate NY, I think I will research the locations of stores supplied by Tubac Olive Oil Co and give each one a visit(if it's not too far off my path. If I can make it happen, I'll taste every oil they have and report back.
This is an outrage and a call to arms(figuratively), may the best oils(and producers) win.
Any tips on finding stores supplied by this outfit?
Thanks for your vigilance!
Andy

THANK YOU for what you do Tom

THANK YOU for what you do Tom! I am in my third month of operating an oil & vinegar store, supplied by Veronica Foods. It is both exciting and a bit scary to be in the early stages of the REAL oil revolution but I am greatly encouraged by your continued commitment to the TRUTH! I am 75% through your book and love every page. If you ever are in NW Montana you have a place to stay, ski, and eat.

Your enthusiasm is

Your enthusiasm is encouraging. Reading about all the incidences makes my blood boil. There is still so much work to do. No 1 priority EDUCATION... "you must understand what you need to look for after you know what it is!" This is also the reason why I've started The Olive Planet at www.theoliveplanet.com so consumers in Australia can also buy with confidence. Still have a long road ahead my friend. Keep up the excellent work Tom!

Dear Tom,

Dear Tom,

a good and thorough investigation on olive oils through literature and scientific analyses. I guess it points out again that:
a) evoo is only evoo if it passes the chemical AND organoleptical analyses
b) sales people with all their knowledge and sometimes really professional attitude and eager to learn, don't always know what olive oil is about.
c) don't trust the labels on the olive oil bottles in small shops and large supermarkets. there are a lot of rules, but not always met. for instance: i am looking into an issue here in Holland where it says on the label: refinded "smooth" organic olive oil.. It's not according to EU regulations.

To the consumer: obviously you cannot analyse the chemical values yourself, but you CAN taste and smell the olive oil you buy. if it tastes and smells ok to you..use it. if you are not sure, go back to the shop.

Example: last weekend i was having diner in Milan in a prestigious restaurant. Their olive oil was...rancid. i asked for the bottle. it was rancid to. we confronted the waiter. he immediately returned with another bottle, another oil brand. This one was ok. Too bad he didnt check all the other tables. Even in Italy it can go wrong.

again, Tom, great research.

regards,

Gregor Christiaans

While I applaud your search

While I applaud your search for the best oils, I am concerned that you continue to be so pro-Veronica Foods. Their tactics with the small business owner is getting them sued. I must wonder, since they fund your film project, if you might be going after her nemesis, the one she told, "I have every intent of putting you out of business." Sunil used to work for her before going into business for himself. Are you trying to help her with this?

Dear Ms. Lisa Monroe, it is

Dear Ms. Lisa Monroe, it is obvious that you are missing the point here. Regardless of anything you think are facts, they have been caught, so unfortunately you need to face it. You seem to have a lot of quotes and "facts" for just a concerned citizen. Are you on The Olive & the Grape payroll and worried about your next paycheck, or are you selling their oils from your own “so-called” olive oil store? I think I would be less worried about VF (or “her” / “she” as you say) and more worried about the oils you are consuming from The Olive & the Grape.

"J", aren't you just shooting

"J", aren't you just shooting the messenger here ? Lisa has a very valid point, if Veronica Foods is funding a film project for Tom, then there is a clear conflict of interest and he should never have posted this article, correct or not. It doesn't really matter if Lisa is just a concerned citizen or something else, the conflict of interest question is still valid. Out of interest, who provided the funding to send the 13 samples to Australia for extensive testing ?

Tom,

Tom,

Could you tell us who paid over $5000 to have these tested? Was this out of your pocket? Were you given a volume testing discount? According to Modern Olive each oil would cost $352 to test. Why were they sent to Australia when there are several testing facilities in the States? Does Veronica Foods test with Modern Olives?

How did you go about specifically choosing to do such a detailed analysis of this particular company?

Do you also randomly analyze off the shelf oils at Wm & Sonoma, Sur la Table and other stores you mention in buying guide like you have in grocery stores?

No matter what, this company was violating what we on the front lines are fighting against, you have potentially devastated this company and I think it is very important that you make a full disclosure.

I hope you meant to say IF

I hope you meant to say IF this company was violating what we on the front lines.... Tom is one source, and I believe, a tainted/biased one. We must question the motives of this article just as we must question quality products. I too looked up how much it cost to do these tests, just curious. How can a freelance journalist afford something like this? Why would you put this much money into a blog post? I have a feeling we have not heard the end of this, I hope this company stands up and fights back. Bet you won't see the proof of quality here though...just sayin'.

No, I believe you are missing

No, I believe you are missing the point. This report was bought by Veronica Foods. I do not trust this test process at all. Do you not analyze what you read??? The oils were collected by VF, tested by VF and paid for by VF. Tom has lost all credibility with me. He is a kept man!

(Hey, Tom: the third link in

(Hey, Tom: the third link in your reply to Lisa is broken. It looks like you wanted to link one of the two pages you'd linked earlier in the reply).

Fantastic. Well done, and

Fantastic. Well done, and well said!

The core fraud you see here is one I call “lick and stick.” The company actually makes nothing but a label and a story, and when the “IT “ hits the fan, they can say they were misled by others and that they are shocked, shocked, shocked! And yet, they themselves actually ship bottles unlabeled! Nice. Sure they have no idea what is going on. They are shocked, shocked, shocked!

"Lick and stick" fraud is common in the the health care arena where the same drugs made in the same factory may be relabeled with a fraudulent NDC code to increase price, and it's very common in foods as well, especially in the health food arena, where most of what people are buying is nothing more than packaging and a fanciful story. Foods labeled as "local" may come from a thousand miles away, the "organic" is not, and the "holistic," the "homeopathic," is clear bunk. My favotite arena for "lick and stick" is dog food, where all of the "special" boutique dog foods are made by big factories in another time zone, there is no control on source feeds stocks, and it's all a "whoops!, we too were deceived" when the dogs die from poison food imported from wherever. And yet "special" people demand "special" foods, don't they. When you go into a boutique olive oil story, is it olive oil that you seek, or a feeling of specialness?

I am laughing my butt off at

I am laughing my butt off at the folks who claim: "SURE it's TOTAL fraud on the consumer and a TOTAL scam, but there must be a CONSPIRACY that Tom discovered the fraud. PERFECT! Oh yes, NO ONE has $5000 to test anything. Isn't that what fraudsters depend on? Damn folks, $5000 is what it costs for a four day vacation to Italy. Never been? Ha! Still laughing. And you know of no lab that would run a test for free? Really? I know a few!

As for the folks that want Tom to test their oil, send him a check and tell him your company that you stand so PROUDLY behind, and I am SURE he will only be too happy to have a mystery shopper gather a few samples at a location and date to be determined lated. Ha ha! Step right up! This way to the magnificent Egress!

What a shame that this type

What a shame that this type of propaganda was exploited to the masses. It never ceases to amaze me at how much bad information is allowed to circulate on the biased opinion of one individual. It would be interesting to see the actual results that were produced from your findings. Would you be willing to do that? At this time I am only able to read what you have transcribed. If not, how unfortunate that this company will have to defend itself from unnecessary commentary that in my opinion has a weak basis for support. Also, it appears that although you ran approximately 14 different tests, they are inclusive of only three products. Why not summarize the results collectively under one product each? Also, I agree with the other bloggers. How is a free lance writer able to afford over $4,000 in lab tests and ship the product to Australia? I recognize your passion for extra virgin olive oil and for that I commend you, however you should not be slanderous towards other companies when you have alledgedly been accused of being on Veronica Foods payroll, just as Sunil from Tubac was at one point. Coincidence that this is the company earmarked for public display? And let's mention Veronica Foods for a moment. There is speculation that Veronica Foods has approached certain distributors and has offered to purchase crops that are two years old. There is speculation that Veronica Foods waters down her vinegars. Just because I said it on this blog does that make it true? The point is, your findings would be much more credible if you would post the actual data, not your translation, including who ordered and paid for the tests. Until then, hang in there Tubac....I have tasted your products and they are not only true extra virgin olive oils (as the owners of stores have shared their certificates of authenticity)....but they are fabulous!!

Ha, ha , ha! "What a shame

Ha, ha , ha! "What a shame that this type of propaganda was exploited to the masses."

How long did it take to come up with that bloviated sentence?

Oh, NOOOOOOO.There might be FRAUD in the olive oil bidness. Not that anyone can walk down a grocery store aisle without seeingit. Not that it's been documented in million pages and a hundred international reports, not to mention a few conferences. Oh. My. God. Someone is testing and naming names. Which means all engaged in fraud for profit are well and truly ... well starts with F. I'll let you guess.

One of the great things about writing is that truth is a perfect defense to slander. Tom is not offering OPINION. He has laboratory testing. Ooops! Not much rope there for the fraudsters to play with. The best they can claim is "they had **noooo* idea," which is the gambit played. So no intentional fraud. Just unintentional fraud as a result of incompetence in their core business, failure to test, and willful disregard for obvious and forseeable chicanery in a well known market boiled in fraud. Right. Got it. Wink, wink.

So who is going to pay for Tom to test when he wants, where he wants??? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller??

In everyone saying

In everyone saying "conspiracy", "conflict" etc. I'm glad someone is testing something.. because with out this type of exposure ... nothing will ever change. You cannot abrogate that FRAUD intentionally or "unintentionally" is ok!

I cannot believe this is even a topic of discussion!

How can you NOT believe this

How can you NOT believe this is going to be a topic of discussion. Fraud, conspiracy, deception, etc, etc, etc... this is the basis of TIOO.

But, if Tom is going to call out a company for fraudulent practice he must back it up. Right now, based on information Tom has provided and blog comments there is a level of "agenda". Is there an agenda behind his decision to aggressively research this company and how was it financed?

Since Tom has such unwavering faith in Veronica Foods, I think he should disclose test results of their olive oil inventory.

Hi Jane,

Hi Jane,

My point about this being a point of discussion is that some are questioning Tom and his results. Yes, wiping out Fraud is a priority. However, I believe if Tom has got lab results he would publish his findings based on fact. Someone has to stand up to the faceless people behind these Corporations.

If stores are selling a product then they must have to educate themselves on what they are buying. I don't see how they can have Fresh EVOO and then say that some of these other oils ... er are meant to be EVOO... but they then don't know what they are buying?????

Not an excuse it is their store and their responsibility to ensure that what they are selling and educating the public is correct. Otherwise why are they even in business...

Kind of like a butcher saying... er .. I didn't know my meat was off or I didn't store it properly. It is only because consumers know what off meat is they would instantly reject it.

Agreed folks. Simply show

Agreed folks. Simply show the actual results. Original test results, where they were performed and who paid for them. In other words, full disclosure.

Tom states in his Buyer's

Tom states in his Buyer's Guide to Olive Oil in North America that "Unlike many wines, which improve with age, extra virgin olive oil is perishable: like all natural fruit juices, its flavor and aroma begin to deteriorate within a few months of milling, a decline that accelerate when the oil is bottled, and really speeds up when the bottle is opened."

Is it possible that some of the olive oils had been in open containers long enough to deteriorate to such a point that they had turned rancid?

I think that if Tom is going to get samples from stores, he needs to get them from all stores. Just because a store is supplied by Veronica Foods Company doesn't mean the olive oils sold in each store are necessarily still good. I see Tom gives every VF store 5 stars. Hard to believe he has been in all of them and tested some of their olive oils. I can guarantee not every olive oil in a VF supplied store is at its absolute peak of flavor and freshness. I'd spot check a few and see what they taste like.

If Tom is going just get samples from Veronica Foods Headquarters and not from the stores, then he needs to the same with the Olive and Grape.

There seems to be some presumption of dishonesty going on with the Olive and Grape (and their customers) by Tom. That could get Tom in trouble.

Shouldn't the olive oil suppliers to the Olive and the Grape be investigated? I have to believe that if they are selling inferior product to the Olive and Grape, they are probably doing it to all of their customers. As Tom points out, that could ruin a good thing for all of us.

The one nice thing is that the vast majority of "boutique" olive oil stores allow tasting of their olive oils before they are purchased. Rancid and off flavored olive oils won't sell and by default they will fall by the wayside.

Now if Tom is saying that the average American can't tell a bad tasting olive oil from a good one and that he needs to be the one to tell the average American which olive oils taste good and which don't, then we are all in a world of hurt.

I'd encourage Tom to keep working to expose fraud in the olive oil industry but to do it at the processing level where it really can do the most damage.

It is also important that Tom remains completely impartial in judging the olive oil industry. He really can't be aligned with a supplier or he risks losing his credibility and the impact he can have on the olive oil industry.

Ian, if you had taken the

Ian, if you had taken the time to actually look at the Great Olive Oils of the World listing, you would see Tom has NOT given ANY stores a star rating (fyi, they look white on your screen). Each store has a row of five, empty (white) stars. As people judge their experience, they have the opportunity to rate the store, and the appropriate number of stars is then filled in with yellow.

Ian, you wrote:

Ian, you wrote:
"The one nice thing is that the vast majority of "boutique" olive oil stores allow tasting of their olive oils before they are purchased. Rancid and off flavored olive oils won't sell and by default they will fall by the wayside.
Now if Tom is saying that the average American can't tell a bad tasting olive oil from a good one and that he needs to be the one to tell the average American which olive oils taste good and which don't, then we are all in a world of hurt."

I am afraid we are in a world of hurt ;) . Not only is "the average American" not able to tell which olive oils taste good and which don't, average Californians who REGULARLY USE OLIVE OIL can't! See for instance this summary of a recent scientific study:
http://www.olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/consumer%20liking%20brief%20020711.pdf

Americans are so used to old, slightly rancid, slightly fusty (damaged by fermentation by microorganisms on the fruit) olive oil that they think olive oil is SUPPOSED to taste that way. And tasting such crummy oils in the ambiance of an olive oil bar is all the more likely to cast the illusion that a person is tasting premium oil, if one doesn't know any better -- see, for instance, this recent wine study, showing that consumers will prefer the taste of the same wine put in a more fancy bottle with a more expensive price tag to the same wine with more generic packaging and pricing:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1073%2Fpnas.0706929105

Until Americans get used to authentic, high-quality olive oil, shoddy product is going to continue to pass, consumers are going to continue paying premium prices for low-grade grease, and honest farmers, millers, and retailers are going to continue to struggle to make a go of their ventures.

Ian, you wrote: "Is it

Ian, you wrote: "Is it possible that some of the olive oils had been in open containers long enough to deteriorate to such a point that they had turned rancid? "

Yes -- but it's not possible that they would transmogrify into canola oil ;) . And if the oils were so old or so mishandled that they had gone rancid, the management should have stopped selling them, on grounds of dating and/or taste.

Stanley Crouch (look him up)

Stanley Crouch (look him up) used to suggest doing a "flip test," which is to say simply replace the word.

Let's do that and make this a review of hamburgers instead of olive oil:

"Is it possible that some of the MEAT has been in open containers long enough to deteriorate to such a point that IT turned rancid? I think that if Tom is going to REVIEW A HAMBRDGER from MCDONALD'S, he needs to BUY THEM FROM all stores. Just because ONE MCDONALD'S IS SELLING KANGAROO MEAT AS BEEF, AND RANCID BEEF AS FRESH, doesn't mean THAT THEY ALL ARE... I see Tom gives every FIVE GUYS 5 stars. Hard to believe he has been in all of them and THAT THEY DO NOT SERVE KANGAROO AND ROTTEN MEAT LIKE MCDONALD'S DOES."

Anyone find this line of thought as hysterical as I do??

I'd say it is more like going

I'd say it is more like going to a couple of McDonald's near their headquarters, finding rancid meat and then suggesting that McDonalds is purposely buying rancid meat and concluding that all McDonalds are serving rancid meat. Yep that pretty much sums it up.

In the meantime, I'll await Tom's reviews of other olive oil suppliers in the US.

I think your analogy captures

I think your analogy captures some elements of the situation, but misses others. For one thing, as Tom says, " the packaging and bottling of olive oil for all stores is done in Tubac; and that they sell oil both already bottled, and in 10-liter bulk containers." In some ways this is similar the McD's situation, since all the meat in a Mickey Dee's is supplied to franchisees by the parent company, but you seem to imply that there is some reason to suggest that the parent company is not at fault. In fact, while the meat is supplied by the parent company to franchisees in McD's, in that case the franchisees are just that: *franchisees* with independent ownership and management. In this case, the stores in question are OWNED by Tubac Olive Oil. So the parent company is clearly responsible for the product in its stores.

Also, if you find rotten meat in two local McD's, it's at least possible that the problem occurred independently in each store by mishandling. But in this case, the oils had the same chemical and/or sensory defects (or were adulterated in the same way) at each location. It's extremely unlikely that the former would happen independently through mishandling at two locations, and nearly impossible (granted the vertically-integrated supply chain) that the latter would.

Another feature your analogy doesn't capture, on the intentionality question, is that from the conversations Tom reports as having occurred after he informed them of the results of the lab tests he had arranged, the only lab tests they had in rejoinder were (quoting Tom) "free fatty acidity (FFA) and peroxide value. Unfortunately, these 2 tests are only a small part of what is needed to determine whether an olive oil is 1) of extra virgin grade and/or 2) entirely made from olives (ie not adulterated with other vegetable oils)." So the parent company is, at minimum, failing due dilligence to ensure that the oil they are selling is authentic EVOO, and even olive oil at all. And the manager "was also under the impression that sensory testing for olive oil is not an official part of the olive oil grading system, but sensory testing is in fact an integral part of the standard".

So it certainly seems as if there are only two possibilities. If the Tubac ownership and/or management knew they were selling oil that was something other than authentic EVOO, they are engaged in fraud. If they did not know, they were (criminally?) negligent.

Hats off to Mr. Mueller for taking the quest for Truth In Olive Oil into the lion's den -- and out to the laboratory.

After reading all the

After reading all the comments carefully, there appears to be excessive vehemence directed at a company not implicated in Tom's investigation, and little condemnation for the verified horse trader. This all too transparent lack of altruism thinly veils the ax you’re dying to grind. Such deflection of blame also makes it apparent that you currently sit astride a horse from this trader. Only those who have just recently started paying attention or stand to be tarnished would argue the findings of the most sophisticated, independent olive oil testing lab in the world.
There were similar howls of outrage when the UC Davis Olive Center released its findings of the plethora of mis-branded and adulterated “extra virgin olive oils” on the supermarket shelf. I would suggest that if “YOU” as a company feel taken advantage of, and truly want to be associated with the real McCoy, there's a more proactive way to address your grievances. Use your righteous indignation as motivation to seek out an ethical supplier who has conducted proper due diligence. For those of you who just started paying attention in the last three days, rampant fraud masquerading as blithe ignorance is perpetrated throughout this industry. And those who profit from this paradigm are in no hurry to become enlightened.

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