26 Nov, 2010 @ 10:59
1 min read

Oily business

PRICE wars are pushing Andalucian olive oil sellers to resort to fraud, a new investigation reveals.

The Junta’s health department took samples of 25 of ‘extra virgin’ oil bottles on sale in the main olive producing region of Jaen and found 14 of them to be of inferior quality.

Some of the oil turned out to be the lower quality ‘virgin’ blend; other products were of even lower grade.

The health department is blaming cut-throat price competition among retailers for diluting the olive oil quality.

Ongoing weakness of Spanish consumer demand is making competition pressures even more acute.

“There are firms that market ‘extra virgin oil’ for a price that just can’t be competitive, as the cost of producing such a product would be above the final price tag,” said the Junta’s health secretary Maria Jesus Montero.

She has not named the shops under suspicion.

In February, supermarket giant Alcampo was denounced by the national authorities for labeling its Auchan oil olive brand as extra virgin when it fact it was a refined mixture of oils.

Andalucian agricultural authorities, however, has rejected the latest investigation by the health department.

“The 25 samples are not verified or recognized by anyone,” said the Junta’s agricultural secretary Clara Aguilera. “This is a false alarm that doesn’t in any way correspond to the reality of the Andalucian [olive] sector.”

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

Do you have a story? Contact newsdesk@theolivepress.es


  1. What does “the 25 samples are not verified or recognized by anyone” mean? These oils were on shop shelves and were available for sale. Surely this is all the “recognition” that is needed. It is about time that EU authorities acknowledged that there is a big problem with the quality of EU oils sold in supermarkets throughout the world. A high proportion of commercial samples of so called EVOO taken off Australian, American, Italian and now Spanish shelves continue to fail the most rudimentary tests for EVOO status. Constant suggestions that the sampling wasn’t done right, or that it’s all a conspiracy to gain competitive advantage and the like do nothing to address the situation. And if it isn’t addressed olive oil will continue to suffer declines in market share.

  2. I can see how this could happen. Acidity in OO goes up as the oil oxidises. An oil might leave the production plant as EVOO, but only just and by the time it hits the shelves the acidity level might have risen above the required minimum and certainly if the oil hangs around in storage or on the shelves.

  3. Would they be that blatant Fred?

    I think it’s more a case of offloading *only just* EVOO at EVOO prices and hoping for the best. That way the whole batch is more “profitable”, not just the bit to make it up…

  4. Yes, because this is what one farmer told me just recently. It has always gone on.

    Another scam people should watch out for is gas and oil supplies. The gas people often underfill bottles at the time of delivery. I caught them out red-handed when I produced my own measuring gauge – some bottles were only 80% full. They make a nice extra profit out of people doing that. Dispicable the number of scams going on in Spain, no area is unaffected.

  5. Guirizano – Actually acidity doesn’t change much at all once the oil is bottled – a tenth of a percent here or there. You are also assuming that they oils failed on FFA. A lot of fraudulent oils have low FFA’s as the refined oils that are blended into them have acidities close to zero, or they have their acidity removed by column deodorisation. It’s a shame that no seems to have published why the oils failed EVOO status. In the long run being open about these things is to the betterment of everyone – particularly consumers.

  6. Even just a tenth of a percent, when right at the margin of the EVOO limit would be enough to push it into Virgin territory, no? Legally an EVOO cannot include refined oils. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, it obviously does, but it’s also possible that the lowest quality EVOOs can nudged across the bar by way of a bit of oxidation – and depending on format and storage conditions I would have thought a move of more than a tenth of a percent would be entirely possible.

  7. Yes, theoretically a 0.7% acidity oil could be nudged over into virgin territory with age, but a more typical oil (0.2-0.5%) won’t increase enough to reach 0.8%. The reason? Acidity increases when lipase enzymes act on the intact oil, breaking it up. Once an oil is in a bottle these enzymes can’t act as they went out with the waste water. However an old oil could fail EVOO status as their UV232 value increases with age, and therefore it could exceed the the IOC limit for this parameter. But even then, a new season oil shouldn’t get above the IOC limit for this parameter within the 1-2 year shelf life that is typically stated for EVOO. But this is all hypothetical. The oils in question could have failed for a large number of reasons. I wonder if we’ll ever find out why?

  8. Remember a few years ago Harrods got caught out selling olive oil that was put together from inferior olive oils from more than one country.

    I find it all a bit sad. I love cooking with olive oil and would’nt use anything else. Spainsh olive oil is my favourite, followed by Greek and Italian I don’t like.

    Here in France extra virgin is very expensive and there is no gaurantee that it is extra virgen. I need to organize a group trip to Spain to buy – olive oil and the hugely underrated Spanish sheep and goat cheeses amongst other things.

    Anyone who has’nt tried the hard cured Spanish sheep cheeses with bread soaked in good Spanish olive oil, washed down by a good Penedes or Valdepenos red wine does’nt know what they are missing.

  9. So far I was lead to believe that inferior European EVOO was only shipped to the United States (see UC Davis report on olive oil, July 2010)

    It now appears that poor quality products are may also be offered to the European consumer. This is quite shocking.

    The EU keeps its market firmly closed with an import levy of EUR 124,50/kg which makes it impossible for good quality oils on non-European countries to compete with EVOO that may be of fraudulent quality.

    Time for a thorough investigation of an independent institute I would suggest.

  10. Here in Australia, container ships come and pick up Australian EVOO in bulk destined for Italy, while dropping off large amounts of bottles of “Italian” oil that smells and tastes exactly like Spanish Picual. No guesses as to the fate of the Australian oil. And everyone seems to sit back and allow this dubious practice to flourish. Wasn’t the new EU labelling laws supposed to clean this up? But despite it coming into place 18 months ago, “Italian” oil in Australian supermarkets still tastes like Picual. For me, honesty about where an oil is from is almost as important as other aspects of its authenticity.

  11. Considering 60% of the EU’s olive oil is produced by Spain and you hardly ever see a Spanish brand anywhere but Spain, the shelves everywhere else all groaning with “Italian” brands I think the answer is obvious…

  12. Spanish container truck collects fresh pressed oil from our local cooperative in Santa Caterina, Algarve, which last year sold for 20 euros for 5liters, filled and collected from the pressing process, in plastic containers.The oil is sold by percentage of acidity, and the word virgin is not discussed, as acidity is the controlling factor. 99% of Algarve olive oil is pressed from hand collected olives in the traditional manner. Difficult to beat the lovely stuff.
    Just to compare with some Italian oil….Carapelli, I paid 10euros for extra virgin……which nearly caused a tonsilectomy…..awefull, burning taste. Never again!

  13. Periana extra virgin olive oil is the best. If you are in any doubt whatsover try a sample from the press. Delicious the only problem is there isn’t enough of it. But buy it in season from the press.

  14. Stuart you are so right, some of the joys of living in rural Andlucia, olive growing epicentre of Martos is my nearest town.

    My neighbour makes the best sheep cheese I’ve tasted and wine – there are so many to sample.

    Buying trip? Good idea, we’ve often tossed around a selling trip idea.

  15. Rachel,
    excellant idea.I asked an old neighbour of mine in Guadix to find out the name of the hard cured cheese we used to buy from a charcutiery van at the Guadix Saturday market.

    It’s called Ocana but it’s a Manchego, the ordinary Manchego is tasteless.

    There is a goat’s cheese producer somewhere between Jaen and Granada, sadly he typifies the Spanish mentality.

    There was a food fair held in Guadix park and by the river (what river) was a specialist set of stalls that all made cheese fom the Murciana/Granada goat. All were tasteless except one – it was a father and son operation. There hard cures goats cheese was simply outstanding and they did a creme frais that was historic, the French who are fanatics for this would have killed to get some – it was made with parsley and garlic.

    He sold out in one morning – you could smell the jealousy from the other exhibitors.

    So you have two outstanding products – what do you NOT do the next year – change everything, produce really vile alternatives. We were away in France looking to rent somewhere (and with success) so a good friend of ours, Paco bought on our behalf 3 whole supposedly hard cured cheeses. They were crap and soon were crawling with weevils.

    You simply could’nt make it up. The first’s years hard goats cheese was so wonderful for making sauces and the creme frais.

    Rachel, if you can source really good strong flavoured sheeps cheeses, then follow through with your idea. If I could find the name of the idiot who changed two winners into losers I would supply it on this forum, maybe he has realised what a fool, he was.

    Why don’t the Spanish realise they produce world class cheeses that wil easily sell abroad. The Ocana stamps all over Parmesan.

    As to olive oil – we bought lots of 5L bottles with us when we moved to France and we only paid €12-14 per 5L.

    I really miss what no one has mentioned on this thread – the new years olives. The very best olives I have ever tasted were freebie tapas in a bar in Ujicar, in the Alpujarras. Impossible to describe how wonderful they were. They were all colours and not at all salty, so you really tasted the olives. Hwere in France they are an outrageous price.

    One of my favourite Arab recipes (all Spain’s best recipes are Arab or Jewish Semite ones) Pollo a la Granadina – I can’t make it because I can’t buy the picante(spicy) olives that are so essential to create the taste.

    Jamon del horno – ever tasted that, try it.

    So many things the Spanish could export but they hav’nt got a clue.

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