For an oil that has the words “extra virgin” in its name, the process of producing so-called Italian olive oil sounds like a pretty dirty business. But despite shenanigans like cutting olive oil with other cheaper oils and using olives that don’t come from Italy, corrupt producers of the stuff actually end up on the losing end of the equation.
The New York Times‘ “Extra Virgin Suicide: The Adulteration of Italian Olive Oil” interactive graphic is super neat and manages to effectively tell the twisted story from a picked olive to the finished product. If you like clicking through simply communicated ideas and learning a little more about what you’re eating by the end, you should check it out.
The first big shocker? That a lot of Italian olive oil doesn’t even use olives from Italy. And when those olives get picked in Spain, Morocco and Tunisia they’re cleaned, crushed and processed before getting shipped to Italian refineries.
But the non-Italyness doesn’t stop there: At the same port where the olives are shipped to, other shipments of soybean oil and various cheaper oils are smuggled in.
Those oils are then cut into the more expensive olive oil at the refinery, along with ingredients to make it look and taste like real olive oil.
The bottles get the “extra-virgin” stamp along with “Made In Italy” — which is legal even if the oil isn’t Italian. Somehow.
From there it arrives in places like the U.S., where the NYT says about 69% of the olive oil for sale is doctored. Despite a special branch of the Italian Carabinieri dedicated to sniffing out adulterated oil, producers are rarely prosecuted.
But karma is a bit of a you-know-what, as we all know: All that deception and fraud just leads to a flood of Italian olive oil products on the market, driving down the price of olive oil and undermining the efforts of those corrupt producers. Hurts when you shoot yourself in the foot, don’t it?
Extra Virgin Suicide: The Adulteration of Italian Olive Oil [New York Times]