What is fake olive oil

Fake food fraudAt all no olive in the olive oil

Fake olive oil was their business model. Now a larger gang of forgers has been exposed. The journalist Ernst-Ludwig von Aster explains why the trick works so well - and how.

Anyone who sells colored sunflower or soybean oil as olive oil can earn a lot of money: arrest warrants were issued against 24 men in Italy and Germany for food fraud - a total of around 150,000 liters of oil were confiscated. The public prosecutor accuses the men of forming a criminal organization, illegal trade and falsification of food. The investigators assume that they have earned eight million euros annually.

Ernst-Ludwig von Aster is a journalist and knows about food fraud. The big business in olive oil does not surprise him. He says that counterfeits are being discovered time and again in olive oil. Sometimes olive oil from the EU is blended with non-European oils, sometimes there is cheating in the pressing process. For Ernst-Ludwig von Aster, the current case is a particularly bold and very well-organized fraud because the oil did not contain any olive oil. After all, the counterfeit is probably not poisonous in this case.

Chlorophyll for the color, pepper for the taste

Ernst-Ludwig von Aster recalls how consumer advocates from the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety counterfeited olive oil in 2017. They used sunflower oil, colored it with chlorophyll from spinach, and flavored it with pepper and wasabi paste. The profit margin that scammers can make on fake olive oil is huge.

"It costs one euro to produce a liter of sunflowers, in stores it costs seven to eight euros. That is an amazing margin."
Ernst-Ludwig von Aster, journalist

Testers praised the pansch product at a blind tasting on the green week. It cost around one euro to manufacture. A realistic selling price as olive oil would have been around seven euros. The bureau predicted that the food herders would make profits as in the drug trade.

Lots of fakes, few controls

Actually, certain processes can easily be tracked down to the forgeries: With a genetic analysis, the variety and the species can be determined, with so-called isotope comparisons the origin. However, the control authorities are hopelessly understaffed, says Ernst-Ludwig von Aster. The comparison data are distributed among different state authorities, but work is being carried out on pooling the data.

"Once you start looking, you will find something again. At the beginning of June there will be new reports on new fake products."
Ernst-Ludwig von Aster, journalist

According to the EU Commission, olive oil is the undisputed number one among the counterfeit foods, followed by fish and organic foods - especially honey, coffee and tea.

Ernst-Ludwig von Aster is convinced that quality has its price. This applies to retail and restaurants. An example that scientists from the Max Rubner Institute have tested: If sole fillet is offered at a very low price in a fish restaurant, then in 50 percent of the cases you can assume that it is a cheap pangasius.