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Frauds and sophistications of olive oils, a road with plenty of obstacles. Never surrender

The road is bumpy, but the chemists who are active in the quality control have always done a great job. Many analytical methods are used in the whole world nowadays, and the whole industry benefits from that. More should be probably done. Professor Lanfranco Conte shares his views on the current state-of-the-art

As it often happens for everything of value, the extra virgin olive oil has been object of sophistication since its early days, because of its high quality which caused its listing among donations, subject to certain impositions.

Any type of fraud has always been contrasted by the official controllers and, more recently, the science of food chemistry was first developed under the need to control the purity of products which were subject to impositions, and subsequently dealt with the consumers’ health and the knowledge of the composition of foods.

At the beginning, different types of oils were mixed to simulate an extra virgin olive oil, and qualitative tests were carried out to find out their presence; later, with the advancements of the analytical chemistry, the single compounds were identified as markers of the presence of different oils. On the other hand more subtle frauds were attempted to avoid the ever stricter controls of the chemical analysis of foods.

The quality control chemists have developed a great number of analytical methods in the years, and many of these are official methods that are nowadays worldwide.

In the whole world, the extra virgin olive oil is controlled by a network of chemists who are part of a pyramid organization. At national level, two committees work at the development of methods of analysis, whose results are presented at European level and reported to a group of expert chemists from all the EU countries. At extra European level, the reports are presented to the International Olive Council, that includes representative from 80 member countries.

The methods of analysis are evaluated, experimentally tested and finally approved, after lengthy procedures, that are explained by the need for scientific validation on any method, which is supposed to guarantee the effectiveness of the method against frauds and also not to penalize genuine products.

Over the last few years, a large part of the existing methods were approved to find out deodorized oils or the presence of low quality oils in an extra virgin, and methods to evaluate the biophenols. The solution to the problem of oils from new areas of production, whose composition, albeit genuine, may not fully comply with international standards, is currently under development.

More might probably be done, as usual, and it will depend on the financial support to the research and on the human resources available, but for now the results have guaranteed the protection of the quality and genuineness, although neither the financial or human resources are abundant.

The next goals may consist in defining the “hedonistic” aspects of the quality of an extra virgin, such as the analytical certification of its origin, without diverting resources and energies from the fight against the frauds, which are ever tried. In other words: beware of looking for croissants if we have no bread!

by Lanfranco Conte
07 june 2010, Technical Area > Olive & Oil