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How we’ve been duped by olive oil (and a real EVOO giveaway)

June 5, 2013
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How we've been duped by olive oilIf there is one food everyone can agree on, it’s gotta be olive oil. I’ve studied just about every dietary theory out there and they all recommend it. Even the medical community swears by it. It’s heart healthy! It’s full of vitamins and minerals!

I grew up in an Italian family. My grandmother was in awe of my many hair serums – she said that during the Depression they used olive oil to keep frizzy hair under control. And when I worried about acne as a teenager, my mother assured me that it would subside and the olive oil in my blood would keep my skin soft and smooth the rest of my life.

It’s true – eating good quality fats is essential for beautiful, glowing skin. As an adult, when I stopped being afraid to eat fat, small lines in my face disappeared. (Ok, that was a few years ago. If you see me now, you’ll see some lines eventually found their way through – but it’s much less than it could be.) Oils like olive oil and coconut oil can even be used directly on the skin as a moisturizer. Natural? Oh yes. Except…

The thing is this. There’s a bit of a scandal going on when it comes to good ol’ EVOO.

Don’t worry. I’m going to tell you what you need to know about it – plus, how to shop for quality oil. Then you’ll get a chance to win some real, pure EVOO of your own!


Let’s back up for a sec.

If EVERYONE and their mother is buying something, and willing to spend top dollar…it’s really no surprise that someone else is out there is trying to make an enormous profit. Business is business.

A couple of years ago, I started to read about the fraud that runs rampant in the olive oil industry…but I just wasn’t ready to hear it. I’m Italian! I grew up on olive oil. It runs in my blood! I didn’t want to believe that what was REALLY running through my blood was soybean oil.

Soybean oil? Like, the highly processed, GMO kind? Oh yeah. The food industry never fails to deliver disappointing, unethical practices.

This is one way that some businesses are making money. They cut olive oil with something cheap like soybean or canola oil. And there is no regulation. Hear that? There is NO regulation we can trust. By the time an oil goes through the whole distribution chain, the seller doesn’t even know what they are selling. So you could very well have a bottle of “Italian EVOO” that really isn’t Italian, and really isn’t olive oil. Or a bottle of olive oil that is so old, it’s rancid. Better to sell old oil and make money than waste it – right?

One reason I resisted this information is because it felt so bleak. Tom Mueller’s book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, gave the history of the industry and left me feeling like punching someone in the face. A report from UC-Davis in 2010 claimed with sophisticated testing that nearly 70% of olive oil brands are fakes. But that study, funded by the California Olive Oil Council, is itself somewhat of a scam to sell more California olive oil.

Is this whole industry just bonkers or what?

Have we really been spending our hard earned money on poor quality or even fake EVOO, and thinking we are making a healthy choice the whole time?!

My fangs comes out on topics like this.

If you want to learn more about the problem, I recommend reading Mueller’s book or at least the writeup on NPR.

Unfortunately there is no way of knowing the true quality of your olive oil unless you’re doing spectroscopic studies like UC-Davis (without the bias). No taste test, no foolproof litmus test you can do at home.

But I hate hearing problems without solutions. So here we go.


When selecting a quality olive oil, look for the following:

1. Oils from outside Italy, where industry fraud seems most concentrated. Oils from places like Greece or California are a better bet. And even better is if the estate name is on the label and you can do some research.

2. A tinted glass or tin container. Avoid clear glass and plastic, or anything that has been exposed to direct light.

3. Not only an expiration date but a specific harvest or press date.

4. Avoid bargain prices. Real EVOO is expensive to produce. Tony Kasandrinos, who we will talk about in a second, told me that one olive tree only produces about 3 liters per year. That’s crazy! Imagine the farmers trying to make a living off of real EVOO when they’re being undersold by fake stuff.

These tips are a good place to start. But as with so many aspects of eating real food, the trick is to know and buy from the source.


In my search for legit, pure EVOO, I found Kasandrinos.

Tony and Effi Kasandrinos’ family has enjoyed fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil for generations from their trees in Niata, Greece. But I found Tony on Instagram. Ha! In fact, we are texting back and forth right now. Here’s what Tony had to say about the olive oil industry:

“The problem is many times some of the larger olive oil companies buy olives and olive oils from all over the world and then blend them together. In some instances, companies will “water down” the olive oil with with other vegetable oils like soy or canola. That’s when fraud occurs and the entire industry gets a black eye because of the actions of a few. An easy way to know if your olive oil is real is to purchase from a reputable small company who takes pride in the quality of their product.”

When I got my hands on a bottle of Kasandrino’s oil, I thought – Hey, for all I know this is the first time I’m tasting real olive oil! Whoa! And it’s delicious. I actually held an informal tasting, comparing it to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods 365. I was curious if any of us would be able to tell the difference! My friends and I agreed Kasandrinos was the best, although Whole Foods was surprisingly close in taste. Another surprise – we had never realized olive oil had a spice to it! See for yourself. It starts fruity and then tastes a little peppery!

Then I went to my mom’s house and compared it to her bottle of Boticelli. That stuff is disgusting. Definitely not olive oil, by a long stretch. I told her to throw it out. (Mom, did you throw it out yet?)

You can get a bottle of Tony and Effi’s family’s oil at Use code balance to save 10% until June 30, 2013.

Or, enter to win! Tony has agreed to ship 1 lucky winner a bottle of his prized EVOO in addition to their new Kasandrinos Lemon Skin Balm. Told you this stuff is good for your skin!

kasandrinos giveaway

How To Enter To Win

1. Click here to read about Kasandrinos EVOO.

2. Click here to sign up for my newsletter. I often offer giveaways, but to be eligible to win you must be subscribed at the time the winner is drawn. You can unsubscribe at any time. Your email address will only be used for Find Your Balance email updates and will not be sold or shared with anyone.

3. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter the giveaway. Winner must provide a US shipping address.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Remember that now through June 30, 2013 you can save 10% at Use code balance to get your discount.

  • Liziheartvegetables

    That is SO not cool! I swear, the food industry is SO corrupt!!

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      Right?? You can’t make this stuff up.

    • Tony Kasandrinos

      unfortunately if it is sold, things like this happen. It happens with EVERYTHING so always know your source. This includes water, chickens, fish, beef the list goes on and on with anything you can purchase.

  • Lauren Brinkac

    I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for sharing one of the many food scam truths. I’ve tried Kasandrino’s olive oil and I am a huge supporter.

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      Oh you’ve had it! That’s cool! I love when small businesses are well known.

  • sue

    so thats where that twinge of doubt has been coming from each and every time i have reached for my economical but not organic motherload bottle of olive oil at trader joes for less than 6 bux. not to say TJS is guilty as charged but… but we all trust our twinges. thx for the reminder, michelle!! they tug for a reason. and i just gotta say, that face balm kicking itself off with grass fed beef tallow sounds INcredible…

  • sue

    and my 88 year old grandma grace embodies her name… and her skin is radiant. RA. DI. ANT, people. she had 14 kids and knew the stress of bankruptcy while trying to feed them all… and her secret to all of us women in her family re: her beautyFULL skin — olive oil. the kind, im sure, that wasn’t laced with crapola.

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      Eating it, or using it on her skin directly, or both? Do tell!

      • sue

        using on skin directly. she was more of a baked beans kinda woman. had to be. 14 kids. can you imagine being pregnant for 10 straight years? that said, olive oil on her pregnada pouch, too. its all i used… and not a stretchy in sight!

  • Heather Renee Barker

    Omg, I am so glad I am learning this now!

  • Lisa Miller

    Funny…I’ve been buying the Trader Joes EVOO, but stopped because it started smelling horrible about 1/4 of the way through the bottle. Then I switched over to Newman’s Own, which I’ve had success with. Excited to try Kasandrinos EVOO! And their Lemon Skin Balm looks AMAZING!!

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      That’s funny you noticed something with TJs. I never really noticed anything wrong with any olive oil until doing those actual taste tests.

  • Michele DeBlasio Thatsme

    I usually buy Bertoli I think. NOT ANYMORE!!

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      I think it’s safe to say that the “big guys” are using a blend of all different sources of oil. So it might be fine, or it might not, or it might be fine but just old by the time it gets to you. So yeah, I hope you try Kasandrinos or another small brand with mad enthusiasm for quality :)

  • Jennifer Blanchard

    THANK YOU for this post, Michelle! I was dying to know the truth after I first saw you talk about Tom’s book on Facebook. What makes me a little happy about this is that I know from what you’ve told us in this post that I have in the past bought real olive oil. In fact, one of the reasons I love olive oil is for the sweet and peppery taste!! So yay for that! But what’s in my pantry right now is definitely not olive oil–clear glass bottle, ugh! Anyhow, I’ve got the Kasandrinos website bookmarked for future use.

    The food industry is disgusting and this is yet another reason why we should always (or as much as possible) buy organic and local, and do research/ask questions.

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      Clear glass bottle alert! haha :)

  • Vee

    Trader Joe’s!

  • Aisazia

    I’m not sure but it’s the cheap convenient brand of EVOO.

  • Merry

    Thanks for the information!

  • Cynthia

    Cant believe this! Im checking my olive oil as I type!!!

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC


  • Liz

    But…kasandrino’s does not appear to be organic. Need we worry about chemical pesticides and fertilizers?

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      That’s a really good question. This is a case of organic certification being really difficult for a small business to achieve. It’s expensive and there’s red tape. I’ve heard Tony talk about it, I’ll see if I can get him to comment here. Thanks!

      • Tony Kasandrinos

        on a side note “organic” is not the gold standard by any means

        Organic Certification is controlled by the USDA (in America)……Tom Vilsack is in charge of the USDA….. guess who controls Tom Vilsack?

    • Tony Kasandrinos

      Hello Liz,

      The great thing about olive trees is that are not very “fussy” plants; they are capable of living for centuries on their own without any tending at all. We use our natural soil, the Greek sun and the Mediterranean breeze. Most of our trees are much older than anyone reading this, or our grand parents for that matter. They have thrived in this enviroment over the generations. We do not spray our olive trees or and only use organic farming methods when new trees are planted. But as for the organic label, we are a very small business and do not produce enough olive oil at this time to make it cost effective to buy the label and get certified. We leave that to the large corporations. The label is very expensive at the small volume we are doing, it essentially would increase our price to the consumer by over 30% and that is not doing anything different than we are doing now, but to have a sticker on our bottle. We also do not have a GMO free label, but GMO’s are against the law and have been in Greece for a long time.

      I won’t get on my thoughts about the Organic label and what it has become but I personally am 100% paleo, I am very conserned about sustainability and animals eating a proper diet, and I can assure you that there is not a chance in this world I would buy “organic” chicken, eggs, milk, beef or fish in a super market. But I do buy grassed meat, lamb eggs and a bunch of food from my local farmer who does not have an organic certification ;)

      • Liz

        Wow, thanks for the amazing and detailed reply, Tony. I will be definitely ordering a bottle (or 4!) —Liz

  • cmf221

    Olave or Trader Joe’s for regular use, and Laudemio for special occasions

    • Vania Galardi

      Laudemio EVOO is real Tuscan olive oil: I personally know one of the producer and I can assure you that there is no fraud or soybean oil!

  • Kristen

    I heard about this a little while ago and was so mad! This olive oil sounds lovely and I love putting tallow balm on my face :-)

  • Laurie

    This is great info. I’ve been hearing this for a while and was shocked to learn. Thanks for filling in the blanks for me!

  • Elena Vo

    That was one eye-opening article. Yet another disappointment to add to the list titled “Why the Food Industry is Evil”. SIgh. Currently I buy the Walmart Olive oil because I’m a college student. Another sigh.

  • Suzie Gibson

    I don’t usually buy olive oil anymore, because of the reasons you listed above. Don’t want to overpay for junk oil. I’ve been buying grapeseed oil or coconut oil.

    • Tony Kasandrinos

      eghhh :( unfortunately this touches EVERY food product, including coconut oil. Don’t even begin to think about chicken, fish, cows, fruits and veggies. All about knowing your sources :)

  • Michelle B

    I used to buy olive oil at the grocery store until I recently found out about all the scandal with it. I’ve heard of Kasadrinos and would love to try it!

  • Kim

    I either buy Kasandrinos, Whole Foods or a California oil.

  • Sarah R.

    I usually try to get organic if it’s affordable. Sometimes Trader Joe’s, sometimes a store brand.

  • june

    Thanks for sharing the scams the food industry gets up to make that all mighty dollar. I use Cobram Estate Extra virgin AUSTRALIAN . I wonder if it lives up to it’s name,

  • Maria Michalakopoulou

    Michelle, after a long time in NYC, I now live in Greece and am fortunate enough to enjoy my own family’s and my husband’s home-grown olives and olive oil. Infact, we tend to humorously argue about which olive oil is “better”, in terms of acidity levels and aftertaste. And yes, some oils are a bit peppery at the end. So proud that the Kasandrinos business is doing well even if it’s the first time I hear of them. It is extremely hard work harvesting olives and producing the oil. It’s also “historic” as Kasandrinos mentioned as infact thousands of trees are generations old.

    • Tony Kasandrinos

      Michelle, What part of Are you living in? EVERY Greek argues about who has the “best” oil……. in reality it is like fine wine, every region and season is a little different.

  • Guest


  • Meryl

    I use extra virgin olive oil – my favorite is Nunez de Prado from Spain.

  • Louis

    I buy Filippo Berio extra virgin olive oil for everyday use.

  • Melissa@IWasBornToCook

    I tend to switch it up.

  • Amy Ayers

    Finally made the switch over to Kasandrinos. LOVE it!! And using it for everything.

  • Kim Elliott

    I heard this story on NPR I Was Shocked……..

  • Erin

    I have a shipment coming from them RIGHT NOW and I’m super excited. I’d really like to get my hands on that balm!

    • Tony Kasandrinos

      the balm is amazing, I am not the owner but also a client :P It really does work wonders

  • Aimee

    I usually buy Whole Foods Olive Oil. And for more special EVOO, I was introduced to a local shop that has lots of different EVOO that they import.

  • Abby

    eww to think I’m dipping bread in cheap plain old oil, yuck! thanks for making it easy to understand.

  • Lisa

    I use Kasandrinos! and I love it!

  • laura

    Thanks for writing this excellent post and for the opportunity to win some awesome Kasandrino’s olive oil ~ love it!

  • Jenn

    Threw out my olive oil today! Fairway. I had a bad feeling when I bought it but did it anyway…should’ve followed my gut!

  • Remy

    I usually buy anything that’s COOC or IOOC certified, and that’s in a dark bottle and has a harvest date.

  • Mandie

    I used to buy whatever was middle of the road and organic – I never trust the cheapest brands! But some of the those were in clear glass or plastic. No now onto the search for other options. Haven’t ordered Kasandrinos yet – might have to take advantage of the discount. :)

  • Laura T.

    i’ve wanted to try this EVOO for the longest time! crossing my fingers ill win ;)

  • B

    I haven’t used olive oil in a few months. But need to put in my first Kasandrinos order!

  • Suzanne

    I used to buy my olive oil from Costco, thanks for the info!

  • Name

    definitely going to research EVOO! thank you!!

  • Stephanie

    I usually go with middle-of-the-road oil, price wise. Sadly not surprised that the food industry is scamming everyone…again. I also use EVOO(mixed with castor oil) as a face wash, which is amazing, i highly recommend it! Love the idea of mixing in lemon!

  • Debra E

    I usually but the more expensive brands at Wal-Mart thinking they were “better” but since recently learning the stuff you said here I haven’t used much so called olive oil.

  • Sara Holt

    waaahhhh. this hurts! thank goodness for you and the Kasandrinos! My mom has been hoarding Christmas Tree Shop bargain olive oil in bulk for years!! (I buy my own in the North End and would use it sparingly, but for big projects bust out the bulk. No!)

  • Karen D

    I usually buy Terra Medi

  • Sarah

    I cringe to think that I buy a big can of olive oil at the grocery store – At least it’s not the store brand, but I’m sure it’s cut with something. Thanks for sharing the information and keeping it real Michelle.

  • Deb

    This had been sitting in my inbox just waiting to be read. Shocking! My eyes have been open and thank you for passing this info along. I will be more careful of my EVOO purchases in the future!

  • Danielle

    Shut the front door on this olive oil scam! I love reading your blog Michelle because you find out some crazy stuff and this helps me be a better practitioner. Thank you! I’m going to order from Kasandrinos and hoping I can find a few more brands to support too.

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