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This website claims to reveal 6 lies that the food industry supposedly tells. The last one (after scrolling down to the bottom of the page) states

As crazy as it sounds, olive oil piracy is one of the Italian Mafia's most lucrative enterprises, to the extent that it appears that most olive oil on the market is either greatly diluted or completely forged by a massive shadow industry that involves major names such as Bertolli.

and

Today, the stuff that is pawned off to us as quality olive oil is often just a tiny amount of the real thing, mixed with up to 80 percent of ordinary, less than healthy, cheap as muck sunflower oil.

I have never heard of this and have a hard time believing that this is possible, given how widely used olive oil is. Since neither sunflower nor other oils are listed at least on the bottles that I looked at, this would probably violate European laws about labelling.

Is there any truth to the claim that what is sold as olive oil in the world is largely made up of other oils?

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The claim made by Cracked does have some truth to it, but it's referencing several different episodes, some of which involved passing off lesser olive oil as extra virgin.

Mafia involvement? Yes, but the oil was (lower quality) olive oil:

About $42.8 million in assets were seized and charges filed against the suspects including mafia association, attempted murder, drug trafficking, money laundering and fraud, the police told the Investigative Reporting Project of Italy.

The Calabrian mafia, also known as the Ndràngheta, is believed to be the wealthiest, most powerful criminal network in Italy, and the Piromalli are believed to be a leading clan within that organization. In addition to drug trafficking, authorities believe they’re major players in agromafia, including an elaborate olive oil scheme.

According to investigators, the Piromalli were importing olive pomace oil, a product that’s extracted from already-pressed fruit pulp using chemical solvents, then labeling the low-quality, adulterated oil products as extra virgin olive oil and exporting it to the U.S. Those products were sold through retail chains in New York, Boston and Chicago, the IRPI revealed.

Olive Oil Times

80% sunflower oil? I think this refers to:

Two Andalusian businessmen have been sentenced to two years in jail for their part in the distribution of hundreds of thousands of liters of fraudulent olive oil in Spain in 2005 and 2006.

Passed off as extra virgin olive oil, prosecutors say the oil was actually a mixture of 70-80 percent sunflower oil and just 20-30 percent olive oil. During a hearing in the Córdoba provincial court in September they sought nine years jail and fines of 8,760 euros ($11,560) for each of the accused.

Olive Oil Times

(You can read the original source in Spanish here.)

These are just two of many incidents where extra virgin olive oil turned out to be adulterated. Wikipedia lists more, one of which caused many deaths: "Almost 700 people died, it is believed, as a consequence of consuming rapeseed (canola) oil adulterated with aniline intended for use as an industrial lubricant, but sold in 1981 as olive oil in Spain".

As for "most of the market", I haven't been able to find any numbers.

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  • +1: I've updated my answer to defer to your findings. – Oddthinking Jun 18 '17 at 23:27
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No, it appears Cracked have got the real story confused.

There are two different issues:

  • the adulteration of expensive olive oil with cheaper sunflower oil.
  • the adulteration of expensive grades olive oils with cheaper grades of olive oil

@Laurel's answer gives a good description of individual instances of the first issue. That shows it is a real problem.

However, that's quite different to Cracked's claim that "Today, the stuff that is pawned off to us as quality olive oil is often just a tiny amount of the real thing [...]"

The UC Davis Olive Center does research (with industry links) into olives and olive oil. For many years, they have been testing olive oils being sold in California for years to determine if they meet various standards, and they are somewhat critical of the purity of Extra-Virgin Olive Oils.

Their 2011 report, Evaluation of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Sold in California said:

While there are many excellent imported and domestic extra virgin olive oils available in California, our findings indicate that the quality level of the largest imported brand names is inconsistent at best, and that most of the topselling olive oil brands we examined regularly failed to meet international standards for extra virgin olive oil. [...] Of the five top-selling imported “extra virgin” olive oil brands in the United States, 73 percent of the samples failed the IOC sensory standards for extra virgin olive oils analyzed by two IOC-accredited sensory panels.

But the reasons they gave for the failures did not include that it was adulterated with sunflower oil:

Our testing indicated that the samples failed extra virgin olive oil standards for reasons that include one or more of the following: (a) oxidation by exposure to elevated temperatures, light, and/or aging; (b) adulteration with cheaper refined olive oil; and (c) poor quality oil made from damaged and overripe olives, processing flaws, and/or improper oil storage.

Snopes draws a similar conclusion:

The tested samples did not always meet the stringent extra-virgin standards for taste, aroma, and color, and the flavor profiles of some olive oils were likely overstated, but the samples were not oils produced from another source masquerading as olive oil, nor did the study raise concerns about purity, adulteration, safety, or substitution of various brands of olive oils.)

Summary

Laurel's answer shows that there is indeed historical evidence of a problem with non-olive oils being mixed in with olive oils.

The UC Davis report shows that there is indeed a problem with cheaper grades of olive oils being mixed in with more expensive ones.

However, the UC Davis report also shows that the former issue is not common, and the second issue is (in California, at least).

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  • Hmmm... Not convinced. That study did not test if it was olive oil or not. From my research, it is pretty clear that some percent of olive oil is adulterated (see Wikipedia, people have even died). The remaining question is how much. – Laurel Jun 18 '17 at 13:15
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    @Laurel One of the tests done says "Fatty acid profiles (FAP) are distinguishable markers between olive oils and some seed/nut oils (FAPs vary slightly depending on the varieties and growing region of olives)." (Table 1) None of the reported oils failed FAP (Table 3). – Schwern Jun 18 '17 at 17:58
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    It's worth to note that top-selling rarely means top-quality. Most often than not, the top-selling brand is also one of the cheapest. Having a top grade product makes it expensive, and that usually means that fewer people will purchase the item. – T. Sar Jun 19 '17 at 11:13
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    @TSar: Agreed, but the key words here aren't "top-selling" but "extra virgin", which is the top grade. – Oddthinking Jun 19 '17 at 21:48
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    The citation you use takes a look at the "best selling" brands, not the premium ones. There isn't anything wrong with your answer, but the chosen methodology of the reference is biased towards failure - best selling usually means cheapest, which also means more prone to cut corners. – T. Sar Jun 19 '17 at 22:05

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