Did you know that the olive oil in your kitchen's pantry could be an imposter? In fact, according to a UC Davis study, 69% of olive oil is not what it claims to be. Instead, it might be a high-priced oil diluted or mixed with inferior oils and passed off as the real thing.
Beyond EVOO, items from milk to honey to fruit juice can be mislabeled or diluted. Researchers at Michigan State University found that manufacturers and marketers of food are sometimes guilty of so-called "food fraud," defined as the adulteration, dilution or mislabeling of goods.
Balsamic vinegar could be labeled as "Made in Italy," when in reality it might be bottled or produced there, but has been made with inferior ingredients shipped from a different country. It's not exactly a lie, but if you're seeking 100% Italian balsamic vinegar, you could be misled. Shallwani says this is typical with off-brands sold in discount stores, not necessarily big-name brands.
Several studies have shown that fish often gets mislabeled, whether it's farm-raised salmon being passed off as wild-caught or tilapia being passed off as red snapper at your local sushi shop. In fact, according to Consumer Reports 20 to 25 percent of the world's seafood gets mislabeled.
Forbes recently did an expose on widespread Kobe beef fraud. To be called Kobe, the beef has to be grown and slaughtered in the Hyogo region of Japan. The fact is that the USDA has not approved any slaughtering houses for export, so unless it was smuggled illegally, Kobe beef is not found in the US.
Instead, a lot of the "Kobe" beef you see on menus is actually waygu, a similar breed of cow but for those who have tasted the difference, it's far from similar, says Shallwani.
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When you buy authentic truffle, you expect to be paying for a black Périgord, or a white truffle from Alba, France. If you see truffle oil on the shelf at a fraction of the going price - over $20 for 8 ounces or less- then it's probably sunflower oil just flavored with a synthetic chemical. Or, it might be black truffles from China that look similar, but taste nothing like their French cousin. Your nose can also tell the difference. "Real truffle - in 20 minutes - the whole room would smell of truffle," says Shallwani.
Also See: When It Pays to Spend More
Many grocery stores carrying "saffron," are actually selling the dried herb from the safflower. It's similar in appearance, but that's about it. In other cases, manufacturers may take slivers of real saffron and mix it with other flowers that have been dyed. The price differential is huge. Real saffron goes for as much as $400 per ounce, while safflower costs closer to $4 per ounce. Imposter saffron will also dissolve when rubbed between fingers, while real saffron should dissolve slowly and leave a yellowish stain.
Know of other types of food fraud? Join the conversation on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #FinFit