The Olive Oil At Italian Restaurants Isn't What You Think

When you're at an Italian restaurant in the U.S., you might assume that they use the best quality ingredients for everything on their menu. But Italian ingredients can have extremely specific guidelines in order to be considered authentic or high quality. Extra virgin olive oil is one example; while you're probably used to seeing bottles labeled "extra virgin" all over the supermarket, the truth is most of the olive oil in the U.S. probably doesn't meet this standard, including what's used at Italian restaurants.

According to Tasting Table, extra virgin olive oil is made with pure, cold-pressed olives and has to go through an extensive certification process in order to be considered true extra virgin olive oil. Oil without the "extra virgin" label can be made with a blend of cold-pressed olives and processed oil and doesn't have to be certified, so it can be manufactured and sold more quickly (and it ends up costing a lot less than the real stuff).

Why the olive oil at American restaurants probably isn't extra virgin

Most Italian restaurants in the U.S. probably aren't serving top-notch extra virgin olive oil, and even if you see the "extra virgin" label at the grocery store, it might not be accurate. According to Forbes, about 80 percent of the olive oil on the market is fake, and some oils can be mislabeled as extra virgin. The problem isn't limited to America, either; even in Italian grocery stores, it's estimated that about half of the olive oil on shelves is fake.

Even if restaurants buy a well-known brand or one with a "Protected Designation of Origin" stamp (which notes where the oil was produced, which can help guarantee the quality), it can still be a fake. Bottles with a PDO stamp are subjected to stricter regulations, but fakes can still slip through the process and end up on shelves or in restaurants. With so much counterfeit olive oil flooding the market, and because it's difficult to completely guarantee your oil is actually extra virgin, it's unlikely that you'll find the most sought-after olive oils at Italian restaurants in the U.S. unless they buy their oil directly from a producer or distributor.