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Don’t freak out, but your favorite foods might be fake


SheKnows Editorial

When you splurge on yummy food items (looking at you, bean-to-bar chocolate), you expect them to live up to your standards. But it turns out a ton of luxury food items as well as everyday staples are actually food fakes.

Larry Olmsted’s new book Real Food Fake Food takes an in-depth look at how exactly food manufacturers, importers, restaurants and grocery stores pass off one food as another, and the results are really shocking.

So the next time you want to treat yourself by springing for that Kobe beef at dinner, think again — it turns out that it, along with the following foods, is probably a fake.

More: That fancy lobster you’re splurging on might be an impostor

1. Extra-virgin olive oil

Shockingly, it turns out that a lot of extra-virgin olive oil is anything but. It can be cut with soybean or peanut oil, both of which can cause severe allergic reactions and which often aren’t listed on labels. In some extreme cases, olive oil has been mixed with toxic chemicals. In one instance in 1981, more than 20,000 people were sickened and 800 died after aniline was added.

How to get the real deal

For now, Olmstead says to look for “COOC Certified Extra Virgin,” “EVA” or “UNAPROL” on the label of your EVOO. These certifications ensure you’re getting the real thing.

2. Grated Parmesan cheese

Your 100 percent grated Parmesan cheese may be anything but. Earlier this year, scandal broke when the FDA announced that many products labeled 100 percent grated Parmesan cheese contain other ingredients not listed on their labels, including other cheeses and wood pulp in the form of cellulose.

How to get the real deal

Luckily there’s an easy fix. Buy Parmigiano-Reggiano in a block or wedge, and grate it at home. Even better, look for a “PDO” label on imported cheeses, meats and foods. This Protected Designation of Origin certification is “the highest guarantee of authenticity there is.”

More: 11 everyday foods you’re buying that might be fake

3. Kobe beef

Think you’ve eaten Kobe beef in the U.S. before? Think again. According to Olmsted, only a small handful of restaurants in the country actually serve Japanese Kobe beef. The rest are serving up wagyu, which is grown in the U.S.

How to get the real deal

Fly to Vegas to dine at Bazaar Meat by José Andrés or to New York City to dine at 212 Steakhouse. Or instead of paying the Kobe premium for an inferior cut of meat, you may be better off just opting for rib-eye.

4. Sushi and seafood

The seafood situation is the hardest to swallow. Seafood fraud runs rampant through the fishing industry. In 2012, a study by Oceana found that, of 81 stores sampled, 58 percent were selling mislabeled seafood, while all 16 sushi restaurants tested had at least one falsely labeled fish on their menus. Shellfish isn’t immune either. Red Lobster recently came under fire for not including any actual lobster in its lobster bisque, but using langostino instead. And imported seafood? Good luck. It’s so unregulated that not only do you have no idea what kind of fish you’re getting, but it’s also hard to confirm whether it was farmed or wild-caught and to determine its actual country of origin.

How to get the real deal

For your best bet, stick to U.S.-caught seafood. You can also look for these labels on your seafood: MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), BAP (Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices) or “Alaska Seafood: Wild, Natural, Sustainable.”

What can you count on? Whole fruits and vegetables are hard to fake, and in general, the closer an ingredient is to its natural state, the better. In the meantime, I’ll just be over here, eyeing my economy-size bottle of extra-virgin olive oil with suspicion as I clear all of my husband’s bargain-basement mystery seafood out of the freezer.

More: The salmon you’re buying could be mislabeled — here’s what you need to know

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