However, in the United States, the FDA allows producers to label their products as heart-healthy without checking what goes into the bottle.
In this expose' Mueller explains how many resellers mix olive oil with lower-quality, lower-priced seed oils that have been extracted using industrial solvents and then pass it off as high-quality olive oil. Oils have even been heated, deodorized and colored to perpetuate the fraud. One of the producers he interviews for the book estimates that some 50 percent of oils sold as "extra virgin" are not.
Mueller lives in Liguria, Italy with his wife and children. His work has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly and National Geographic.
"Three weeks after I started (the book), I was sitting in a dark bar talking with this undercover military policeman who was mentioning (Italian Prime Minister Silvio) Berlusconi and wire taps and national criminal conspiracies and I thought, 'What is this? I didn't sign on for heroin trafficking, or uranium or anything like that. This is olive oil.'" Meuller said.
"I thought it was going to be a happy, upbeat, tasty story. Very, very soon after I realized it was very different than what I expected and much richer," he says.
"There's no oversight. Just .3 percent of food that comes into America, undergoes any kind of checking whatsoever and that includes barcode scans," Mueller says.
Some Additional Highlights from a recent NPR interview (link below).
On why 4 out of 10 bottles that say Italian olive oil are not actually Italian olive oil
"A lot of those oils have been packed in Italy or have been transited through Italy just long enough to get the Italian flag on them. That's not, strictly speaking, illegal — but I find it a legal fraud, if you will."
On extra light olive oil
"Extra light is just as caloric as any other oil — 120 calories per tablespoon, but the average person looking at it might say, 'Oh, well, I've heard olive oil is a fat, so I will try extra light olive oil.' ... It's highly, highly refined. It has almost no flavor and no color. And it is, in fact, extra-light in the technical sense of being clear."
On which oil to use while frying or sauteing
"From a health point of view, olive oil is wonderful [for frying]. From a taste point of view, there are times when at really, really high temperatures, an extra-virgin with really bitter flavors and pungency can become a little unbalanced. And the bitterness can become overbearing. And obviously, from an economic point of view, if you're spending a lot of money for an extra-virgin, maybe high-heat cooking in some circumstances really isn't the best thing. But for lower heat, every extra-virgin olive oil is good — it really depends on the dish you're putting together."
Listen to the NPR / National Public Radio interview here: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/12/143154180/losing-virginity-olive-oils-scandalous-industry