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Which of Your Foods Are Lying to You?

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Your olive oil, your spice cabinet, your milk, and, yes, even your cheese may all be keeping a secret from you.

The Atlantic took a look at the world of food fraud—and they put together this handy (and thematically appropriate) pie chart. At the top of the heap is, of course, olive oil, which has been grabbing attention lately for it’s tricksy habit of lying about where it might be coming from, a problem which also most likely accounts for fish and coffee’s place on the chart. But milk is close behind olive oil and the fraud is a little more complicated there. So, just how does one commit milk-fraud?


One method is labeling fraud: Milk from goats and cows, for instance, might be mixed together and then sold under whichever label happens to be more convenient at the moment. But a lot of what’s being used for dilution in cases of fraud isn’t really milk at all. Milk typically undergoes a protein test to spot-check that it is, in fact, what it says it is. To get around that, scammers will attempt to trick the test by dumping water and some form of cheaper protein in there. This was what happened in China a few years back, when milk supplies were found to be tainted with melamine.

What’s also interesting here is not just the prevalence of spices on the chart but the kinds of spices prone to fraud: spices that not only have strong flavor profiles, but a bold, distinct color palette. What that means is that spice sellers can (but shouldn’t! Seriously, people: Saffron, accept no substitutes) cut the overall spice content and add in food dyes and filler in the hopes that their customers either might not catch on or even up the overall amount that they’re using.


Top Image: Sebastian Duda/Shutterstock; Chart: The Atlantic.