Features The Katchup

Everyday Foods That Are Commonly Faked And Mislabeled

Meet the food playing the food, disguised as another food.

If you’ve ever been skeptical about brands being a bit deceitful in the food they sell you, there’s good reason for it, as there’s a little something called “food fraud,” and it happens in the most unusual of instances.

Dr. Rosalee Hellberg, a food fraud expert, spoke in depth about mislabeled products on The Foodbeast Katchup Podcast, rattling off food after food that you’ve probably had in your kitchen cabinet.

Dr. Hellberg and her team at Chapman University have dedicated their lives to researching fraudulent food, identifying the specific genes within different foods, and ultimately discovering sketchy practices within the industry.

While some companies have been publicly exposed and corrected the course, food fraud is easy to repeat, and has been a problem for hundreds of years.

Here are the foods, and some fraudulent examples that will leave you walking around the grocery store with constant doubt.



“Pepper is really interesting ’cause it has a really long history of fraud,” Dr. Hellberg said. “Even dating back to Roman times, there are instances of… fraudulent pepper being sold.”

While you’d think pepper would get its act together over the last 600 years, fraudulent practices still occur today. From adding dirt, to dried juniper berries, pepper manufacturers still try to get that weight up on the cheap. If you ever feel your lemon-pepper shrimp tastes like dirt, now you know why.


Honey is the third most faked food in the world, according to New York Times best selling book, Real Food, Fake Food.

Dr. Hellberg said that with honey, a lot of times, sugars will be mixed in, so you’re not actually getting the 100 percent honey that’s put on the label.

If you’re in the loop with bees being wiped out at a rapid pace, this one may or may not be that surprising to you.


“With wine there’s a lot of possibilities for fraud,” Dr. Hellberg said. “Some of the most common are mixing finished wines. You take one type of wine, another type of wine and mix them together.”

This one’s crazy because unless you’re a professional wine taster, how can you even tell they’re being mixed? Dr. Hellberg suggested the best we can do to avoid this, is to get to know the source, find their ethos, and go with wineries with good reputations. You can even ask if they’re actually doing anything to prevent wine fraud. While this form of fraud won’t hurt you, it might hurt your wallet if you’re paying for a premium wine and not actually getting it.



“With chocolate, one of the main things I found was counterfeit chocolate,” Hellberg said. “People are taking substandard chocolate and putting it under a fake label of a chocolate brand that’s well recognized.”

One widely publicized occurrence of this type of mixing came from the Mast Brothers’ chocolate, which was accused of using melted chocolate from Valrhona chocolates, and selling them for $10 a pop. This type of chocolate fraud is common globally, according to Hellberg.


“…In Italy, fraudsters were taking olives, and typically the substandard olives that are discolored, they were soaking them in a copper sulfate solution, which gives them a nice bright green color. Hellberg said. “They’re called, ‘Painted Olives.’ If you’re eating copper, you’re going to have some health problems.”

This happened in 2016, and Italian police seized 85,000 tons of those green olives. Believe it or not, this type of olive fraud is pretty common, so keep a close eye on your olives.

Olive Oil

Like a few other things on this list, olive oils have been found to be mixed with lower quality olive oils. In 2016, it was reported that 80 percent of the Italian olive oil sold in markets is fraudulent.

“If you see something that’s out of wack, that doesn’t look right on the label, or the price doesn’t match, that’s usually a good indicator that it might be a fraudulent product,” Dr. Hellberg said.

While a lot of Italian olive oils are mislabeled, our own resident food scientist Constantine Spyrou argues that getting Spanish olive oils that are labeled “Italian” isn’t really a downgrade.


One of the most common forms of sushi fraud comes from the ol’ red snapper. It seems that every time researchers dig into the fish, regardless of year, or location, the fish has been faked.

It’s so bad, that you’ve probably never truly tasted real red snapper.

“Most of the time studies have found it’s not red snapper,” Dr. Hellberg said. “We actually just completed a study in my lab… and again, ‘red snapper’ was not red snapper.”

We can even take it one step further, as in 2017, a study showed that almost half the sushi in Los Angeles is mislabeled. From halibut to flounder, there’s a good chance Angelenos are not actually getting the sushi they ordered.

Grocery News Packaged Food Products

Your Can Of ‘San Marzano Tomatoes’ Is Probably Fake

Photo: Amazon

If you’ve bought a can of San Marzano tomatoes recently from a grocery store, there’s a good chance that the tomatoes you bought aren’t the real deal.

San Marzanos are basically the only recognized name in canned tomato products, and are highly valued for their quality and flavor. In fact, Taste reports that authentic Napoletana pizza must use San Marzanos to be considered legit, and that the cans even require a special “DOP” label to be sold as San Marzano tomatoes in Italy. That label means that the tomatoes have met all of the growing and processing criteria necessary to be called a San Marzano (which includes being grown in the volcanic soils of Mt. Vesuvius, for example).

Unfortunately, those same labeling regulations do not apply in the United States. Anybody can slap a DOP label onto a can of tomatoes to make it look like they’re San Marzano, and many companies do that to throw customers off and deceitfully elevate their selling prices. One importing company has been told by the president of the San Marzano labeling consortium in Italy that about 95% of the products called “San Marzano” tomatoes in the United States are actually knock-offs. That percentage is a low-ball estimate, as well, meaning an even higher percentage of San Marzano tomato products on U.S. shelves could be fakes.

Fortunately, there are ways to spot a fake San Marzano can out there. San Marzanos can only be sold as whole or filleted, peeled, and canned to be certified. Crushed or diced tomatoes are not legitimate certified products. You should also be on the lookout for a DOP seal and a seal from the labeling consortium, along with a certification number. Finally, true San Marzano tomatoes don’t even have the name “San” on the label, and are instead labeled as “Pomodoro S. Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino.” Sounds like a mouthful, but it’s a great way to differentiate from the industrial giants that use the name to throw consumers off.

If you really want to use the high-quality San Marzano tomatoes when cooking, follow those guidelines, and you should be good to go.