Picture this scene: You order a beef burger at a restaurant. The burger comes to you, looking all fresh and juicy, as burgers do. You take a bite. You rejoice in the flavors. You ask the waiter what the chef did to make the beef burger so amazing. The answer? “It’s a chicken burger, ma’am.”

Okay, so if you order a ground beef burger at a restaurant, you’re more than likely going to get a ground beef burger brought to you. But that isn’t always the case with food items you buy at supermarkets. Even some of the most common pantry staples aren’t always what they seem—and it’s time we talked about it.

Next time you’re at the grocery store and you need to buy any of the following items, pay close attention. You might just discover what we deem “food fraud.”

  1. Honey

    We know honey as a more natural substitute for sugar. But sadly, that may not always be the case with every jar. If you’ve ever wondered why some brands sell it for $3 and some for $13, it likely has to do with the ingredients. Make sure you’re choosing small-batch honey. Anything with added sugar or syrup is a no-go.

  2. Vanilla

    Another product that can likely tip you off due to the price is vanilla extract. You get what you pay for—and if you pay in the single digits, you’re likely getting imitation vanilla, which contains vanillin. Though a natural compound in vanilla beans, vanillin is typically synthesized in a lab. What you should be looking for on the ingredient label: 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde. (Say that three times fast!)

  3. Olive oil

    A large percentage of olive oils sold at stores is a total scam. Many are falsely advertised as “virgin” or “extra virgin,” and even if it claims to be from Italy, it may not be. Some olive oils have even been combined with other low-cost, low-quality oils. In the worst case scenario, that cheap bottle could simply be vegetable oil with some coloring added to it! Unfortunately, there’s no easy to way to tell if it’s real or fake. You just have to taste it and decide for yourself (or find yourself an olive oil expert to do it for you)!

  4. Balsamic vinegar

    Similar to olive oil, balsamic vinegar might not be what you think it is. Hint: Just because it says “Modena” on the label doesn’t mean it’s from Modena (aka a city in Italy know for balsamic vinegar). Pro tip: Check the ingredients and look for “grape must.” If it’s there, you can guarantee the vinegar was aged 12+ years—the authentic way to do it.

  5. Milk

    Who doesn’t feel like they’re getting stronger the second they swig a glass of milk? Unfortunately, reports of dairy milk containing melamine, detergent or hydrogen peroxide have been found in some brands. Yikes. Always try to buy your milk fresh from a farm—as close to the cow as you can get!

  6. Parmesan cheese

    There’s nothing like a stinky piece of parmesan. Sadly, many varieties of the cheese in America are faking it. True Parmigiano-Reggiano has three simple ingredients: milk, salt, and rennet. However, ingredients such as cellulose powder, potassium sorbate, and cheese cultures typically make their way into some brands.

  7. Coffee

    Java lovers, beware: Buying whole-bean coffee is the way to go if you make your cup of Joe at home. You never quite know what you’re getting with ground coffee: research has shown twigs or roasted grains such as corn, barley, maize and soybean can be lurking in there!

  8. Cinnamon

    When purchasing this spice, always look for the keyword: Ceylon. This is what authentic cinnamon is made out of it. However, many cheaper dupes are made with cassia, which is related to Ceylon, but isn’t quite the same. If ground, you could even be getting something as random as coffee husks.

  9. Black pepper

    It looks like black pepper. It smells like black pepper. It tastes like black pepper. Is it black pepper? This one is hard to tell just from looking, smelling or tasting, but experts have found that everything from papaya seeds to juniper berries could be disguised as your pepper. There’s no easy way to tell, but to be safe, always buy whole peppercorns and add them to a grinder. Whole peppercorns have less of a chance of being a fraud.

  10. Fish

    Not all fish is created equal—literally. Some of the most commonly counterfeit fish include Chilean sea bass, white tuna and Alaskan cod. To make matters worse, the fish they show up as (like escolar, a fish that’s actually banned in Japan and Italy) can give you some not-so-fun side effects. Your best bet: Stick with snapper and tuna, which are rarely “fake.”

Did you have any idea that these common food items could be counterfeits?

Feature image credits:

Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Cinnamon
Honey
Fish