Italian Sounding – How to Recognize Genuine Made in Italy Products?

What is Italian sounding?

This term became popular in 2015, after the EXPO 2015 held in Milan, Italy. A discussion surrounding counterfeit Italian food sold in other countries was held during this expo. The Italian sounding phenomenon signifies a marketing tactic that employs specific words, images, and colors to trick consumers into purchasing items that appear to be authentically Made in Italy.

For example, the Italian flag or a combination of the flag’s colors (red, white, and green) are used on packaging to signify that the food inside is authentic. However, it is often not the case. Marketers will also mention geographical references to help curate the idea that the product derives from Italy.

What makes Italian food special?

Many characteristics make Italian cuisine special, from its simplicity to the high quality of ingredients. Real Italian food items are crafted in specific areas of Italy, using techniques and processes passed down from generation to generation. This expertise is noted via specific distinctive signs, such as PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), which signify that the item is made in a geographical area using knowledge from local producers.

How much Italian sounding food is in the USA?

According to Ansa, around 97% of tomato sauces sold in the USA marked “Italian” are Italian sounding. A whopping 76% of canned tomatoes that are from Italy are produced outside of the country. Cheese is also a major issue in the USA, as around 1.7 million tonnes are produced annually, which fall under the Italian sounding category. Forbes also notes that about 80% of “Italian” olive oil is not truly from Italy. These are only statistics from the food sector of Italian products.

What recipes are not Italian in America?

This lack of food that does not originate in Italy has even seeped into “Italian” restaurants. Many raw materials and ingredients, from olive oil to mozzarella di bufala, are not authentic. This idea of authentic Italian dishes even permeates homes, with many “Italian” recipes circulating in the USA which are not truly authentic. Below are some dishes that claim to have Italian origin yet are not from Italy.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

While pasta is a staple in Italy, it is not served with meatballs. Instead, it’s served with a simple tomato-based sauce and a sprinkling of freshly grated cheese. The way that spaghetti and meatballs are presented is also much different from an authentic meal. In America, spaghetti is tossed with sauce and cheese before serving, whereas Italians will place a serving of pasta in a bowl, spoon sauce on top, then add cheese.

Garlic Bread

The original version of garlic bread did originate in Italy. However, it’s much different than the variety circulating in the U.S. Instead, it’s more common for Italians to consume fresh bread with a topping like a bruschetta or a simple drizzle of olive oil.

Fettucine Alfredo

Unfortunately, many of the pasta dishes which are sold around the USA are not authentic. This note includes any items which are topped with alfredo sauce. While alfredo sauce was created in Rome, it never became popular in Italy. It is also uncommon for Italian people to consume recipes that are overly heavy on milk or cream.

Pepperoni Pizza

Pizza is a popular food in Italy. However, the difference is the toppings offered in Italian food. You’ll likely find pizza with prosciutto or a similar cured meat in Italy. There is also a major difference in the amount of cheese added to pizzas in Italy. Typically, it’s a much smaller amount than the cheese on an American pizza. It’s worth noting that some restaurants in Italy, which are located in areas frequented by tourists, may serve pepperoni pizza. Though, it’s not an authentic dish.

What are the most counterfeit products in the USA?

Knowing the most counterfeit Italian products in the USA will allow you to be more informed when selecting items at the grocery store. Then, you can opt for authentic Italian products from Italian companies that truly export their items directly from the company.

  • Mozzarella di Bufala
  • Pecorino
  • Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Asiago
  • Gorgonzola
  • Grana Padano
  • Prosecco
  • Chianti

How to recognize genuine Made in Italy products?

Now that you know the many Italian-sounding products circulating in the USA, you may wonder how to recognize genuine products. The below notes will aid you in selecting high-quality Made in Italy items.

Skip Items with "Italian" in their Name

Oddly enough, you can ascertain that a product is likely not authentic if it has the words Italian or Italian-style in its name. For example, Italian-style cheese or Italian dressing is not from Italy. Even items with the word authentic listed on their packaging are likely not from Italy. Suppose you are hunting for real Italian food items. In that case, they will likely list a region instead of the word Italian as most items in Italy stem from a specific region. The product will also contain the letter PDO or another acronym to help distinguish the item which promote and protect names of agricultural products and foodstuffs.

Avoid a Long Ingredient List

In Italy, products are made with simplicity and high-quality ingredients. Typically, if you purchase authentic food, it will have less than seven ingredients listed (including seasoning). Items that have a long list of ingredients (7+) are probably not real Italian products.
Another way to differentiate real Made in Italy items from counterfeit is by comparing them to the original dishes, as American producers tend to overdo the ingredients. For example, Utica Greens is a New York dish with cheese, breadcrumbs, cherry peppers, chicken broth, and other ingredients. However, authentic Italian dishes that likely inspired this recipe are made with garlic, olive oil, cheese, and vegetables.

Leave Behind Products with Non-Italian Ingredients

Any prepared foods or food items that include non-Italian ingredients are not authentic. For example, dried herbs and powders (except for dried oregano) are not used in traditional Italian food. If any recipe or prepared food lists ingredients like these, it’s not authentic. Other ingredients that are non-Italian include cheddar cheese, jalapeños, etc.

Skip Items Which Use Chicken/Shrimp

Of course, shrimp and chicken are used in Italian recipes and foods. However, including shrimp or chicken is another telltale sign that the recipe or food item is not authentic. For example, many food counterfeiting producers will add chicken broth to “Italian” food items.

Don't Purchase Items with "Trendy" Ingredients

Similar to the above note, some ingredients in Italy are used occasionally. Yet, when counterfeits are made, they overuse these same ingredients. For example, dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar are used in Italy. However, if you see products or recipes which consistently use these ingredients, they are likely not authentic.

How and Where to Buy Original Italian Food

The key to purchasing original Italian food is finding a reputable supplier. Buying items from a source that thoroughly vets suppliers and producers, such as Mavi Trade, ensures that the food you purchase is authentic.

At Maveat, we have 20+ years of experience in the international market and have been recognized for the export of authentic Made in Italy foods. We ship original Italian food worldwide, including in the USA, so you can feel good about buying authentic products in the stores. Check out our catalog of Made in Italy foods here.

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