WORDS BY FRANTZOLAS VASILIS

THE QUALITY EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Meet Extra Virgin Olive Oil and its beneficial role in human health

WHY EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL?

Some might perhaps characterize the olive oil as a new dietary”trend”, but this is certainly not the case! The extra virgin olive oil is becoming more and more widespread taking over an ever larger share of the daily consumption in each and every country of the world, even in countries where this would have been unthinkable a few years ago (India, China, Pakistan). And why do we see this growing trend? The answer lies in the scientific research in the field of nutrition, which started in Greece in the mid-50s based on the so-called “Cretan diet”, and proved the beneficial role of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in human health. Today, we can say for a fact that this is mainly due to two factors: the abundant monounsaturated fatty acids – which are known to get minimal oxidation when heated in cooking compared to the fat traced in vegetable oils – and the highly beneficial “micro-ingredients” of olive oil.

THE VALUABLE INGREDIENTS

Olive oil contains a high percentage of monounsaturated fat; in most Greek olive oils and even more so in the olive oils from the Koroneiki variety, it reaches 75% of the content percentage compared with other Greek or foreign varieties which reach a maximum of 65% – 67%. Besides the high content of monounsaturated fat, oils from the Koroneiki variety are low in the so-called “polyunsaturated” fats (those that are found mainly in seed oils, e.g. corn, or sunflower) which are no longer preferred in our diet since they oxidize too soon when heated. The “micro-ingredients” of the olive oil, which constitute 1% -2% of its weight, include very beneficial biological ingredients such as vitamin E, squalene and tocopherols. The key ingredient however is the polyphenols which are becoming more and more important for human health, and which have proven to effectively prevent, for example, the oxidation of LDL bad cholesterol in the blood.

THE POLYPHENOLS

The polyphenols in olive oil have a very special feature: when the olive oil contains a satisfactory amount of them, they are easy to perceive through taste, when one slowly consumes a little bit of olive oil, e.g. 5 ml. The way we perceive the beneficial polyphenols in our mouth, is either a slightly bitter taste, or a sense of “burning” or “spiciness” at the top of the throat, when swallowing, or a few seconds after. Across the world today, an Extra Virgin Olive Oil is considered to belong to a superior category of “high quality”, “prime” or “ultra” only when it contains many polyphenols which the consumer perceives in his mouth, when tasting and swallowing very slowly. In tasting or smelling these olive oils, it is also common to discover intense or sweet aromatic bouquets which can remind of fresh cut grass, green apple, artichoke or tomato leaves. These are precisely the so-called “fruity” characteristics of olive oil, found in olive oil produced from green or purple-green healthy olives, with no dents or olive fly, which have been swiftly forwarded to the mill after picking.

CRUCIAL POINT IN PRODUCTION

So, how can we produce extra virgin olive oil, so as to ensure to have these fine characteristics ? Are there any particular procedures or methods in production to follow? Besides the various details always present in any production process, special care must be taken during the phase of malaxation: that is the phase after the olives have been washed and ground becoming like a paste. The mixing time (malaxation) of the paste, should not take more than 30 minutes and the temperature of the paste should never exceed 30 degrees Celsius. This is very critical in order to get the maximum aromas from the olive paste and keep the polyphenols as high as possible.

IN A FEW WORDS

Extra Virgin Olive Oil of high quality is the one which:

  • Carries aromas in the nose or in the mouth which remind us of healthy olives, green or more mature.
  • Contains polyphenols, which we can perceive clearly when we taste it with a sense of bitter in the mouth and a little burning in the throat.

Mr Frantzolas Vasilis is an expert in sensory evaluation of olive oil, a consultant for production and trade companies of olive oil, as well as a trainer at olive oil seminars www.oliveoilseminars.com He has attended several seminars in Greece and Italy for the sensory evaluation of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. In 2012, he completed a cycle of seminars in Italy organized by the National Association of Italian Olive Oil (ONAOO), and he is a member of the international group of experts on Olive Oil, «Varietals», working on the monitoring of quality of prime Extra Virgin Olive Oil in various countries.