What is olive oil
According to the International Olive Council (IOC)
“Virgin olive oils are the oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea L. ) solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration.”
This definition is essentially saying that we can obtain olive oil only using mechanical and physical methods. This means that olive oil is obtained like a fruit juice and no chemical methods are applied. The finest category is extra virgin olive oil followed by virgin olive oil. These categories do have chemical and sensorial differences defined by the legislation and IOC. (EU 2019/1604 of 27 September 2019, COI/T.15/NC No 3/Rev. 18 June 2022).
How is olive oil made?
Diving deeper to the creation of this natural oily juice, the steps followed are the ones shown in picture.
After arriving to the olive mill, the olives are cleaned from any branches or leaves or other foreign materials that might have from the field. Next step in the process is the crushing of the fruits. The fruits create a paste which is transferred to malaxator. This machine kindly mixes the paste and its where the droplets of oil come closer together. After malaxing the paste for no more than 45 minutes the paste goes to the horizontal centrifugal separator. There the oil is separated from the paste using the force of gravity. A second centrifusion this time vertical is the final step before receiving what we all know as Virgin olive oil.
Afterwards, after the process, chemical and sensorial analysis conducted by accredited laboratories define if the olive oil is extra virgin or any of the other categories.
Difference from seed oils
So, if both seed oils (sunflower oil, soya oil, palm oil, etc) and extra virgin olive oil are oils what is the difference? Why should I buy olive oi?
This question troubles most people that are not familiar with the olive oil world. Starting from the very beginning seed oils are obtained from the seeds of oily plants like Sunflower, Soya and Palm seeds only with chemical ways. This means that with mechanical or physical methods only we cannot obtain oil from these seeds unless a dissolvent is used to obtain their oil. After the oil is obtained, to make it edible, further chemical treatment is required. So as a starter there is extra virgin olive oil which a natural fruit juice and a seed oil a chemically obtain and treated oil to make it edible. The differences though do not stop there.
Extra Virgin olive oils benefits
A great number of researchers have studied the multiple effects that olive oil can have in our health. Mentioning a few, extra virgin olive oil has shown to benefit our brain health, our cardiovascular system and very promising results regarding human cancer.
The aging of the global population is nowadays a reality. Our brain health decline is one of the most feared and yet not easily cured conditions. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are more and more common reasons that cause disability to humans. In particular, researchers have revealed that olive oil can improve brain health in studies conducted to humans and also in laboratory. The report of Berr et al, showed that in a large nondemented elderly population, the intake of EVOO correlates with reduced chances of decline in visual memory and verbal fluency.
Another study evaluated cognitive function in 334 participants enrolled in dietary study consuming a Mediterranean diet supplemented with Extra Virgin Olive Oil over a 4-year period. The results showed better memory, frontal function, and global cognitive scores compared to those on a control diet. (Valls-Pedret et al., 2015). Finally, promising results have been demonstrated from polyphenols of the olive oil. Oleuropein, Hydroxytyrosol and oleurosid improve spatial working memory (Reutzel M. et al., 2018).
The cardiovascular diseases also increase year after year. Olive oil has shown to improve or prevent atherosceloris symptoms in patients. For those that got lost throught the scientific terms Atherosclerosis is a progressive disease characterized by the deposit of lipids and fibrous elements in large arteries, which is a major cause of heart disease and stroke. EVOO’s lipid composition leads to a reduction in cholesterol level which acts as cardioprotective against the advancement and inhibition of atherosclerosis. (Preedy V., 2020. Olives and Olive Oil in Health and Disease Prevention). Furthermore, hypertension or simply explained high blood pressure. When patients with hypertension tried an EVOO enriched diet and a Sunflower oil enriched diet, patients with extra virgin olive oil had significantly lower blood pressure. In this study Sunflower oil did not had any effect on high blood pressure. (Perona J.S. et al., 2010.).
The scientific research is vast and every day a new or a potential benefit of this olive fruit is discovered.
The Nutriscore paradox
In general, European Union is trying to adopt a front of packaging labeling (FOPL) also known as NutriScore. Nustriscore algorithm is trying to categorize food products to 5 categories with letters A, B, C, D, E
Not taking into consideration the components that olive oil has and strictly criticizing the nutrition label per 100g, nutriscore gives an unfair evaluation to olive oil. The approach of the Nutri-Score, and likely that of most other FOPs, toward dietary fats clearly downplays the proven healthful properties of extra virgin olive oil. We believe that the Nutri-Score represents a possible step forward in food labeling systems, but olive oil needs to be excluded from most FOPs or to be given the A score.