Seville Meeting Asks “What Do Consumers Know About Olive Oil?”

How much consumers know about the quality of olive oil, and controversial new EU rules designed to crack down on deodorized oil are on the agenda of a new annual conference being held tomorrow (May 31) in Seville.

Hosted by the olive oil sector magazine Oleo, it will also scrutinize current quality testing methods, the pros and cons of panel tasting, and what information bottle labels should carry.

Oleo editor Nieves Ortega said there had been a marked improvement in the overall quality of Spanish olive oil in recent years. Consumers, however, remained unaware of this and also of olive oil’s health benefits and different types. It is for these reasons that the conference title is the Spanish equivalent of “What do consumers know about the quality of olive oil?”

Ortega said, when asked to name the different types of olive oil, three in four Spaniards claimed to know the answer but actually just 3 percent got it right. Research also showed that nearly 90 percent of Spanish consumers did not know what a single varietal olive oil was. This comes despite bottle labels stating origins and olive varieties in recent years.

The conference will consider the different responsibilities at every level of the value chain for transmitting information to consumers about quality, thereby helping increase the status, and ultimately the price, of olive oil, Ortega said.

She said that in regard to labeling, participants would discuss how it could be improved and what information consumers should receive, for instance the olive type and organoleptic qualities.

With the reliability of tasting panels under question in recent months, she said that “the importance of maintaining the panel test for classifying olive oils,” would also be discussed, adding, “it’s a method that has demonstrated its value over time.”

New EU rules that came into effect on April 1 set a limit for alkyl esters in EVOO. Elevated levels indicate lower quality olive oil, which is often deodorized. Ortega said that the new regulations were also on the agenda “because they have generated a lot of controversy.”

The International Olive Council will present information on new methods of analysis and quality control it is developing, and the regional government of Andalusia will explain its quality checks and fraud evasion measures, which on various occasions in recent months have detected virgin olive oil being sold as EVOO in Spanish supermarkets.

Oleo hopes the seminar will promote the generation and exchange of ideas on how to address the sector’s most pressing issues. Of the more than 150 people expected to attend are Isabel Bombal, director of Industry and Food Markets within MARM (Spain’s Ministry of the Environment, Rural and Marine Affairs); IOC director Jean-Louis Barjol; Asoliva director Rafael Pico; FAECA director general Rafael Sánchez de Puerta; and Aurelio del Pino, director-general of the Association of Spanish Supermarket Chains (ACES).

On the scientific side the experts will include Wenceslao Moreda Martino from the Oils and Fats Institute of Seville (IGS); Mercedes Fernández Albaladejo, the head of the IOC Olive Oil Chemistry and Standardization Unit; and Francisco de Paula Rodríguez, who supervises quality control in the agro-food sector for the Andalusian Government.

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This article was last updated January 6, 2015 - 6:13 AM (GMT-5)

  • Phyllis Heard

    It’s easy really. Clearly displaying Tocopherols /antioxidants, and polyphenol levels will show the educated consumer the style of oil they are buying.In the interests of public health, listing the pesticide/fungicide residue levels on the label will sort the entire industry out pretty quickly. It is an international requirement when livestock are sent for export to test meat fat for Agrichem residues.Agrichems of all kinds sit in fat.

    We olive growers are “fat” producers too and should be subject to the same requirements. Also an active commitment by the IOOC to withold certification for any oil with unacceptable pesticide residues likely to cause oxidative stress and a legal requirement for Government food safety authorities to test at random extra virgin olive oil off the shelves of retailers will keep the industry on its extra virgin toes internationally.

        It seems to me it will be impossible to get an International agreement for the culturally nuanced terms “fruity” and “balanced”and as they do not really indicate the health of the oil are they really necessary to define so exactly? You can’t make good oil from bad fruit, testing and certifying  the tocopherol/polyphenol levels covers all bases and attempts to adulterate will be expensive but possibly healtheir than just testing for FFA and peroxide levels with an unreliable,subjective sensory test. 

        Which begs the question …  Do olive producers and consumers need sensory/culinary panels at all as they are so culturally subjective and appear to be  holding up efforts to promote the real health of our beautiful product? Concentration on mild, balanced so called “food friendly” “foodier”oils is driving the consumer to much cheaper mild,flavourless, so called high smoke point oils that market themselves on the half truths and spurious health claims of cholesterol busting plant sterols in the oils such as  Ricebran and Canola.

      The 12 IOOC faults are agreed across the globe. The so called U.S resistance to “bitterness” seemingly created by judges and olive sensory experts quoting “consumer” research they largely conduct on behalf of their own countrys’ products is holding this industry back. It is time for the US consumer  to toughen up for their health’s sake and their rising obseity/diabetes statistics. That supposedly undesirable  “bitterness” as a result of hydroxytyrosol and oleocanthal is a true gift to any food producer in this modern world.  
     The first lawsuit from the parent of a developmentally delayed child as a result of acrylamide poisoning or endocrine disruption against a seed, vegetable or fruit based  oil producer,processor or refiner who did not “withhold” agrichems will wake the industry up to the dangers of trying to “force” crops such as olives  to grow in unsustainable areas.

  • Richard G.

    I’m flabergasted that an industry that makes over 1 million tonnes of olive oil a year doesn’t know the answer to the question. Production focus rather than market focus = no future. 

  • Wikileaks is Democracy

    I love that “bitterness.” So-called “lite” olive oils, those which are not as dark nor as fruity/harsh,…what’s that all about. Makes no sense to me. 

  • Fvfarm

    I want to know how to get info of purity and pesticide levels in middle eastern oils:  Baroody, Nablus, El Khoura etc…..I love the taste of these but am afraid they are tampered with????