Innovations, Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Ancient Olympia

The Oleocanthal International Society Conference and Olympia Health & Nutrition Awards featured breakthroughs in olive oil research, a new olive tree varietal, and an olive oil competition for high-phenolic oils.

International Olympic Academy
By Lisa Radinovsky
Jun. 10, 2016 14:54 UTC
International Olympic Academy

The Oleocanthal International Society (OIS) recently gath­ered researchers and olive oil pro­duc­ers at the Olympic Academy in Ancient Olympia, Greece for the OIS’s third con­fer­ence and the first Olympia Health & Nutrition Awards.

More than 400 par­tic­i­pants exchanged infor­ma­tion about break­throughs in olive oil research, a newly dis­cov­ered olive tree vari­etal and a com­pletely new type of inter­na­tional olive oil com­pe­ti­tion.

The OIS aims to com­bine prac­ti­cal and clin­i­cal research to show­case the health ben­e­fits of extra vir­gin olive oil. At the con­fer­ence, OIS founder and pres­i­dent José Amérigo dis­cussed the progress made dur­ing the last three years in com­bin­ing health issues and gas­tro­nomic con­cepts by study­ing oleo­can­thal and other related phe­nols found in extra vir­gin olive oil (EVOO) and the Mediterranean diet.

The con­fer­ence was note­wor­thy for fos­ter­ing a dia­logue between sci­en­tists and olive oil pro­duc­ers so sci­en­tists could learn about prob­lems to con­sider dur­ing future research, and pro­duc­ers could learn how and why to increase the health value of their EVOOs.

Prokopios Magiatis, vice-pres­i­dent of the OIS, pre­sented the first Olympia Health & Nutrition Awards to dis­tin­guish oils with the high­est con­tent of phe­no­lic com­pounds.

This is a unique olive oil com­pe­ti­tion that relies mainly on the amount of spe­cific health-pro­tect­ing phe­nols” in the EVOO. Magiatis said he expected this to become an annual com­pe­ti­tion that reveals the health­i­est olive oils in the world.”

Eleni Melliou revealed that a new vari­etal of olive tree had been dis­cov­ered in a moun­tain­ous area near Olympia. This vari­etal, includ­ing trees more than 1,500 years old, had been neglected and unnamed until Melliou pro­posed the name of the cul­ti­var Olympia due to the loca­tion of its dis­cov­ery.

The Olympia cul­ti­var is note­wor­thy for pro­duc­ing a very pun­gent, bit­ter olive oil with three to five times more phe­nols than the inter­na­tional aver­age, accord­ing to Magiatis.

Dan Flynn, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the UC Davis Olive Center, gave a speech on the need for more imag­i­na­tive mar­ket­ing of oleo­can­thal-rich olive oil in order to cap­ture a sec­tion of the lucra­tive func­tional food mar­ket in the United States, the world’s lead­ing mar­ket in this field.

Mary Flynn, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine at Brown University, made some cap­ti­vat­ing claims in her talk: Let food be thy med­i­cine and let med­i­cine be thy food,” argu­ing that extra vir­gin olive oil is more med­i­cine than food.”

Or it’s both: Flynn told Olive Oil Times that EVOO is far and away the most fas­ci­nat­ing food we have. There is no other food that can pro­vide the range of health ben­e­fits — and makes food taste so much bet­ter.”

While oleo­can­thal has already been asso­ci­ated with the pre­ven­tion of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, inflam­ma­tion and even can­cer, a num­ber of pre­sen­ters pro­vided spe­cific infor­ma­tion about oleocanthal’s poten­tial health ben­e­fits.

For exam­ple, Amal Kaddoumi from the University of Louisiana at Monroe explained that the results of her research sup­port the ben­e­fi­cial and pro­tec­tive effect” of high-oleo­can­thal EVOO against Alzheimer’s dis­ease and cere­bral amy­loid angiopa­thy, a con­di­tion that can increase the risk of stroke and demen­tia.

John William Newman, a research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, California, described clin­i­cal research on the effect of oleo­can­thal-rich olive oil on blood platelet aggre­ga­tion.

Presented fully for the first time at this con­fer­ence, the results sug­gest that oleo­can­thal-rich olive oil has an effect on blood platelet aggre­ga­tion sim­i­lar to ibupro­fen in cer­tain indi­vid­u­als, mean­ing poten­tial pro­tec­tion from infarc­tion and strokes.

Also involv­ing University of Athens researchers, this was the first study of oleocanthal’s effect that directly involved human sub­jects, accord­ing to Magiatis.


As he explained to Olive Oil Times, the same effect was not observed after con­sump­tion of olive oil gen­er­ally rich in phe­no­lics (e.g. free tyrosol but not oleo­can­thal). Specific health-pro­tect­ing prop­er­ties of olive oil are related to spe­cific ingre­di­ents and are not gen­er­ally observed for all types of olive oil. The results need ver­i­fi­ca­tion in a larger pop­u­la­tion, but there is already a very strong indi­ca­tion” of a ben­e­fi­cial effect.

Ongoing research at the University of Athens was high­lighted by sev­eral pre­sen­ta­tions of pre­vi­ously undis­closed new find­ings. For exam­ple, Annia Tsolakou reported that an aver­age of 55 per­cent of oleo­can­thal can be pre­served under nor­mal stor­age con­di­tions 12 months after bot­tling and 18 months after har­vest­ing.

In this Olympic year, the OIS decided to bestow awards to rec­og­nize the olive oils that con­tain the high­est phe­no­lic con­tent, as well as the most inno­v­a­tive olive mills, the indi­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies that pro­mote research and devel­op­ment, and those that cre­ate fine recipes using high oleo­can­thal olive oils.

Five hun­dred sixty-five EVOO sam­ples were sub­mit­ted to the com­pe­ti­tion by 325 pro­duc­ers from Greece, Spain, Italy, USA, Cyprus, Morocco and Uruguay. Focusing on EVOOs with­out any obvi­ous organolep­tic defect, the best ones were selected based only on the oleo­can­thal con­tent and the total phe­nols (tyrosol and hydrox­y­ty­rosol deriv­a­tives related to the European Union health claim reg­u­la­tion). The com­plete list of awards is avail­able on the OIS con­fer­ence web­site.

The high­est oleo­can­thal olive oil was The Governor, pro­duced by the Dafnis fam­ily and derived from the Lianolia olive tree, with 966 mil­ligrams oleo­can­thal per kilo­gram. The high­est in total phe­no­lics, with 3,076 mil­ligrams per kilo­gram, was the Drop of Life, which is derived from the newly dis­cov­ered Olympia vari­ety and pro­duced by the Mathiopoulos fam­ily at The Greek Olive Estate.

According to Magiatis, the Olympia Awards is a new type of com­pe­ti­tion, com­ple­men­tary to the awards based on sen­sory eval­u­a­tions. Its main advan­tage is that the results are based on absolutely objec­tive cri­te­ria and can be ver­i­fied by any­body through a chem­i­cal analy­sis.”

Some of the oils have also been awarded in sen­sory com­pe­ti­tions,” she added. Of course, some con­sumers are mainly con­cerned about the health prop­er­ties and not the taste, and they can choose their oil based on the results of the Olympia com­pe­ti­tion.”

However,” Magiatis con­tin­ued, an oil com­bin­ing a high phe­no­lic level and excel­lent organolep­tic prop­er­ties should become the future tar­get of all high-qual­ity pro­duc­ers.”

George Mathiopoulos of The Greek Olive Estate reminded Olive Oil Times read­ers that Hippocrates referred to olive oil as The Great Healer,’” adding, we think this is an oppor­tu­nity for Greek olive oil to shine.”

Spyros Dafnis of The Governor sug­gested that the future belongs to the high-phe­no­lic oils … a new cat­e­gory of olive oil which has now been born.”

Dafnis asserted that now qual­ity oil means oil with­out taste defects but mainly EVOO that ben­e­fits and pro­tects human health.” He argued that we need to ele­vate the pro­duc­tion of olive oil to a sci­ence.”


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