They also investigated to what degree optimal domestic storage practices were applied.
This survey confirmed that although most Greek consumers use olive oil irrespective of brand, not all use extra virgin olive oil.
They found that, while the vast majority of the households use olive oil in food preparations, their level of knowledge about the olive oil’s health benefits varies depending on factors including location, connection with olive oil production and level of education.
The survey, published in the MDPI Nutrients Journal, also revealed that consumers in Greece have significantly lowered their preference for extra virgin olive oil over the last decades: only 57 percent of the households said that they opt for extra virgin olive oil compared to 70 percent in 1996.See Also: Harvest Unfolds with Mixed Results in Greece
“The use of extra virgin olive oil in the country is lower than previous surveys had found, and lower than the use in other Mediterranean countries,” Antonios Zampelas, president of the Hellenic Food Authority (EFET) and one of the researchers who conducted the survey, told Olive Oil Times.
“This may be attributed to the lack of knowledge about the various olive oil categories and to the financial crisis as well since the criteria of those buying branded olive oil are primarily the price and then other factors such as the acidity and origin of the olive oil,” he added.
A total of 857 households participated in the survey, conducted through telephone interviews in 2020. The questions covered basic personal and sociodemographic characteristics, level of income, type of olive oil consumed and perception of olive oil cost, and storage habits.
The researchers collected and analyzed the responses of the households region by region, separating the country into four large areas: Crete and the other islands, northern Greece, central Greece, and the Attica region, which is home to almost half of the country’s population.
The households in Crete and the islands received the highest score for using extra virgin olive oil and understanding its qualities.
On the other hand, all interviewed households said they exclusively use olive oil in salads and almost exclusively in casserole dishes, while frequent or occasional usage of olive oil in making pies and desserts ranged high among the respondents (92 percent and 84 percent, respectively).
When it comes to frying, only 66 percent of the Greek households reported they use olive oil as their definite type of frying oil, and another 19 percent said that they use it occasionally.
However, olive oil is more resistant to deterioration when reused in frying compared to vegetable oils like sunflower oil, the researchers noted, suggesting that this should be widely communicated to Greek consumers.
The researchers also found that, in all four regions, a better understanding of olive oil quality, the higher correlated with an increased probability of consumers choosing extra virgin olive oil and perceiving olive oil retail prices as low.
“[Domestic] olive oil producers and those of a higher educational level were more informed about olive oil,” Zampelas said. “It is also interesting that the consumers with a better understanding of the merits of extra virgin olive oil were less likely to consider its price high, proving this way that they have a clear grasp of its high nutritional value.”
Further analysis of the results showed that most of the participants (78 percent) knew that extra virgin olive oil is of higher quality than refined olive oil, and almost half of them (43 percent) said they can tell the difference between the two based on their organoleptic characteristics.
However, only a small percentage of the respondents could identify and explain the effects of olive oil’s polyphenols.
“Given that four out of five households [in Greece] use olive oil bought from family and friends, it was necessary to further assess the knowledge of the consumers on olive oil,” Zampelas said.
“We found that, while more than half of the respondents knew that extra virgin olive oil has an acidity lower than 0.8, only 19 percent of them knew that the beneficial phenols in olive oil can make it taste bitter or pungent,” Zampelas said.
Almost three-quarters of the participating 857 households (74 percent) reported that they use olive oil obtained from relatives or friends or of their own production, leaving a small market share for branded olive oil.
Consequently, olive oil fraud proved a minor concern among Greek consumers, Zampelas explained.
“Since most of the households obtain olive oil from friends or family, it is no surprise that consumers trust the olive oil mills and don’t really worry about any adulteration,” he said. “Even more, consumers seem to have confidence in the supervising authorities, whereas they trust the industry of branded olive oil and olive oil merchants less.”
The majority of households (61 percent) also said that they prefer to store olive oil in large tin containers, possibly due to prior experience of buying olive oil in the classic 17-liter tin canisters frequently used in Greece.
However, storing olive oil in large containers is problematic, the researchers said, since with time the atmospheric oxygen fills the container’s headspace and can gradually deteriorate the quality of the stored olive oil, minimizing its health effects.
Only 38 percent of the respondents reported that they store olive oil in dark places away from sunlight and in dark-colored glass containers or in containers as sold (for branded olive oil), receiving the highest score for proper storage practices.
“Less than four in 10 households store olive oil properly – in a cool and dark place and in the containers as bought for branded products, or in dark glass bottles when purchasing from family and friends,” Zampelas said. “This demonstrates the need to better inform Greek consumers.”
The survey stressed the fact that most of the households that participated in the survey exhibited a low level of understanding of the healthy attributes of olive oil. Even more, most Greek consumers use bulk olive oil of dubious quality obtained from family and friends.
“This survey confirmed that although most Greek consumers use olive oil irrespective of brand, not all use extra virgin olive oil, which is of superior value and has the potential to promote multifunctional and sustainable agricultural models,” the researchers concluded.
They suggested that nationwide educational programs are necessary to fill the knowledge gaps about the quality characteristics of olive oil, such as learning to appreciate the bitter and pungent taste of extra virgin olive oil, since better knowledge was associated with higher consumption of extra virgin olive oil.