Greeks Are Consuming Less Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Greeks are among the top per capita consumers of olive oil in the world but have cut back on the highest grade.
Thessaloniki, Greece
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Dec. 17, 2021 11:18 UTC

Researchers in Greece con­ducted a cross-sec­tional sur­vey of Greek house­holds to assess their pref­er­ence for olive oil and eval­u­ate their aware­ness of olive oil qual­ity char­ac­ter­is­tics.

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.- Antonios Zampelas, pres­i­dent, Hellenic Food Authority

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.


Related Articles