Among the world’s most distinguished chemists, Dr. Edwin Frankel is at once an esteemed icon and a formidable force among his peers. An established expert on lipid oxidation, Frankel has turned his focus to extra virgin olive oil, working to improve standards based on better analytical methods. Bold and controversial, his recently published findings have gripped the attention of the industry as they pave the way toward scientific strides for California olive oil.
A strong supporter of the California olive oil industry, Frankel has his sights set on the better standards so that California EVOO can meet benchmarks higher than European or even those proposed in Australia. “California is in a position to make California olive oil the most scientifically documented for quality and health of anywhere in the world,” said Frankel’s major collaborator over the years, UC Davis professor and food chemist Bruce German. “California is in position to put its product scientifically at the forefront,” continues German, who is confident Frankel is the one to do it. “There’s nobody in the world who’s his peer.”
Though taste is the main criteria used by the International Olive Council to test for extra virgin olive oil, flavor is subjective, German explains. If a chemical analysis is performed, mostly to deem an oil adulterated or spoiled, peroxide value (PV) is one of the hallmarks used to measure oxidation. The trouble is, German notes, “Most people don’t know how to measure oxidation. Ed is uniquely qualified to do so.”
Last year’s controversial report from the UC Davis Olive Center let the industry know it. Frankel’s team of scientists found that 69 percent of imported olive oil samples and 10 percent of California olive oil samples labeled extra virgin olive oil failed international chemical and sensory standards for EVOO. The report stated, “Our laboratory tests indicated that the IOC and USDA chemical standards often do not detect defective olive oils that fail extra virgin sensory standards.”
The report also said the IOC and USDA olive oil standards would be more effective by including the German/Australian DAGs and PPP standards which indicate old, poor quality, oxidation and adulteration with cheaper refined oils. The IOC as well as the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), a trade association representing olive oil importers, disagreed with the study, deeming those methods unreliable.
“He’s not making any friends in the IOC,” Richard Cantrill, Technical Director of the American Oil Chemists Society (AOCS) said of Frankel. “He’s an outsider trying to get in. He’ll have some real difficulty,” he said, but acknowledges that Frankel’s well known tenacity along with asking enough questions will open people’s minds. Those who have had the privilege of working with Dr. Frankel know what to expect.
High analytical standards paired with unguarded honesty define Dr. Frankel’s work and have earned him the respect of his colleagues. “It takes courage to seek and speak the truth,” said Dan Flynn, Director of the U.C. Davis Olive Center who worked closely with Dr. Frankel for truth in labeling. “His colleagues can count on him to give it to them unvarnished.”
Dr. Frankel has been prolific at doing just that. He has published 92 papers and his work has been cited 1100 times, distinguishing him as one of the most cited authors in his field. He also holds almost every award the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS) can give out, according to Cantrill, who describes Frankel as “a world leader and expert on lipid oxidation.”