`Edwin Frankel: Taking California Olive Oil to Higher Standards - Olive Oil Times

Edwin Frankel: Taking California Olive Oil to Higher Standards

Feb. 16, 2011
Lori Zanteson

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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.

There’s nobody in the world who’s his peer.- UC chemist Bruce German

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 the taste is the main cri­te­ria used by the International Olive Council to test for extra vir­gin olive oil, the fla­vor is sub­jec­tive, German explains. If 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.”

Frankel spent 31 years work­ing for the Department of Agriculture in Peoria, Illinois, before he retired as Lead Scientist in 1989 and began his sec­ond career, clearly his true call­ing, as an adjunct pro­fes­sor at UC Davis, his alma mater. Olive oil first piqued his inter­est in 1995 when he had the oppor­tu­nity to work with a vis­it­ing sci­en­tist from Spain.

They com­pared a few imported and California olive oil sam­ples from a local coop­er­a­tive mar­ket to a refined, bleached, and deodor­ized oil with a 0.4 per­ox­ide value (PV). All of the oils had a high PV rang­ing from 11 – 33. The IOC stan­dard is 20 which Frankel argues is way too high. It doesn’t take much oxi­da­tion, that lit­tle bit can pro­duce very unde­sir­able fla­vor com­pounds.” His research led him to the unpop­u­lar opin­ion that PV is not a reli­able way of mea­sur­ing oxi­da­tion and he has been very crit­i­cal of some of the exten­sive pub­lished research in Spain. I’m at the stage in my career,” said Frankel, where I can be crit­i­cal.”

He believes the high PV of those sam­ples was due to a mis­con­cep­tion that EVOO is sta­ble for­ever. There are sam­ples sit­ting on shelves for years, he said, when the actual stor­age life of an unopened bot­tle should be no longer than one year. Other oils,” explains Frankel, are dated and when they’re on the shelf too long, they’re replaced. This is not done with olive oil. Enter last year’s UC Davis find­ings and Dr. Frankel’s opin­ion that the imported his­tory is very ques­tion­able.”

The UC Davis report was only the begin­ning. Frankel’s most recent research is newly pub­lished in two per­spec­tive papers, the first addresses adul­ter­ation, oxida­tive sta­bil­ity and antiox­i­dants in the chem­istry of EVOO. The sec­ond chal­lenges the bar­rage of nutri­tion claims that boast the virtue of olive oil. In my view,” he said, these claims may be greatly exag­ger­ated and not based on sound sci­en­tific evi­dence.” His main prob­lem with these claims is the use of lousy meth­ods,” said Frankel, who explained that the Spanish have spent a huge amount of resources using ques­tion­able ana­lyt­i­cal meth­ods and com­mer­cial kits not val­i­dated sci­en­tif­i­cally to mea­sure the nutri­tion value of olive oil. They are look­ing for quick and dirty meth­ods. Most of the data is ques­tion­able. They’re using huge money when they need to be using bet­ter meth­ods.”

Regardless of how Dr. Frankel’s research is received, the olive oil indus­try stands to ben­e­fit from the progress he’s com­menced. His drive and integrity have guided and honed his exper­tise, plac­ing him in a unique posi­tion. Dan Flynn’s words speak to California and the entire indus­try when he said of Frankel, He’s a tow­er­ing fig­ure and we’re very lucky he’s turn­ing his atten­tion to olive oil.”


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