Recent research shows one California extra vir­gin olive oil just might be among the world’s health­i­est.

Dr. Prokopios Magiatis and Dr. Eleni Melliou, from the University of Athens, have been test­ing EVOOs using the 1H-NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) method to deter­mine the amounts of oleo­can­thal and olea­cein in EVOOs from around the world. Hundreds of vari­eties of olive oils have been tested so far.

The effort is part of a broader project to dis­cover the spe­cific olive tree vari­eties, grove man­age­ment meth­ods, har­vest­ing times and the type of mills that pro­duce the health­i­est olive oils.

Koroneiki and Throuba olive vari­eties from cer­tain regions and spe­cific olive mills in Greece had so far been found to con­tain the high­est and most con­sis­tent lev­els of oleo­can­thal and olea­cein.

Now, using new expanded 1H-NMR test­ing, unusu­ally high lev­els of oleu­ropein agly­con were detected in sam­ples of Mission vari­ety extra vir­gin olive oil from Berkeley Olive Grove in Northern California.

Always on the look­out for the lat­est sci­en­tific advances, Berkely Olive Grove owner Olivia Newsome-Grieco met Melliou at a sem­i­nar at U.C. Davis. Newsome-Grieco said she imme­di­ately under­stood the value of the new method and sub­mit­ted sam­ples for test­ing.

“It is ironic that in the midst of eco­nomic chaos, two Greek sci­en­tists were able to develop a test that would con­firm the high qual­ity of EVOO pro­duced right here in California. I am so happy to have met (Magiatis and Melliou),” Newsome-Grieco said.

The high­est recorded con­cen­tra­tion of oleu­ropein agly­con (342 mg/​Kg) was in a Berkeley Olive Grove sam­ple pro­duced from green olives under stressed irri­ga­tion and low tem­per­a­ture milling. “The con­cen­tra­tion pre­sented the high­est value among over 400 sam­ples ana­lyzed by the University of Athens since 2010,” Magiatis said.

Oleuropein Aglycon com­pound has recently been found to be effec­tive for Alzheimer pre­ven­tion.

Chemical analy­sis of Mission EVOO

Oleocanthal: 88 mg/​Κg
Oleacein: 90 mg/​Kg
Oleuropein agly­con (alde­hyde form): 342 mg/​Kg
Ligstroside agly­con (alde­hyde form): 170 mg/​Kg

The ori­gin of the Mission cul­ti­var is shrouded in mys­tery; it was assumed to have arrived in North America by Spanish Franciscan mis­sion­ar­ies. DNA test­ing, how­ever, has not shown any rela­tion to Spanish olive trees, but they were found to share some char­ac­ter­is­tics with the Picholine Marocaine vari­etal found in Morocco.

Mission is the only olive vari­ety rec­og­nized by the International Olive Council as native to North America.

Berkeley Olive Grove is cel­e­brat­ing its 100th year of olive grow­ing his­tory. Organic and sus­tain­able grove man­age­ment, together with vig­or­ous olive milling research and care­ful pro­cess­ing, have yielded results. The pro­ducer earned an aston­ish­ing three Gold Medals at the New York International Olive Oil Competition.

“I believe this may become a defin­ing moment for the olive oil indus­try in California — as impor­tant as when California wines beat French wines in the 1976 dou­ble blind wine tast­ing event in Paris,” Darro Grieco said, upon hear­ing of the pos­i­tive results of his EVOO.

The health­i­est extra vir­gin olive oils may not be the ones peo­ple choose for taste. Ancient Greeks who insisted on press­ing unripened olives always mixed their olive oil with wine or vine­gar. High lev­els of oleo­can­thal and olea­cein are usu­ally found in early-har­vest EVOOs that have a more bit­ter taste and leave a pep­pery sen­sa­tion in the throat. Even to this day bal­samic vine­gar and EVOO are found side by side.

Freshness and taste on their own can­not deter­mine accu­rately the health­ful­ness of EVOO. Many olive vari­eties, regard­less of fresh­ness and taste, lack the nec­es­sar­ily high lev­els of key phe­no­lic com­pounds.

Some early-har­vest EVOOs with high lev­els of health-pro­mot­ing com­pounds have also won organolep­tic awards. It is there­fore pos­si­ble to pro­duce excel­lent tast­ing, well-bal­anced EVOOs with high lev­els of health­ful­ness.

The new test results could mark the dawn of a new era for EVOO when ancient wis­dom com­bine with mod­ern test­ing and organolep­tic analy­sis, to develop spe­cific stan­dards and new label­ing claims for “health pro­mot­ing” EVOOs in California and abroad.


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