`Tips for Selecting High-Polyphenol Olive Oils - Olive Oil Times
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Tips for Selecting High-Polyphenol Olive Oils

By Liliana Scarafia - Agbiolab
May. 4, 2021 10:34 UTC

Consumers inter­ested in the health ben­e­fits often ask how to find high-polyphe­nol extra vir­gin olive oils.

Only a few brands list polyphe­nol con­tents online, but often as just a plain num­ber, with­out an explicit men­tion of the units in which the polyphe­nol val­ues were mea­sured.

See Also:Dr. Gundry’s Olive Oil: Controversial Pitchman Peddles a Dose of Deception

This cre­ates con­fu­sion since dif­fer­ent polyphe­nol test meth­ods may be used by dif­fer­ent labs depend­ing on their capa­bil­i­ties, and polyphe­nol results may be wildly dif­fer­ent and not directly com­pa­ra­ble.

For exam­ple, tests expressed in gal­lic or caf­feic acid units are almost equiv­a­lent but com­pletely dis­sim­i­lar to other units.

We could delve into the fine points of how polyphe­nols are mea­sured. But for simplicity’s sake, here is a guide­line for select­ing high polyphe­nol oils, with no addi­tional infor­ma­tion other than what is on the bottle’s label:

Early har­vest (NOT late har­vest)

The accu­mu­la­tion of polyphe­nols in the olive fruit occurs ear­lier than the oil buildup. The com­po­si­tion may change dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son with a later decrease at the onset of fruit ripen­ing. Thus, early har­vest olive oils will have a higher level of polyphe­nols.

Produced in tem­per­ate cli­mates (NOT desert cli­mates)

The dif­fer­ence in polyphe­nol con­tent between olives grown in tem­per­ate and desert cli­mates may be due to the rate of ripen­ing of the fruit.

Desert olives may ripen ear­lier with an over­all decreased level of polyphe­nols. On the other hand, mild water stress, as can be done in rain-fed orchards in Mediterranean cli­mates, may result in an increase in polyphe­nols.

  • From olive vari­eties high in polyphe­nols: Coratina, Cornicabra, Maurino, Picual, Mission, or Tuscan blends
  • NOT from olive vari­eties low in polyphe­nols: Arbequina or table olive vari­eties such as Sevillano or Manzanilla

The genet­ics of olive vari­eties deter­mine the polyphe­nol level poten­tial and there is a great diver­sity of cul­ti­vars.

The con­tent of polyphe­nols in the fruit may be a hun­dred to a thou­sand-fold higher than in the result­ing oil. That is why table olives need to be de-bit­tered by fer­men­ta­tion, brin­ing or chem­i­cal treat­ment to make them edi­ble.

Also, table olive vari­eties have been selected for lower bit­ter­ness, and thereby a lower her­i­ta­ble level of polyphe­nols. Olive vari­eties intended for oil pro­duc­tion, on the other hand, can have higher polyphe­nols in the fruit while, unfor­tu­nately, most will be lost dur­ing milling.

  • Flavor style listed as Robust (NOT Mild or Delicate)

Some olive oil brands put extra effort into obtain­ing high-polyphe­nol oils. The miller who processes the olive fruit has a major role in achiev­ing it. Unfortunately, it is not indi­cated on the label what the milling goals were.

If mainly inter­ested in oleu­ropein and oleo­can­thal con­tent because of the health ben­e­fit claims, one must rely on lab tests that quan­tify those polyphe­nols or the taste of the oil itself: bit­ter­ness is mostly due to oleu­ropein and pun­gency (the throat sen­sa­tion trig­ger­ing cough­ing) to oleo­can­thal.

Also, bear in mind that these two com­plex polyphe­nols are mostly present in fresh oils and are nat­u­rally depleted in older oils.

Let’s enjoy gifts of nature that ded­i­cated olive grow­ers and millers have crafted for us.


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