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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