How do you otpimize the healthfulness of extra virgin olive oil? That’s one of the main focuses this season of Jaén’s Aceites Campoliva, makers of Melgarejo olive oils.
Extra virgin olive oil is inherently a healthier fat because of its high proportion of monounsaturated fatty acids. But which variables — at the farm or factory — affect the content of the various minor compounds in it that also provide significant health benefits?
With harvesting underway in the company’s plantations in the Sierra Mágina mountain range, production and quality director Blas Melgarejo said his research was intensifying in a bid to answer those questions.
Hydroxytyrosol, beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol and squalene
“We are particularly interested in compounds from the unsaponifiable fraction of extra virgin olive oil, the most important being hydroxytyrosol (antioxiodant) , beta-carotene (vitamin A) , alpha – tocopherol (vitamin E ) and squalene (said to be an antioxidant and anti-cancer agent).
“The variables we believe are the most important in this regard are agronomic ones such as the ratio of flesh to pit in the olive fruit, maturity rates, the altitude of the olive trees, and the soil composition.”
“And when it comes to processing, the conditions during the crushing of the olives and then the malaxation of the paste (which allows small oil droplets to combine into bigger ones) are also important when trying to obtain the maximum amount of these important components,” he said.
To add to the challenge, the company uses four different olive varieties — Picual, Hojiblanca, Arbequina and Frantoio — each different in its sensory and and chemical profiles.
The company has already worked for many years on increasing the sensory quality of its extra virgin olive oils, particularly to increase the quantity and quality of their fruitiness while also delivering oils that are organoleptically balanced but complex. No producer won more medals than Melgarejo’s four at the New York International Olive Oil Competition.
Melgarejo said it was now also focusing on increasing the healthfulness in response to consumer demand, particularly in new markets.
“In all emerging markets for high quality extra virgin olive oils, consumers see this product as attractive both for its health benefits and its culinary versatility. Consumers are not just looking to enjoy wonderful flavors and aromas… they seek a healthy oil to use in their daily diet.
“It is for this reason that season after season our challenge is to increase the health and nutritional benefits of our products,” he said.
Exceptional harvest expected
Production of the new season oils started a few weeks ago and Melgarejo — who said he is thus working all night and sleeping during the day — anticipates an excellent harvest “in both quantity and quality.”
Unlike in some other parts of the province of Jaén, where the olives are maturing later than usual, he said “the abundant rainfall throughout the year and moderate summer temperatures have allowed the fruit to mature in a normal way here.”
“Everything seems to indicate that we are in line for an exceptional season,” he said.