`IOC Seeks New Method to Measure EVOO Phenolics


IOC Seeks New Method to Measure EVOO Phenolics

Aug. 18, 2014
Athan Gadanidis

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The IOC has put out a request for pro­pos­als to define new test­ing meth­ods for the quan­tifi­ca­tion of phe­no­lic com­pounds con­tent in olive oils for nutri­tional labelling claims.”

This a water­shed moment for high-phe­no­lic EVOO mar­ket­ing. The IOC has finally admit­ted that the cur­rent offi­cial test­ing meth­ods are not able to accu­rately mea­sure indi­vid­ual phe­no­lic com­pounds. The cat­a­lyst for this con­clu­sion was the new label­ing reg­u­la­tion 432/2012 which came into effect in Novem­ber, 2012.

For more than a year this reporter has been writ­ing about this reg­u­la­tion and attempted to get some clar­i­fi­ca­tion from the EFSA and EU on how this new label­ing reg­u­la­tion would be imple­mented. I have sought answers from Greek gov­ern­ment offi­cials and, specif­i­cally, the office of Afthana­sios Tsaf­taris, the Min­is­ter of Rural Devel­op­ment and Food at the time (Mr. Tsaf­taris had already declared this label­ing reg­u­la­tion would be of great ben­e­fit for Greek olive oil).

The amount and the spe­cific phe­no­lic com­pounds that must be present in olive oil to make the health claim were finally spelled out: Olive oil polyphe­nols con­tribute to the pro­tec­tion of blood lipids from oxida­tive stress,” and the claim may be used only for olive oil which con­tains at least 5 mg of hydrox­y­ty­rosol and its deriv­a­tives (e.g. oleu­ropein com­plex and tyrosol) per 20 g of olive oil.”

Every­one expected to begin test­ing their olive oil and, those who qual­i­fied, to place the health claim on their bot­tle labels. How­ever, olive grow­ers here in Greece could not get a straight answer from EFET (Hel­lenic Food Author­ity) on which phe­no­lic com­pounds to mea­sure and which test­ing method to use.

Coin­ci­den­tally, a new method to accu­rately mea­sure indi­vid­ual phe­no­lic com­pounds was devel­oped at the Uni­ver­sity of Athens by Dr. Proko­pios Magiatis using Nuclear Mag­netic Res­o­nance (NMR). A num­ber of mem­bers of the Greek Par­lia­ment asked a ques­tion to the Min­is­ter if oleo­can­thal and olea­cein — two phe­no­lic com­pounds found in abun­dance in Greek EVOO — could be mea­sured in order to qual­ify for the health claim. Min­is­ter Tsaf­taris stunned the olive grow­ers and the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity by declar­ing that oleo­can­thal and olea­cein could not be included because they were not specif­i­cally men­tioned in the reg­u­la­tion.


If some­one had no idea of chem­istry, this answer would have seemed quite rea­son­able. Tsaf­taris is a sci­en­tist and has access to chemists who could have given him a list of the known deriv­a­tives of hydrox­y­ty­rosol, of which there are many. Unfor­tu­nately, this inci­dent was not the only one that gen­er­ated abun­dant crit­i­cism and Mr. Tsaf­taris was replaced as min­is­ter a few months later.

Dr. María-Isabel Covas, who con­ducted the EUROLIVE human study on whose results this reg­u­la­tion was based, told Olive Oil Times, the EFSA claim refers to hydrox­y­ty­rosol and deriv­a­tives (includ­ing tyrosol). Hydrox­y­ty­rosol and tyrosol are present in olive oil as free forms but mainly as con­ju­gates (i. e. oleu­ropein and ligstro­sides). Thus all forms (free and con­ju­gates) in which tyrosol and hydrox­y­ty­rosol are present must be mea­sured.”

The NDA panel, com­prised mostly of epi­demi­ol­o­gists and nutri­tion­ists that rec­om­mended accep­tance of the health claim in the first place, did not seem to under­stand the com­plex­ity of mea­sur­ing spe­cific phe­no­lic com­pounds. Con­se­quently the reg­u­la­tion was writ­ten in such a way that it cre­ated con­fu­sion. Which spe­cific phe­no­lic com­pounds should be mea­sured in order to com­ply?”

The only method avail­able today to quickly and accu­rately mea­sure indi­vid­ual phe­no­lic com­pounds is the NMR method.

The EU cre­ated a reg­u­la­tion that could not be imple­mented by using the offi­cial test­ing meth­ods avail­able at the time. It will take at least another year before the NMR method can be approved as an offi­cial IOC accepted method for mea­sur­ing spe­cific phe­no­lic com­pounds in EVOO, or at least be used to cal­i­brate exist­ing meth­ods such as HPLC to increase their accu­racy.

In the mean­time some olive grow­ers who had their EVOO tested by NMR, and received good results, say they have been able to sell at higher prices, even with­out the claim on their label.

The eco­nomic ben­e­fit gained by a pre­cise mea­sure­ment of indi­vid­ual phe­no­lic com­pounds in EVOO has already been proven in the mar­ket­place. Unfor­tu­nately they must wait a bit longer for the IOC to make their final rul­ing and offi­cially sanc­tion a phe­no­lic mea­sur­ing method for label­ing pur­poses.

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