`Greece's Early Harvest Olive Oils

Europe

Greece's Early Harvest Olive Oils

Oct. 14, 2015
Lisa Radinovsky

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Early har­vest extra vir­gin olive oils can be more expen­sive and hard to find than other extra vir­gin oils since unripe olives pro­duce less oil and need to be picked right from the trees. Even so, more are find­ing their bit­ter taste, extra low acid­ity, and higher antiox­i­dant con­tent worth the money.

Accord­ing to Agronews’ Alexan­der Bikas, early har­vest olive oil costs at least one euro more than con­ven­tional olive oil. Bikas wrote that the auc­tions of the Agri­cul­tural Coop­er­a­tive of the Holy Apos­tles in Laco­nia, Greece, which saw the sale of oils pro­duced from Athi­noelia and Messinia Koroneiki olives this month to the Ital­ian com­pany Alta Marena for €4.60 per kilo­gram, rep­re­sent a barom­e­ter of olive oil prices in Greece,” which leads him to expect Greek EVOO pro­duced later in the sea­son to go for around €3.60.

Bikas also noted that very lim­ited quan­ti­ties of olive oil were pro­duced from unripe fruit in Greece last year. How­ever, he empha­sized that its high polyphe­nol con­tent appeals to demand­ing for­eign mar­kets for both phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal use and the gourmet restau­rants of Italy, the USA and Eng­land.”

An authen­tic early har­vest olive oil needs very highly skilled peo­ple and car­ries the pas­sion of those peo­ple and the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the region- Emmanouil Karpadakis, Terra Creta

Argyris Bouras, owner of Eleones Hel­lenic Olive Prod­ucts, told Olive Oil Times that he does not believe early har­vest olive oils are pop­u­lar in Greek stores, although Ital­ians like to use early har­vest Greek oils to blend and upgrade low grade olive oils.” On the other hand, many farm­ers might sim­ply keep the first oil of the sea­son for their own fam­ily and friends leav­ing lit­tle avail­able for the mar­ket­place.

Nev­er­the­less, Agronews lists sev­eral advan­tages to press­ing unripe olives: gath­er­ing fruit early gives the trees a break that leads to high returns every year; har­vest­ing early reduces the chance of dam­age to olives from frost, hail and sim­i­lar weather prob­lems, thus reduc­ing farm­ers’ risks; and the excel­lent nutri­tional value of early har­vest olive oil is acknowl­edged world­wide, which makes it a super-weapon” for olive oil farm­ers and pro­duc­ers.

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The higher chloro­phyll con­tent in unripe olives makes the early har­vest oil, called agoure­lio” in Greek, greener and richer in healthy polyphe­nols. Accord­ing to the abstract of a recent study, there is a pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tion of a high level of oleo­can­thal and olea­cein in olive oils with the early time of har­vest.”

To pro­mote local agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, the Regional Unit of Halkidiki in north­ern Greece com­mis­sioned an analy­sis of 32 sam­ples from the Halkidiki early olive oil har­vest of 2014 – 15 by the National and Kapodis­trian Uni­ver­sity of Athens Depart­ment of Phar­ma­cog­nosy and Chem­istry of Nat­ural Prod­ucts. The results of the study, which used the Nuclear Mag­netic Res­o­nance (NMR) method devel­oped by Dr. Proko­pios Magiatis, were said to prove the high nutri­tional value of Halkidiki early har­vest olive oil com­pared with other Greek and for­eign extra vir­gin olive oils, given its rich­ness in oleo­can­thal and olea­cein.

The aver­age polyphe­nol con­tent in the sam­ples from Halkidiki was 495 mg/kg, com­pared with an inter­na­tional aver­age of 330 mg/kg. Yanni’s Lim­ited PDO Halkidiki Early Har­vest boasted the high­est level: 1026 mg/kg.

Since 2013, some of the oil that meets the appro­pri­ate high qual­ity and pro­duc­tion require­ments, includ­ing milling by Octo­ber 15, has been dis­tin­guished by PDO sta­tus as Agoureleo Chalkidikis.” The polyphe­nols iden­ti­fied in the Halkidiki early har­vest oils have been cred­ited with sig­nif­i­cant anti-inflam­ma­tory, antiox­i­dant, car­dio­pro­tec­tive and neu­ro­pro­tec­tive prop­er­ties.

Early har­vest olive oils out­side Halkidiki have also shown the high polyphe­nol con­tent asso­ci­ated with health ben­e­fits. For exam­ple, a test of the Gov­er­nor brand’s unfil­tered EVOO using the NMR method showed the high­est lev­els of phe­no­lic com­pounds ever recorded in Greece,” 1141 mg/kg, accord­ing to the company’s web­site. George Daf­nis, co-owner of Olive Fab­rica, which pro­duces this oil, told Olive Oil Times the early har­vest of the Liano­lia olives in Corfu begins in mid-Octo­ber each year.

Early har­vest” can refer to dif­fer­ent har­vest times in dif­fer­ent parts of Greece, given vari­a­tions in cli­mate, olive vari­ety, and ele­va­tion. Argyris Bouras explained that the first olive oil of the year comes from Halkidiki, which is more famous for Greece’s largest table olives, the green Hon­dro­lia. Eleones Early Har­vest is pro­duced in lim­ited quan­ti­ties from olives hand­picked begin­ning as early as mid-Sep­tem­ber, pressed the same day, and bot­tled in Halkidiki. Accord­ing to Bouras, Eleones Early Har­vest (acid­ity 0.17) has a shelf life of up to 18 months, rather than the usual 9 – 10 months for many early har­vest oils, because the high lev­els of antiox­i­dants of Halkidiki delay oxi­da­tion.

It is pos­si­ble to find early har­vest Greek extra vir­gin olive oils pro­duced as late as early Novem­ber, such as Mil­itsa Lim­ited Release Early Har­vest EVOO or Esti Early Har­vest, which won a Gold Award at the 2014 NYIOOC. These are both made from Koroneiki olives hand-har­vested in the south­ern Pelo­pon­nese.

How­ever, mid Octo­ber is a more com­mon time for early har­vest olive oil pro­duc­tion in most of Greece. For exam­ple, the Olive Table’s Organic Early Har­vest Sin­gle Estate EVOO orig­i­nates in fam­ily-owned Koroneiki olive groves in the moun­tain vil­lage of Chris­tianoupo­lis in Messe­nia, slightly north­west of Mil­itsa, where the unripe olives are hand­picked start­ing in the sec­ond or third week of Octo­ber and crushed within hours of har­vest­ing.

Within the next few weeks, Terra Creta in Kolym­vari, Crete will begin offer­ing its first early har­vest extra vir­gin, with just 4,000 bot­tles of spicy EVOO pro­duced from Koroneiki olives har­vested in mid-Octo­ber. Mar­ket­ing Man­ager Emmanouil Karpadakis empha­sized that a spe­cial­ized group of pro­fes­sional farm­ers” with sci­en­tific sup­port” will bring the olives to the mill only a few hours from har­vest­ing. An authen­tic early har­vest olive oil needs very highly skilled peo­ple and car­ries the pas­sion of those peo­ple and the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the region,” he said.


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