13 New Olive Varieties Discovered in Catalonia

Researchers are currently studying the genetic traits of the newly-discovered autochthonous varieties to see how they cope with the area’s extreme weather.
Photo: Irta
Jun. 21, 2021
Ephantus Mukundi

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Researchers from the Catalan Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) have iden­ti­fied 13 new local olive vari­eties in the autonomous com­mu­nity, which the orga­ni­za­tion will add to its olive germplasm bank.

The study, which IRTA con­ducted in col­lab­o­ra­tion with other agen­cies in the region, seeks to enhance and pro­mote tra­di­tional olive cul­ti­va­tion and oil pro­duc­tion in Pallars Jussà, the county where the olive vari­eties were dis­cov­ered.

(These olive vari­eties have) a very high pro­por­tion of oleic acid and a large num­ber of polyphe­nols, which give them a bit­ter taste and a promi­nent, bal­anced and aro­mat­i­cally rich spici­ness.- Antonia Ninot, researcher, IRTA

With the addi­tion of the 15 new spec­i­mens, the organization’s germplasm bank now con­tains genetic mate­r­ial from 65 dif­fer­ent autochtho­nous Catan olive vari­eties.

Studying autochtho­nous vari­eties can be of great inter­est in sit­u­a­tions of cli­mate change, either to iden­tify genes for resis­tance to emerg­ing pests, to iden­tify genes for adap­ta­tion to drought con­di­tions or other cli­matic vari­a­tions, or to iden­tify func­tional com­pounds of inter­est,” IRTA said in a state­ment on its web­site.

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The genetic traits of these olive vari­eties are espe­cially inter­est­ing for the researchers because the olives grow and suc­cess­fully yield oil in one of Spain’s most extreme cli­mates.

Pallars Jussà sits at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, in north­east­ern Catalonia. The county expe­ri­ences excep­tion­ally cold weather stretch­ing from November to April, espe­cially at higher ele­va­tions, hot sum­mers and non-uni­form peri­ods of pre­cip­i­ta­tion.

Researchers involved in the study care­fully cat­a­loged dif­fer­ent phys­i­cal and chem­i­cal prop­er­ties of each of the trees and their olives, includ­ing describ­ing the shape of the trees, their fruits, leaves and pits.

The researchers also stud­ied the mol­e­c­u­lar com­po­si­tion of the olive vari­eties and the chem­i­cal and sen­sory trails of the oil.

According to Antonia Ninot, a researcher at IRTA’s fruit grow­ing pro­gram, the new vari­eties have, in gen­eral, a very high pro­por­tion of oleic acid and a large num­ber of polyphe­nols, which give them a bit­ter taste and a promi­nent, bal­anced and aro­mat­i­cally rich spici­ness.”

These qual­i­ties make them very inter­est­ing from the organolep­tic and health point of view,” she added.

Olive grow­ing in Pallarès Jussà has a long tra­di­tion, with both autochtho­nous and non-native vari­eties widely cul­ti­vated. Overall, the county is home to 733 hectares of olive groves that yield about 650 tons of olives annu­ally.

It is a rel­a­tively small sec­tor where the major­ity of pro­duc­ers are farm­ers with arti­sanal pro­duc­tion and direct sales, and the activ­ity is not the main one,” the researchers wrote.

Currently, the Catalan olive sec­tor is dom­i­nated by the cul­ti­va­tion of four main vari­eties – Arbequina, Morruda, Empeltre and Sevillenca – with Arbequina mak­ing up roughly half of all olives grown in the autonomous com­mu­nity. All four vari­eties account for about 85 per­cent of total olive cul­ti­va­tion in the region.

The researchers hope to under­stand the traits of these newly-dis­cov­ered vari­eties bet­ter to sup­port tra­di­tional olive oil pro­duc­tion and diver­sity Catalonia’s olive oil sec­tor.





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