Genotype Plays Significant Role in Fatty Acid Content of Virgin Olive Oil

Researchers in Spain have demonstrated how fatty acid content in virgin olive oils is mostly linked to genotype along with climate and other factors.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jun. 26, 2023 14:56 UTC

Researchers from Córdoba and Madrid, in Spain, have iden­ti­fied and mea­sured the main causes of vari­abil­ity in the fatty acid con­tent of vir­gin olive oils.

The study pub­lished in Food Chemistry shows that most dif­fer­ences in vir­gin olive oil fatty acids pro­files are due to the geno­type of the olive cul­ti­vars. Lesser but sig­nif­i­cant vari­abil­ity also comes from the impact of the dif­fer­ent cli­mate con­di­tions.

According to the sci­en­tists, their results will con­tribute to future olive breed­ing pro­grams to obtain cul­ti­vars meant for healthy and high-qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­tion.

See Also:Researchers Evaluate 12 Olive Varieties for Drought Tolerance

Fatty acids are an essen­tial com­po­nent of olive oil. Looking at them from a health per­spec­tive, the more monoun­sat­u­rated and polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids are present in olive oil, the more the olive oil is con­sid­ered healthy,” Feliciano Priego Capote, pro­fes­sor of ana­lyt­i­cal chem­istry at the University of Córdoba and co-author of the study, told Olive Oil Times.

The fatty acids pro­file, which mea­sures the pro­por­tions of the dif­fer­ent fatty acids, also impacts olive oil sta­bil­ity. A higher pres­ence of monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids sug­gests higher sta­bil­ity of olive oil against oxi­da­tion and chem­i­cal alter­ations that can dete­ri­o­rate the olive oil prop­er­ties,” Priego Capote said.

The researchers col­lected vir­gin olive oil sam­ples from 45 cul­ti­vars from three con­sec­u­tive crop years. Another 71 sam­ples from an equal num­ber of cul­ti­vars were gath­ered across two suc­ces­sive sea­sons. All sam­ples came from the World Olive Germplasm Bank in Córdoba.

Fatty acid

A fatty acid is a fun­da­men­tal build­ing block of fats and oils, play­ing a cru­cial role in their com­po­si­tion and prop­er­ties. It is an organic mol­e­cule con­sist­ing of a long chain of car­bon atoms with a car­boxyl group at one end. These chains can vary in length and sat­u­ra­tion lev­els, influ­enc­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the fat or oil. Fatty acids pro­vide energy, sup­port cell struc­ture, aid in the absorp­tion of fat-sol­u­ble vit­a­mins and con­tribute to var­i­ous phys­i­o­log­i­cal func­tions. Olive oil con­tains a vari­ety of fatty acids, includ­ing monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids such as oleic acid, which is known for its poten­tial health ben­e­fits.

The researchers eval­u­ated the sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences among the fatty acid sam­ples from dif­fer­ent cul­ti­vars. They also mea­sured how sig­nif­i­cant the vari­a­tion of these fatty acids pro­files was from one sea­son to the next.

We found that the most sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor [in deter­min­ing olive oil fatty acids pro­file] is the cul­ti­var,” Priego Capote said. We can say that there is a genetic pre­dis­po­si­tion that marks the olive oil’s fatty acids pro­file as a func­tion of the cul­ti­var.”

The geno­type accounted for 56 per­cent of the total mea­sured sam­ple vari­abil­ity.

While pre­vi­ous research sug­gested a mod­est inter­an­nual vari­abil­ity, the Córdoba study reached dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions.

What we found is that there are sig­nif­i­cant vari­a­tions in the fatty acids pro­file in con­sec­u­tive years,” Priego Capote said. Those can essen­tially be explained by cli­ma­to­log­i­cal con­di­tions.”

A rel­e­vant exam­ple of this effect is the impact of accu­mu­lated pre­cip­i­ta­tion on the vari­abil­ity of fatty acids. The researchers mea­sured pre­cip­i­ta­tion vol­umes from June to October across the dif­fer­ent crop sea­sons, all char­ac­ter­ized by sim­i­lar high tem­per­a­tures.

Accumulated pre­cip­i­ta­tion has a sig­nif­i­cant effect on the con­cen­tra­tion of monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids and polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids,” Priego Capote said. We observed that the lower the vol­ume of accu­mu­lated pre­cip­i­ta­tion in those months, the lower the monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids found in the sam­ples. Saturated fatty acids and polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids were instead found in higher con­cen­tra­tion.”

By ana­lyz­ing the dif­fer­ences among sam­ples in the dif­fer­ent years, the study also iden­ti­fied a cul­ti­var-per-crop year effect which impacts 25 per­cent of the total fatty acids vari­abil­ity.


Essentially, it means that not all cul­ti­vars evolve in the same way through the years, not all respond to the same vari­a­tions in con­sec­u­tive years,” Priego Capote said. For instance, some cul­ti­vars decrease monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids in their sec­ond crop year while oth­ers increase them. That means that there are addi­tional fac­tors which can affect a par­tic­u­lar cul­ti­var to a greater extent.”

The new research did not specif­i­cally eval­u­ate the envi­ron­men­tal effect on fatty acid vari­abil­ity.

In pre­vi­ous research, we have seen how the loca­tion of a tree can trig­ger some fatty acids vari­abil­ity,” Priego Capote said. For instance, we have seen that the ele­va­tion above sea level can impact the fatty acids pro­file.”

The three fac­tors to be con­sid­ered in mea­sur­ing vari­abil­ity are, there­fore, genet­ics, inter­an­nual vari­abil­ity, which is essen­tially linked to cli­mate, and envi­ron­ment,” he added.

By iden­ti­fy­ing how the fatty acids pro­file will change through time, in addi­tion to pre­cise data about olive oil polyphe­nol con­tent, researchers believe it could become eas­ier to pre­dict the dura­bil­ity and sta­bil­ity of the final prod­uct.

Given their dif­fer­ences, we should prob­a­bly say that not all olive oils should have the same best-before-date,” Priego Capote said.

In another paper, our team found a for­mula com­bin­ing olive oil’s fatty acids pro­file and phe­no­lic pro­file to pre­dict the Rancimat response, which is a test for the eval­u­a­tion of sta­bil­ity,” he added.


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