`Chemistry Takes Center Stage at Olive Center Course - Olive Oil Times

Chemistry Takes Center Stage at Olive Center Course

By Thomas Sechehaye
Aug. 17, 2023 04:08 UTC

Olive oil chem­istry can unlock fruit assess­ment for opti­mal yield. The sci­ence behind dif­fer­ent analy­ses pro­vides pro­duc­ers, hob­by­ists and con­sumers with spe­cific options to con­trol or eval­u­ate the qual­ity of any extra vir­gin olive oil.

A sci­en­tific approach can be ben­e­fi­cial, whether run­ning an olive mill or select­ing a high-qual­ity, fla­vor­ful extra vir­gin olive oil for a super­mar­ket shelf.

Natalia Ruiz, an oil chemist and lab­o­ra­tory man­ager at Modern Olives Laboratory Services, is pas­sion­ate about olive oil and shar­ing the power of sci­ence to max­i­mize qual­ity.

Olive oil has con­sis­tently gained sig­nif­i­cant atten­tion, not solely due to its numer­ous health advan­tages, but also owing to its remark­able culi­nary value,” she told Olive Oil Times. With the increas­ing surge in inter­est, there has been a height­ened empha­sis on dis­cern­ing the dis­tinc­tive attrib­utes that define a qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.”

Addressing these inquiries requires a foun­da­tion of sci­en­tific verac­ity along­side com­pre­hen­sive edu­ca­tion,” she added. This edu­ca­tional ini­tia­tive should be acces­si­ble across all tiers of the olive oil indus­try, facil­i­tat­ing a con­sis­tent lin­guis­tic frame­work that enables effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion with con­sumers in gen­eral.”

Olive oil analy­sis is an exten­sive and fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ject,” Ruiz con­tin­ued. I find it eas­ier for the dif­fer­ent parts of the pub­lic to explain dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal para­me­ters through their direct rela­tion­ship with the prod­uct.”

She noted that a prac­ti­cal approach helps peo­ple under­stand what are the causes and or influ­ences that deter­mine its behav­ior before, dur­ing and after pro­cess­ing and what do they exactly mean beyond the sci­ence behind it by using real-life exam­ples.”

Ruiz explains lab equip­ment and pro­vides an overview of lab processes used in eval­u­at­ing small-batch fruit. Fruit is assessed in the lab using spe­cific quan­ti­ta­tive meth­ods.

The University of California – Davis Olive Center is offer­ing an edu­ca­tional event on olive oil chem­istry on August 25. The work­shop is a one-day class for 12 peo­ple to get prac­ti­cal, hands-on expe­ri­ence at Modern Olives’ state-of-the-art lab­o­ra­tory.

According to Ruiz, there are sev­eral myths and assump­tions about olive oil tast­ing and chem­istry.

Olive oil test­ing has gone through dif­fer­ent peri­ods; authen­tic­ity and qual­ity have always been of inter­est while nutri­tional aspects such as antiox­i­dants are more recent sub­jects of stud­ies,” she said. Nevertheless, the research in olive oil has been extended and updated in the last few years, debunk­ing myths about olive oil such as the fridge test’ and the inabil­ity to be used for cook­ing, among oth­ers.”

Opening new debates, a com­mon mis­take is not refer­ring to the lat­est infor­ma­tion or infor­ma­tion that has no sci­en­tific sub­stan­ti­a­tion when talk­ing about olive oil,” Ruiz said.

Sensory eval­u­a­tion of olive oil helps pro­duc­ers to eval­u­ate their oil for max­i­mum fla­vor and health ben­e­fits. Freshly crushed olive oil is sim­i­lar to fresh-squeezed fruit juice. Simply, fresher juice pro­vides the max­i­mum fla­vor and nutri­ents.

Producers and con­sumers can famil­iar­ize them­selves with key ter­mi­nol­ogy to under­stand a sci­en­tific approach to extra vir­gin olive oil chem­istry. According to Olive Oil Source, these sci­en­tific terms are help­ful in under­stand­ing the chem­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of olive oil.

Oleic acid is a mono­sat­u­rated omega‑9 fatty acid found in olive oil. The range in extra vir­gin olive oil is typ­i­cally between 55 to 83 per­cent. Oleic acid has a greater oxi­da­tion resis­tance, so it makes sense that extra vir­gin olive oil high in oleic acid is pre­ferred.

Free-fatty acid (FFA) is a term that reflects the con­di­tion of the fruit at the time of crush­ing. According to United States Department of Agriculture and International Olive Council stan­dards, the stan­dard for the max­i­mum limit of free-fatty acid in extra vir­gin olive oil is 0.8 grams per 100 grams or 0.8 per­cent.

A low FFA is pre­ferred as a higher FFA can indi­cate poor-qual­ity fruit. This may be due to var­i­ous causes such as dam­age, over­ripeness, insect infes­ta­tion, over­heat­ing dur­ing pro­duc­tion or too much time between har­vest­ing and crush­ing.

Peroxide value is also a crit­i­cal term to know. Peroxides are formed when unsat­u­rated free fatty acids react with oxy­gen. These typ­i­cally cre­ate a ran­cid oil smell or musty odor. High tem­per­a­ture, light, and oxy­gen expo­sure can accel­er­ate these reac­tions.

Polyphenol count is often used to describe olive oil. According to NudoAdopt, an Italian com­pany that pro­motes small-scale olive farm­ers, polyphe­nols are a class of antiox­i­dants. Polyphenols vary across dif­fer­ent oils, depend­ing on the olive vari­ety, ripeness, and time of the har­vest.”

Numerous stud­ies have shown phe­nols in extra vir­gin olive oil are respon­si­ble for many of the health ben­e­fits asso­ci­ated with con­sum­ing fresh olive oil.

I think any type of pro­fes­sional edu­ca­tional infor­ma­tion about olive oil would ben­e­fit the indus­try and con­sumers, as was the case for other com­modi­ties in the past, such as wine,” Ruiz said.

Olive oil chem­istry is a crit­i­cal topic for olive oil pro­duc­ers and con­sumers. Understanding chem­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics, fla­vors and tastes are invalu­able tools for cre­at­ing, buy­ing and enjoy­ing high-qual­ity olive oils.


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