`Leucocarpa, the Dazzling White Olive From Magna Graecia - Olive Oil Times

Leucocarpa, the Dazzling White Olive From Magna Graecia

Oct. 1, 2018
Ylenia Granitto

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Leucocarpa, also called Leucolea, is an olive vari­ety char­ac­ter­ized by small fruits which, dur­ing ripen­ing, take on an ivory-white color. Mainly wide­spread in the regions of south­ern Italy, with a strong pres­ence in Calabria, it was prob­a­bly intro­duced dur­ing Magna Graecia’s col­o­niza­tion,” Innocenzo Muzzalupo, a researcher at the Council for Agricultural Research and Economics, Research Centre for Olive, Citrus and Tree Fruit (CREA-OFA), told Olive Oil Times.

Due to the white color of fruits, which in west­ern cul­ture sym­bol­izes purity, it ended up being used mainly for reli­gious pur­poses.- Innocenzo Muzzalupo, CREA-OFA

The extra vir­gin olive oil made from this vari­ety has the same char­ac­ter­is­tics as all the oth­ers with regard to the com­po­si­tion of fatty acids, fla­vors, and aro­mas typ­i­cal of a light fruity prod­uct,” he clar­i­fied.

A small num­ber of pro­duc­ers use it in blends with other pre­dom­i­nant cul­ti­vars, but due to the white color of fruits, which in west­ern cul­ture sym­bol­izes purity, it ended up being used mainly for reli­gious pur­poses.” That is why Leucocarpa is often grown near con­vents, where its oil, after receiv­ing a bless­ing, is intended for the sacra­ments and other Catholic rites and, in the past, to anoint the emperor dur­ing the coro­na­tion cer­e­mony.

Leucocarpa olives (Gino Vulcano)

This is fur­ther evi­dence of how ancient peo­ple, inde­pen­dently of their creed, asso­ci­ated the olive tree and olive oil with sacred­ness, as hap­pened in Athens, and many other places through­out the Mediterranean basin, to such an extent that nowa­days the olive tree is uni­ver­sally con­sid­ered a sym­bol of peace.

Going back to Leucocarpa, genetic char­ac­ter­i­za­tion estab­lished that it belongs to a unique strain, whose lim­ited spread­ing is prob­a­bly due to uneasy prop­a­ga­tion. Then, farm­ers take good care of these olive trees, which dur­ing fruit-bear­ing sea­son give a rav­ish­ing aes­thet­i­cal effect, which accord­ing to a study con­ducted by Muzzalupo with other researchers of CREA and the University of Calabria, is due to a switch-off” of flavonoids and antho­cyanins.

Olive ripen­ing involves two phases: first, the pas­sage and syn­the­sis of chloro­phyll which causes the fruit to be green, then the degra­da­tion of chloro­phyll when the olive lose its color,” our researcher explained. At the same time, gen­er­ally, in olives as in most fruits, the syn­the­sis of antho­cyanins and other flavonoids is acti­vated, and this causes their bluish or black­ish color.”

We should recall that some vari­eties, dur­ing the first part of drupe ripen­ing, takes on a very pale shade of green which is nearly white. For exam­ple, Biancolilla, whose name recalls the color white (Bianco in Italian), is improp­erly called Leucocarpa in some areas, because after chloro­phyll degra­da­tion, fruits remain light-col­ored even twenty days until the pig­dos are acti­vated.

In the Leucocarpa cul­ti­var, flavonoids and antho­cyanin acti­va­tion does not occur at all,” Muzzalupo explained. This is the only vari­ety which remains white at any stage of mat­u­ra­tion, and if we leave the fruits on trees until late win­ter, we will find them white, at most tend­ing to yel­low­ish due to the oxi­da­tion of lipids. In our study we tried to under­stand why this hap­pens.”

The researchers found that the tran­scrip­tion of spe­cific genes is blocked at the level of cer­tain enzymes by a process of reg­u­la­tion; then, they dis­cov­ered which reg­u­la­tory mech­a­nisms occur, through spe­cific microRNAs. This lat­ter find­ing led to the pub­li­ca­tion of the research Deep sequenc­ing of olive short RNAs iden­ti­fies microRNAs tar­get­ing involved in drupe ripen­ing.’

The char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of tran­scripts from flavonoid and antho­cyanin biosyn­thetic path­ways and the analy­sis of their expres­sion level in olive fruits is an impor­tant goal, not only to under­stand the verai­son event of fruits, but also to increase the knowl­edge on these antiox­i­dant mol­e­cules, which are impor­tant for human health,” Muzzalupo noted.

He also reported the result obtained by milling this vari­ety with a Keurig-like device called Revoilution.

We pit­ted Leucocarpa olives and froze the pulp in liq­uid nitro­gen; then we crushed it and put it into the machine,” the researcher explained. Basically, com­pletely avoid­ing oxi­da­tion, we obtained a great medium fruity extra vir­gin olive oil with ideal organolep­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics, which had the sole par­tic­u­lar­ity of being col­or­less. It was very good, with a pleas­ant spicy and bit­ter taste.”


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