Olive oil, the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet, is renowned for its nutri­ents and health prop­er­ties. Spain holds the dis­tinc­tion of being the top pro­ducer of this “liq­uid gold” in the world. While most olive oil in the coun­try is pro­duced in Andalusia, in recent years other areas have started to man­u­fac­ture high-qual­ity olive oil using indige­nous vari­eties.

The knowl­edge we have about the char­ac­ter­is­tics of Galician olive oil is scarce and up to now no sys­tem­atic char­ac­ter­i­za­tion had been done on this topic.- Isabel Trujillo Navas, University of Córdoba

Galicia, a region in Spain’s north­east, grows two olive vari­eties called Brava and Mansa. While the cli­mate dif­fers from other parts of Spain in sun­light and rain­fall, the native olives grow well here.

Recently, for the first time, researchers exam­ined Galicia’s olive trees to estab­lish their iden­tity and deter­mine their genetic rela­tion­ship to other olive cul­ti­vars in the Iberian Peninsula. The study was a col­lab­o­ra­tion between the University of Córdoba and the AA1 research team from the Nutrition and Food Science Department at the University of Vigo.

Scientists used an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­ce­dure based on 14 mol­e­c­u­lar mark­ers (DNA) and 11 mor­pho­log­i­cal, or struc­tural, mark­ers. The pro­ce­dure was pre­vi­ously used in the clas­si­fi­ca­tion process of the Córdoba’s Olive Tree Germplasm Bank, which con­tains 800 vari­eties from 23 coun­tries.

Analysis of the data showed 75 per­cent of Córdoba’s olive trees were of the Brava cul­ti­var and 22 per­cent were of the Mansa cul­ti­var. The authors con­cluded the two vari­eties have a high poten­tial for pro­duc­ing excel­lent qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.

According to Isabel Trujillo Navas, a par­tic­i­pat­ing sci­en­tist from the University of Córdoba, “the knowl­edge we have about the char­ac­ter­is­tics of Galician olive oil is scarce and up to now no sys­tem­atic char­ac­ter­i­za­tion had been done on this topic.”

These results estab­lish a foun­da­tion upon which cat­a­loging dif­fer­ences and sim­i­lar­i­ties among olive vari­eties can con­tinue in the future. The research, which will keep going for­ward over the next few months, has pro­vided the oppor­tu­nity for “pro­duc­ing unique new olive oils and diver­si­fy­ing the national and inter­na­tional mar­kets,” said Navas.

Results were pub­lished in the jour­nal Scientia Horticulturae.

The study was con­ducted imme­di­ately prior to a February 2018 inves­ti­ga­tion that eval­u­ated the ther­a­peu­tic prop­er­ties of Galicia’s Brava and Mansa extra vir­gin olive oils. Researchers extracted health­ful com­pounds in the oils called polyphe­nols and tested their capac­ity to inhibit enzymes asso­ci­ated with neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tions such as Alzheimer’s dis­ease, Parkinson’s dis­ease and major depres­sive dis­or­der.

Researchers Recover Forgotten Olive Varieties in Spain

Researchers with the Spanish extra vir­gin olive oil brand Olei, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicos (CSIC), have recov­ered three olive vari­eties native to Galicia that are at least 100 years old. In a press release the com­pany said the team “dis­cov­ered and reg­is­tered the ‘Brava Gallera’ vari­ety in Galicia.”

Scientists have pos­tu­lated that high con­cen­tra­tions of cer­tain enzymes reduce lev­els of brain neu­ro­trans­mit­ters, which are chem­i­cals that pro­tect against neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tions. Therefore, an agent that inhibits these enzymes, such as the polyphe­nols in olive oil, can result in increased lev­els of the neu­ro­trans­mit­ters needed for opti­mal brain func­tion.

The find­ings showed both olive vari­eties, par­tic­u­larly Brava, could inhibit some of the enzymes involved. Therefore, the oils could be con­sid­ered can­di­dates for func­tional foods for these dis­or­ders, play­ing a role in their pre­ven­tion and reme­di­a­tion.

It’s pos­si­ble that the daily con­sump­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil is respon­si­ble for the lower inci­dence of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders in coun­tries bor­der­ing the Mediterranean. The study was pub­lished in the jour­nal Molecules.


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