What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil ? The "Mediterranean Soul Juice"

Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil All you need to know

 
Did you ever had the chance to take a little walk in an olive trees field, in a mediterranean region, at summer time, maybe during a shining day? 

If you smell the fragrances of the air, the colors of the earth, the threes, the cicadas singing, you can get the feeling of being part of something. It's a peculiar landscape that talks a lot about culture and history of the mediterranean areas.

The olive threes lie in peace and seem to tell you: "we were here in the past and we will still be here in the future. If you preserve and respect us we will go on to keep an eye on you". And it is exactly this, the respect between human being and the territory that allows to obtain the best resources that nature can offer.

An high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil may represent one of the best example of this relationship. Extra virgin olive oil is not only a food product, but it is an example of how the human ability managed to get the best from nature, obtaining a juice that keeps unaltered the richness of nutrients and amplifies  the aromas and flavours of the original fruit, year after year.

What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?


"EVOO" is the acronym used for Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the highest quality olive oil.

An extra virgin olive oil is the product of the first pressing of the olives, trough mechanical processes, which must not involve any chemical substance. Optimal processing conditions must be followed not to determine any oil alteration.

A high quality extra virgin olive oil is obtained by selecting the best quality olives, harvested at their optimal maturity and processed as soon as possible, after maximum 24/48 hours. Proper storage conditions are also essentials to preserve the quality of an extra virgin olive oil.

Furthermore, the quality and composition of extra virgin olive oil depend on several factors including the "cultivar" (olive variety),  maturity of the fruit, climate and altitude. 


Chemical composition and characteristics of extra virgin olive oil.


Chemically EVOO is mainly composed of triglycerides, molecules that derive from the natural esterification of three fatty acids. 


Fatty acids

The major fatty acid in EVOO triglycerides are :
  • The Oleic Acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid which concentration can go up to 83%.
  • The Linoleic Acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid which molecule contains two double bounds, makes up about 3.5 to 21% of olive oil.
  • The Linolenic Acid, another polyunsaturated fatty acid, which molecule contain three double bounds, maybe present at the maximum amount of 0,9%.
  • The Palmitic Acid and Stearic Acid are the mainly saturated fatty acid present in the EVOO.
    An extra virgin olive oil contains more monounsaturated oleic acid than others vegetable oils. This characteristic explains the higher resistance of EVO oil to oxidation due to heating, light and other factors.

    Other main components

    1-2% of EVOO weight is represented by severals minor components, including bioactive compounds like Vitamin E, phytosterols and polyphenols, which are essential to determine specific organoleptic characteristics and some biological properties of EVOO. In fact, the variety and the relative amounts of phytonutrients contained in extra virgin olives oil helps to explain its unique health benefits effects.

    Acidity

    To be classified as extra virgin, an olive oil can only contain up to 0.8% of free acidity, expressed as free oleic acid.
    Higher quality EVO oils have acidity values lover than 0.8%.
    Acidity is a direct measure of the quality of the oil and this parameter depends on the care taken from olive quality and variety selection to olive extraction and storage.

    Peroxides

    Peroxides are the primary products of oxidation of olive oils; the more peroxides are presents, the higher is the tendency of the oil to get rancid.
    To be classified as extra virgin, an olive oil must have a peroxides value of less than 20 meq.O2/kg.
    High quality extra virgin olive oils normally have a lower value of about 10-12 meq/kg.

    Quality standards of extra virgin olives oil.


    Considering the informations given in the previous paragraph, we can summarize as following the chemical characteristics of an high quality EVO oil:
    • High levels of oleic acid, Vitamin E and polyphenols. Approximately, the amounts of polyphenols can go up to 300mg/kg in mild flavoured oils or up to 1000 mg//kg in more bitter and peppery oils.
    • A low value of acidity (ideally <= 0.4-0.5%).
    • A low value of peroxides.
    It is important to consider that besides chemical and physical criteria, aroma and taste are also very important parameters to define EVOO quality. The quality assurance of these parameters may be more difficult to monitor and depends on several factors, including olive varieties used to produce the oil.
    To help this purpose, in Italy, as in other countries, more restricted parameters have been introduced to certify high quality EVO oils.

    For example, the specific italian initial DOP stands for "Denominazione d'Origine Protetta". If the International Olive Oil Council (IOC) established international standards parameters to determine if an olive oil can be classified as extra vergin, the DOP certification provide a further assurance about the high quality of an EVOO. Eventually, an EVO oil can also be classified as  "Bio" according to the european legislation.

    Health benefits effects of extravergin olive oil consumption.


    EVO oil is a key component of the mediterranean diet. The regular consumption of EVO oil has been associated to a wide range of health benefits.
    • The EFSA (European Food Safety Association) has approved the health claims in relation to consumption of polyphenols contained in EVO oil and protection of LDL particles from oxidative stress. (EFSA Journal 2011;9(4):2033)

    • A recent study published on "Nutrition & Diabetes" journal has demonstrated that, in healthy patients, EVOO improves the post -prandial glycemic control by lowering blood glucose and increasing insulin. Moreover, this study has shown an improvement of post-prandial lipid profile (specific for cholesterol) after EVOO administration during the meal. Taken together, these results may help to better understand how the EVOO may potentially help preventing diabetes and the mechanism potentially involved in the antiatherosclerotic effect of EVOO consumption. (Violi f. Et al. Nutr Diabetes. 2015 Jul 20;5:e172. doi: 10.1038/nutd.2015.23)