How to choose the best extra virgin olive oil? Taste and health benefits

How to choose the best extra virgin olive oil?


EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL TASTE AND HEALTH BENEFITS: HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST QUALITY


High quality extra virgin olive oils can guarantee you specific health benefits and an excellent tasting experience. Keep in mind that this concept doesn't apply to all extra virgin olive oils you may find on the shelf. A lot of variables may affect the composition, the richness in antioxidant content and the taste of the final product. 

The entire extra virgin olive oil production process is really complex and for sure it cannot be cheap to obtain an excellent pure olive juice: from the olive cultivation to the packaging, each single step must be accurately handled.

Besides the essential professional experience, the extraction process must be optimized by using modern mechanical tools in order to preserve the core properties of the olives.

As a consequence, a cheap extra virgin olive oil should let you doubt about its overall quality. 

Remember that all over the word it happens frequently that in spite of the extra virgin label, a lot of oils are not extra virgin at all. Let's find out more about some essential parameters that determine the excellence of an extra virgin olive oil.

IMPORTANCE OF "MINOR COMPONENTS" CONTENT IN EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL


If you are about to buy an extra virgin olive oil, you have to be aware that not all the oils that you find on the market can claim high quality standards in terms of:

  • Organoleptic characteristics
  • Nutritional value 
  • Health benefits.

In a previous article about Extra Virgin Olive Oil, we began to explore the complex world of this natural olive juice, introducing some general informations concerning the essential requisites an olive oil must possess to be defined as extra virgin.

At this point, we would like to focus our attention on a specific group of components, the  so  called "minor components" that are essentials to define the taste, the aroma and some specific health benefits of this amazing food product.

Moreover, most of these components preserve the stability of the oil itself from oxidation due to several factors (light, temperature…)

These groups of compounds have a low concentration that may vary from 1% to 2% of the total oil weight. This percentage depends on the olive oil varieties and the accuracy of the extra virgin olive oil production process.

One of these minor components is the organic compound named Squalene. It has important biological activities as a metabolic modulator and antioxidant.

POLYPHENOLS AND HEALTH BENEFITS

Let's talk now about polyphenols, one of the most precious molecules among the list of the minor compounds of extra virgin olive oil. We can distinguish two main groups of polyphenols, the fat-soluble and the water-soluble. Let's list some examples.

√  The fat-soluble molecules

High quality extra virgin olive oils are rich in Vitamin E. This term is used to indicate a group of molecules with a powerful natural antioxidant activity which neutralizes the free-radicals.

Biologically, Vitamin E acts maintaining the integrity of cell membranes throughout the body. Moreover, it protects the LDLs lipoproteins from oxidation, contributing to prevent cardiovascular disease.

√  The water-soluble molecules

The water soluble group of polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil includes different classes of precious molecules with different biological activity like: 
  • Flavonoids
  • Lignans
  • Phenolic acids
  • Phenolic alcohols
  • Secoiridois
The specific presence of some of these molecules and their related health benefits are an exclusive feature of extra virgin olive oil. You don’t find them in other food sources.

Polyphenols have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions which could play a protective role against different chronic diseases (cancers, cardiovascular diseases and others).

Among these molecules, the hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives (like oleuropein complex and tyrosol) contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress. This health claim has been assessed by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
EFSA indicates that in a balanced diet, this beneficial effect can be achieved with a regular and moderate consumption of extra virgin olive oil, in order to reach a daily intake of 5mg of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives. 
A daily moderate consumption of extra virgin olive oil is estimated to be around 20 g (more or less two tablespoons) and of course this oil should have a significant content of polyphenols, including the molecules hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives.


√  Polyphenolic amount in different extra virgin olive oil

It is important to underscore that not all extra virgin olive oils on the market have a significant amount of polyphenols. To produce specific health benefits, an extra virgin olive oil need to contain at least 250-300 mg/kg.

You have to consider that the extra virgin olive oil can have a polyphenolic concentrations that range from 30-50 mg/kg to
900-1000 mg/kg.

The conclusion is logic: not all extra virgin olive oils on the market have the same quality and nutritional value.


VARIABLES THAT INFLUENCE THE "MINOR COMPONENTS" AMOUNT


The combination of multiple environmental conditions and the extra virgin olive oil extraction process are essentials to determine the quality of the final product, including the polyphenolic content.
To purse the highest quality, each of the following steps must be executed with the maximum accuracy:
 

  • The selection of the olive "cultivar" (olive variety: leccino, raggiola, coratina and so on)
  • Time of olive picking: generally, the content of polyphenols is higher in early ripen olives than in the late-ripen ones.
  • Climate conditions and altitude: in a warmer climate olives ripe faster but they can produce oil with a higher amount of polyphenols.
  • Cultivation and irrigation processes 
  • Techniques used for extractions
  • Packaging and storage conditions


HOW POLYPHENOLS IMPACT THE EVOO FLAVOR


The final concentration of polyphenols determines the quality of an extra virgin olive oil in terms of nutritional properties, stability (due to their antioxidant activity) and last but not least, these molecules influence the taste of the final product.  

For example hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives enrich the olive perfume and aroma with a bitter, pungent and peppery taste which intensity increase with their concentration.
During the degustation of an extra virgin olive oil, the typical tingling feeling that you might feel in your throat is due specific polyphenols. 

It is important to keep in mind that in a high quality extra virgin olive oil, the bitter and pungent taste is a positive characteristic. Once you get used to it you will definitely appreciate it!  

Of course, in a high quality extra virgin olive oil these pungent and bitter characteristics are harmoniously balanced with the fruity flavors that can also be more or less intense, depending on several factors. The different flavors should not overwhelm each other, on the contrary, they generate an harmonious and unique mix.

 

SENSORY PROFILE AND POLYPHENOLS CONTENT OF DIFFERENT ITALIAN MONOCULTIVAR EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OILS

We would like to give you some examples of the sensory profile and the mean value of polyphenols content in some Italian monocultivar extra virgin olive oils (made from a single olive variety) to provide further information regarding the Italian wide range of flavors and related nutritional values of this precious product.

The following data comes from the Italian National Database of monocultivar Extra Virgin Olive Oiland are updated with the 2016 datas.

Examples of mean content of total polyphenols and sensory profile:

Typology: 

  • Medium olive fruity intensity
  • Prevalent almond scent and light notes of grass/leaf and artichoke
  • Pungent and bitter taste of medium-light intensity. 

Example of Olive variety: 
Leccino 435.55 mg/kg of polyphenols (150 samples analyzed)

 

Typology: 

  • Medium-high olive fruity flavor
  • Prevalent grassy notes and tomato scent and light flavor of fresh almond and artichoke. 
  • Pungent and bitter taste of medium intensity. 

Example of Olive variety: 
Ascolana tenera 447.60 mg/kg of polyphenols (80 samples analyzed)


Typology:

  • Medium-high olive fruity intensity
  • Prevalent almond scent and light notes of grass/leaf and artichoke
  • Pungent and bitter taste of medium-high intensity

Example of Olive variety:
Frantoio 551.08 mg/kg of polyphenols (184 samples analyzed)
Raggia 486,69 mg/kg of polyphenols (80 samples analyzed)
Raggiola 506,50 mg/kg of polyphenols (14 samples analyzed)
Coratina 708.51 mg/kg of polyphenols (148 samples analyzed)

Typology:

  • Medium-high olive fruity intensity
  • Peculiar scent of soft fruits
  • Pungent and bitter taste of medium intensity

Example of Olive variety:
Mignola 549.31 mg/kg of polyphenols (59 samples analyzed)


Typology:

  • Medium olive fruity intensity
  • Prevalent scent of grass and light notes of almond artichoke and tomato
  • Pungent and bitter taste of medium light intensity

Example of Olive variety:
Orbetana 356.10 mg/kg of polyphenols (20 samples analyzed)


Typology:

  • Medium-high olive fruity intensity
  • Peculiar scent of grass/leaf and artichokes; Light notes of almond and tomato.
  • Pungent and bitter taste of medium high intensity

Example of Olive variety:
Picholine 713.49 mg/kg of polyphenols (16 samples analyzed)


Italian olive varietal biodiversity is a unique heritage that leads Italy to constantly increase the quality of Blend (made from different olive varieties) and Monocultivar Extra Virgin Olive Oils.

Italians are very demanding regarding the quality of extra virgin olive oils as they pay a great attention both in terms of flavors and health benefits of this amazing product.

Each Italian region preserve and protect the autochthonous Italian olive cultivar pursuing the production of local excellent extra virgin olive oils, respecting local territory and traditions.

Certainly, a low price cannot be the first criteria to choose the extra virgin olive oil for daily consumption.