Research on olive oil is ongoing and extensive – in Italy and Spain, Germany and Israel, the United States and Australia. Fresh knowledge acts as a spur to help modernise the olive industry.
The main areas of olive oil research are productivity, quality, and impact on health – plus market research, of course.
A recent example of potentially useful research concerns a significant link between olive oil quality and possible health benefits. Good olive oil is bitter, and this bitterness is caused by substances called ‘polyphenols’. These polyphenols also happen to be antioxidants. Tests have therefore been devised to show how long these polyphenols – antioxidants – last in various olive oils. These tests may provide information for useful ‘Use By’ dates, assuming that antioxidants are good for human health. In considering this kind of research, it is important to bear in mind that there is always more to the whole picture than any particular piece of research.
Practical spin-offs from research are always unpredictable. When we were choosing between a centrifugal olive press and a hydraulic mat press, we found a research article suggesting that the extra virgin olive oil from a centrifugal press had superior lasting qualities. This information helped make up our minds for us, although we doubt this was the intention of the researcher.
A current issue under investigation regarding productivity is whether olive trees can be successfully grown as hedges. The idea behind this is to make it easier to pick olives by using grape harvesters. Other longstanding research subjects related to productivity include getting more flowers to produce olives, reducing the number of olives that fall off before they can be harvested, and making trees produce good crops every year instead of only every second year.
Not surprisingly, some market research indicates that consumers don’t always like the characteristics – particularly bitterness – that trained tasters look for in top olive oils. On the other hand, there is also evidence that as people become more familiar with olive oil, they start to enjoy the characteristics – including a balance of fruitiness, pungency and bitterness – that trained tasters agree on. And in Australia, multiple tests have consistently shown that first time tasters can tell the difference between fresh and stale olive oil, and that they prefer it fresh. This is a ringing endorsement of a commitment to quality based on quality research.
We invite readers to Contact Us to discuss any ideas or issues about olive oil research.