Consumers are finally being heard and getting what they pay for.

According to the 2015 Nielsen Global Health and Wellness Report,

Consumers seek fresh, natural and minimally processed foods. Beneficial ingredients that help fight disease and promote good health.

I agree with this, don’t you? However, when Forbes posts an article the world reads it and when I saw this one last year I was both angry and frustrated. The Olive Oil Scam: If 80% Is Fake, Why Do You Keep Buying It?

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Angry because it’s absolutely true – why would the consumer keep buying something that is proven to be fake or at best adulterated at a rate of 80%? Angry because this and other reports of fraud, scandal, food crime and agromafia taint the hundreds of extra virgin olive oils grown with care, harvested and produced for the utmost quality from large and small producers around the world.

I’m frustrated because as consumer confidence is eroded, research into extra virgin olive oil and its intrinsic health promoting compounds is increasingly promising in the prevention and even treatment of some of the most nefarious chronic illnesses plaguing our culture today – Alzheimer’s, heart disease, Type II Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.

Before I moved to Greece and learned more about olive oil than I ever thought it possible to know, I too was a consumer standing in front of a row of bottles wondering how I could buy the best for my family – for my money.

Like many, I ended up choosing by price and label in the vain hope that if it came from the Mediterranean, looked good and cost a lot it must be quality. Now I know that I invested in some of the labels that have been summarily shamed by fraud. I feel betrayed and foolish for my naiveté. And maybe it is this that has fuelled my passion for the deep research that I write about into the verifiable healthy components of EVOO and the accurate way to measure them. But how does science ultimately make it to the shelf and how long will it take for consumers to buy EVOO with confidence and discernment?

In 2012 when the EU’s labelling regulation stated EVOOs containing more than 250mg/kg of polyphenols could make a health claim on their label a new category of olive oil was literally introduced.

In the same year, Dr. Magiatis at the University of Athens discovered the way to accurately measure these various phenolic compounds and identify the olive oils that are, in fact, the most health promoting. Magiatis uses NMR, nuclear magnetic resonance. NMR is also routinely used in advanced medical imaging techniques, such as in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In other words, it’s serious and meticulous science.

Until now, international olive oil competitions, IOOCs, have been based on taste and packaging. Packaging helps people like me of yesteryear make a choice based on visuals, but doesn’t offer any guarantee of quality. And taste? Extra Virgin Olive Oils with high levels of phenolic compounds, most particularly the ones about which most of the medical research is concerned – oleocanthal and oleacein – have a peppery sensation on the throat or bitterness on the tongue respectively.

Taste offers us clues, but since a UC Davis study showed that most consumers equate the taste of olive oil with rancidity because that is what they are most accustomed to eating, one must wonder about the IOOCs that are based on taste alone. And here’s a little factoid that irritates me.

The IOC, International Olive Oil Council, has parameters for assessing olive oil for rancidity, acidity and defects before it qualifies for the designation Extra Virgin. Over the past year in International Olive Oil Competitions, IOOCs, nearly 50% of the entrants were disqualified as defective. It doesn’t seem reasonable that a hopeful producer would spend the entry fee and send a bottle of defective oil. One is given to wonder, how accurate or better yet, subjective, are the international taste competitions? And how do they help the consumer choose real quality – except by some bling on the label?

Last year two inaugural olive oil competitions were held, the Olympia Health and Nutrition Awards (international) and Aristoleo® Awards (Greece) combined NMR ratings for phenolic content differentiating between combined phenolic compounds (known for antioxidant properties) and oleocanthal (known for anti-inflammatory properties) specifically.

To olive oil producers around the globe, these competitions have shed light on the methods of production that optimise these beneficial compounds and many more producers are adjusting harvest times and processes and testing their olive oils for these precious health promoting ingredients. The supply is rising to meet consumer demand as per the Nielsen findings.

The harvest has begun and this spring will see IOOCs catching the health wave to change the way olive oil is tested, awarded and labelled.

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Aristoleo® Awards is stepping into the international arena with its 2017 “Tasted, Tested and True” International Olive Oil Competition for highest phenolic EVOO taking place in Cyprus in March 2017.  What makes this competition unique is it will categorize oils according to olive varietals, which cross all borders. Olive oil will be first analyzed by using the Aristoleo Test Kit in conjunction with the Aristometer™ our latest product, a handheld spectrometer. Oleocnathakl and total phenolic concentration will be analyzed by NMR. This is truly a unique competition that promotes what the Aristoleo Awards stand for; “Tasted, Tested and True™”

The winning EVOOs must have no defects to qualify.

Other competitions have  announced a new category of awards focusing on the phenolic content of EVOO as measured by NMR.

OIS (Oleocanthal International Society) has announced quite a broad-spectrum competition called Worlds Best Healthy EVOO Contest with an emphasis on gastronomy even coining the term “gastroleum”. Its May 17th award date coincides with the 4th annual OIS conference to be held in Malaga, Spain.

The Olympia Health & Nutrition Awards will take place this year once again to be announced soon. n/

High Phenolic EVOO is the new category of olive oil that promises to rekindle consumer confidence, expand research activities on the health benefits of oleocanthal and make high phenolic EVOO a daily part of healthy diet and exercise program.

More about the visionary Aristoleo® Awards.