GREEK OLIVE OIL ENTREPRENEURS LEAD THE WAY

High phenolic EVOO research continues with multiple clinical trials; most of them initiated from the World Olive Center based in Athens and the laboratory of Dr Prokopios Magiatis at the Univ of Athens, collaborating and supporting trials in many countries. It seems Greek embassies understand the added value of the phenolic content of EVOO and are supporting it. This is a welcome change.

Meanwhile, back in Greece there is still resistance from the highest echelons of the government who do not believe olive oil should have any health claims based on phenolic content. This is akin to saying we should not base our food choices on the nutritional value of vitamins and minerals, This agenda is perpetuated by certain academics who are firmly in the pocket of pharmaceutical interests or certain organoleptic judges who see their influence waning; olive oil is not sipped liked wine therefore taste is irrelevant except to determine if there are any defects, not to be confused with flavour which is subjective. The best and healthiest olive oil is the one that has no taste defects and the highest concentration of phenolic compounds. The Aristoleo Awards is the only competition that bases awards on these two criteria.

The main problem stems from the fact these people are consumed by self interest and a cultural perspective that is kafkaesque to say the least. They say, “Olive oil is a basic element of the Mediterranean Diet and its price should be kept low so everyone can have access to it.” That sounds reasonable and in the social interest at first glance. That is until the penny drops that low price most often means low quality; and if this is the basis of the diet, don’t we want to provide high quality? Our health depends on it. Perhaps under this logic Germany should only make inexpensive vehicles so that everyone can afford them. What would a German say to that logic? I asked and this was the response. “Dumb Greeks this is why they are in such an economic mess.” For the first time in my life I agree with the German. The fact is there is a wide range of pricing within every category of food. Why is it that only in olive oil prices should be regulated? The strange thing about this that it is not a right or left issue. They both agree on this. This is the reason most Greek Olive oil has been exported at rock bottom prices and in bulk to the Italians and Spanish for decades. It is also the reason for the lack of adequate marketing expenditures to promote Greek olive oil. The problem is one of a bankrupt ideology and not of lack of ability or will or hard work.

Indeed, the matter of quality is avoided altogether and further obscured by declaring that olive oil should not even have a health claim; that the focus should not be on the phenolic content at all, but on the taste alone. And this in the land that brought as the first ever health claim for food – “Let Medicine be thy Food and Let Food be thy Medicine” Hippocrates.

The two salient facts that these groups conveniently ignore is:

  1. Quality food, by virtue of the cost of production is more expensive than the mass manufactured additive heavy processed foods.
  2. Clinical trials are proving the major health benefits of olive oil are derived from the phenolic content and not from the oil itself.

This is where the value is set. In fact, these clinical trials for Alzheimer’s, leukemia, prostate and breast cancer and others are indicating a therapeutic value as well. But for this to be accepted  we will need hundreds of clinical trials and who will fund them if there is a collective agreement by the powers that govern to ignore these facts?

At the end of the day the only thing that counts is results. I hear from people every day who begin consuming high phenolic EVOO for certain conditions. They do it under doctor’s supervision and see results by way of lab analysis. Do they need additional health claims and the official designation of high phenolic EVOO as a natural medicine? The only promise we make is that it will not harm you. In the fall we will be able to offer a limited number of free samples for people to try before they buy. This is what transparency looks like.

The hardest thing to accomplish is to produce a high phenolic EVOO year after year. In Greece many olive growers have managed to do just that, not only without support, but with active interference. They have done it during the worst economic crisis since WWII.

Many young people returned to their family farms to weather the economic storm that saw unemployment rise to over 35%, GDP drop by 50%, and banks close. Many of these young people were educated abroad and brought home a greater perspective and market awareness. These young olive growers and their families invested their last remaining savings into producing high phenolic EVOO; this is the “medicinal” quality the ancient hellenic culture made famous and exported two thousand years ago.

Now, instead of Greece making this a national priority those in charge continue to drag their feet. The only place where I see a change in attitude is in the Greek Embassies. They are more in touch with the realities of the global marketplace and are proactive in supporting Greece’s unique cultural products  by promoting them and supporting the efforts of the producers.

The European Regional Development Fund however is in full support of the new category created by the EU Health Claim for polyphenols in olive oil. ARISTOIL Interreg MED Program is a 5 country (Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Italy and Spain) 3 year study to increase the competitiveness of MED region Olive oil by focusing on producing the highest quality possible.

While the whole world is following research and embracing high phenolic EVOOs and looking for where to buy them, the olive oil industry continues to fight it. Why? Because accuracy in measuring olive oils phenolic concentrations brings transparency. The olive oil industry may be the least transparent of any other food group. You only have to look at nutritional labels for olive oil. The majority of ingredients identified on the nutritional label do not exist in olive oil. The olive oil nutritional labels do not tell you the concentration nor do they identify each phenolic compound. This is why we recommend health conscious buyers who will pay a premium for trusted quality go to websites of each producer to see the phenolic content. (The most accurate measurement for phenolic content is either by NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) or LC-MSMS – not HPLC.) If you need assistance contact us and we will recommend olive oil producers we track and trust.

For Greece this is the biggest thing to happen to olive oil in the last 2500 years. Finally science is confirming ancient wisdom. And it all started in the same place it began in the ancient city of Olympia. Now high phenolic EVOOs are ready to take on the world of olive oil fraud and corruption and deliver the best and most “medicinal” olive oil to the customer’s table.

Athan Gadanidis

aristoleo.com@gmail.com