olive branches on trees full of green olives, blue sky in background

Last June, the Olympia Health and Nutrition Awards initiated a new trend in olive oil competitions: a focus on health benefits. In 2017, the Olympia Awards will continue, the Aristoleo Awards will expand, a new competition will debut in Malaga, Spain, and the London Competition will lead mainstream competitions into this new health-conscious territory.

The main focus of these competitions will be the phenolic content of the extra virgin olive oils (EVOOs). In recent years, many scientific studies have supported claims that EVOOs have numerous health benefits. Many of those benefits come from the phenols in EVOOs. As explained by Greek Liquid Gold, oleocanthal, one of the phenolic compounds in olive oil, is anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial. Studies suggest that it may help prevent or treat illnesses including Alzheimer’s, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Another phenol found in olive oil, oleacein, is an anti-oxidant that seems likely to help prevent heart failure, hypertension, and oxidative stress.

High phenolic EVOOs have been drawing more attention since European Union regulation 432/2012 allowed a health benefit claim about them which stated, “Olive oil polyphenols contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress.” It continued, “The claim may be used only for olive oil which contains at least 5 mg of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives (e.g. oleuropein complex and tyrosol) per 20 g of olive oil. In order to bear the claim information shall be given to the consumer that the beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 20 g of olive oil.”

Also in 2012, according to Olive Oil Times, Dr. Prokopios Magiatis and his team at the University of Athens developeda method using 1H-NMR, a form of nuclear magnetic resonance, to directly measure oleocanthal and oleacein levels.” Writing to Greek Liquid Gold from Italy, where he was invited “to transfer knowledge on the health benefits of olive oil to Italian producers,” Magiatis confirmed that he and his team will be involved in all four of the 2017 competitions mentioned above, and that they will all use the NMR method to analyze the EVOOs’ phenolic content. The Malaga competition will use NMR as well as two other methods; the other competitions will use only NMR.

All but the Olympia Awards will also consider the olive oils’ organoleptic properties (aroma and flavor), and the Malaga competition, the new World’s Best Healthy EVOO Contest, will also take into account the fatty acid balance. The competitions differ in their minimum olive oil production requirement for participation: for the Malaga competition, 4 metric tons are necessary; for London, 500 kilograms; for Aristoleo, 30 kilograms; and for Olympia, there is no minimum, so that small-scale producers may participate.

This past June, the Oleocanthal International Society (OIS) sponsored the Olympia Health & Nutrition Awards in Ancient Olympia, Greece, alongside its third conference. The OIS strives to “combine practical and clinical research to showcase the potentiality of this functional food,” olive oil rich in oleocanthal, according to their website. Magiatis, vice-president of OIS, explained that this was a uniquely verifiable, objective olive oil competition “that relie[d] mainly on the amount of specific health protecting phenols.”

For the first edition of the Olympia Health & Nutrition Awards, 540 samples of olive oil from 325 producers in 5 countries were analyzed to check their levels of several phenolic compounds: oleocanthal, oleacein, and all other tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol derivatives. All oils that exceeded the 250 mg/kg of phenols required for an olive oil health claim according to EU regulation 432/2012 were honored, while the three EVOOs with highest total phenolic content and the three with the highest oleocanthal content received special recognition. Producers of the healthiest EVOOs were also recognized. While 2017 competition details have not yet been published, a similar procedure is expected.

After a modest start with 27 Greek olive oils last spring, the second, much expanded edition of the Aristoleo Awards will be held in Nicosia, Cyprus in March with the slogan "Tasted, Tested and True." The website for last year’s competition explains that it sought “to discover, award and promote the olive oils which not only have high health protective content, but also have flawless taste,” since only EVOOs without taste defects were eligible for awards. This year’s competition will seek to explore “the many olive tree varieties that produce high phenolic EVOO from around the world,” according to founder Athan Gadanidis.

Aristoleo Awards will be given to the olive oil with the highest phenolic content, and no organoleptic defects, for each olive tree variety. Gadanidis explained to Greek Liquid Gold that “the purpose of this year’s Awards is to discover new high phenolic varietals and map their location, climatic conditions, age of trees, and geographic positioning” as well as harvest method and mill type—“valuable data to help us develop the best practices for farming methods, harvesting and milling” as we “begin to understand where the differences in phenolic concentration originate.”

A new competition, the World’s Best Healthy EVOO Contest, will take place in Málaga, Costa del Sol, Spain, in May. It is sponsored by the Oleocanthal International Society, Sociedad Andaluza del Oleocanthal-Asociacion Espanola, the Extra Virgin Olive Oil International Cooking Academy, and two laboratories. Samples will be tested for their balance between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, levels of total phenols, and levels of oleocanthal and oleacein, with only the best three EVOOs in each category winning the final top awards.

The first prize winners in each category at the World’s Best Healthy EVOO Contest will be invited to participate in the Health & Food Awards Gastronomy Competition in Malaga, where famous chefs will prepare four-course meals using their EVOOs, and an international jury of five specialists in gastronomy and organoleptics will judge which EVOO produced the best meal.

For the first time, an established mainstream international olive oil competition will also include a contest focused on olive oils’ health benefits as well as organoleptic characteristics. According to their press release, next April’s London International Health Olive Oil Competition 2017 aims to promote “olive oils with a health claim as a superfood product in international markets across the world. The goal is to promote the idea that the quality of extra virgin olive oil is directly related to health benefits.” Unlike other olive oil competitions, the London competition will include a health benefit score (70%, based on the phenolic concentration) and a taste score (30%).

Dr. Prokopios Magiatis commented to Greek Liquid Gold, “the appearance of 4 competitions regarding the health benefits of olive oil is a signal to the markets that from now on olive oil cannot be evaluated only based on its taste as a simple food.” There has been “a global change in how the consumers see olive oil: as a food that plays a critical role in the protection of health,” with “a unique advantage in comparison to all other vegetable oils. The competitions strengthen the healthy image of olive oil.”

Athan Gadanidis, founder of the Aristoleo Awards, argues that “the EU health claim labeling regulation has in fact created a new category of EVOO and inspired the development of new and more accurate methods of measuring phenolic compounds in EVOO. The EU health claim and how it has changed the olive oil industry is THE story for olive oil right now.”

Thanks to Elawon for the photo of olive tree branches full of green olives at the top of this page, and thanks to Makaria Terra for the photo of their fresh extra virgin olive oil at the mill.

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