olive grove landscape by the sea in southern Crete

In 2021, the Greek olive oil sector continued to show that its products offer both superb flavor and impressive health benefits. In spite of the challenges of the pandemic, economic struggles, climate change, and more, Greek olive oils won awards for quality and healthy components, and new discoveries and innovations helped offset some of the difficulties.

As the world continued to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers became more interested in healthy foods. Emmanouil Karpadakis, olive oil specialist and vice president of the Exporter’s Association of Crete, believes “the pandemic had a positive effect on consumption and exports of extra virgin olive oil since in a good percentage of consumers’ minds, quality extra virgin olive oil is closely related to our health and wellbeing,” as well as our enjoyment of our food.

In 2021 as in previous years, hundreds of awards from international olive oil quality competitions helped demonstrate that Greek olive oil is a flavorful food as well as a healthy one. Many believe Greece’s most important award came from the olive oil competition often considered the world’s strictest: the International Olive Council’s Mario Solinas Quality Award. For the first time in 13 years, a Greek extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)--Terra Creta’s Grand Cru--captured a first prize at that prestigious contest. That award and many others propelled Terra Creta’s Grand Cru to the 2nd place worldwide in the EVOO World Ranking’s (WR) list of the world’s best EVOOs—the first time a Greek extra virgin olive oil ranked so high on that list.

According to the EVOO WR listings for the entire world, Koroneiki variety extra virgin olive oils and flavored olive oils from Greece captured the majority of the top awards in their categories in 2021. Laconiko and Sakellaropoulos Organic Farms were noteworthy for both types of olive oil, and these two Greek companies dominated the top of the flavored/infused olive oil list. Also excelling with both extra virgin and flavored olive oils, Mediterre Eurofood S.A. was ranked among the top four olive oil companies in the world by EVOO WR.

While all good olive oil is nutritious as well as flavorful, many Greek extra virgin olive oils are particularly noteworthy for their health benefits, as indicated by numerous awards last year in international competitions focused on healthy components naturally found in olive oil. Top awards included a first place for Liokareas Olive Oil and other top ten showings for Greek oils at the 2020/2021 World’s Best Healthy EVOO Contest in Spain, as well as many prizes for high levels of beneficial natural compounds in Greek extra virgin olive oils at the Berlin Global Olive Oil Awards, the Olympia Health & Nutrition Awards, the Aristoleo Awards, and the London International Olive Oil Competitions.

Dr. Eleni Melliou, president of the World Olive Center for Health and a pharmacognosy researcher at the University of Athens, considers extra virgin olive oil “the best source of lipids that somebody could use for cooking or in raw form during a pandemic.” Melliou emphasizes that this is especially true when the EVOO contains high levels of the beneficial natural compounds called phenols. As Melliou explained to Greek Liquid Gold, “high phenolic olive oil has anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic activities,” among other benefits. This is important since “inflammation is implicated in almost every illness,” and thrombosis (a blood clot blocking a blood vessel, which can be one of the complications of COVID-19) can lead to stroke and heart attack.

In 2021, one of many research projects that brought together Greek scientists and olive oil producers to explore olive oil’s varied health benefits concluded with its final publication about the effect of EVOO on human volunteers with mild cognitive impairment. While larger studies are required to confirm the findings—and another has already started--the exciting initial results suggest that moderate to high phenolic extra virgin olive oil may safely help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Other research on EVOO’s healthy components indirectly led to the opening of a shop in Athens devoted to high phenolic olive oils. This may be the only store in the world that offers an in-store lab test to check the levels of beneficial compounds before a consumer buys an olive oil. l

The publication of results of both scientific studies and competitions provided encouragement and validation that were especially valuable during another year of COVID-19. Eleni Melliou suggests that people cooking at home “were looking for high quality products good for their health, so many of the producers with e-shops had increased sales.” As agroeconomist Vassilis Zampounis, editor of Olive & Olive Oil and Olivenews.gr, points out, “the pandemic gave a strong impetus to the consumption of olive oil (and other foodstuffs),” thanks to the predominance of home cooking during periods of lockdown and caution. However, Zampounis has seen a change since restaurants and hotels reopened: “HoReCa is using seed oils to a great extent.” For this reason, he reported, olive oil prices increased until May “but afterwards turned to a downward trend.”

Emmanouil Karpadakis told Greek Liquid Gold he considers the situation for people working with Greek olive oil toward the end of 2021 “challenging due to the reduced production in some areas and the increase in prices” for energy and goods. The harvest that began in autumn 2021 “quality-wise is better than the previous year, but produced quantity is expected to be lower. There are challenges to deal with, like climate change, olive tree cultivation, production and consumption at the international level, and the changes in consumer preferences and diet models.”

Olive oil consultant and food policy scientist Vasilios Frantzolas expects the 2021 harvest to bring “lower sales, lower income, because of the much smaller production mainly due to heat waves that hit flowering at the beginning of May 2021.” However, “speaking about quality, referring to bottled olive oils, it was a good year, promising even better oils for the next years.” Frantzolas noticed “a steady increase of new brands on the market, some very interesting ones coming either from ‘neglected’ olive varieties like Koutsourelia or from well-known superb varieties like Makris, but extracted even more carefully” to achieve the well balanced and fruity extra virgin olive oils that he deems most appealing to a majority of consumers internationally.

Eleftheria Germanaki, director of the Sensory Evaluation Laboratory of Crete and an international olive oil competition judge, explained to Greek Liquid Gold that she has seen “an increased demand for reliable and realistic education” from Greek millers and bottlers interested in learning how “to produce extra virgin olive oil of elevated quality.” For this reason, her lab developed online training courses during the pandemic in order to continue their educational mission. Other institutions’ online conferences on innovation presented more new ideas and solutions to Greek producers. Germanaki suggests that students’ awards in olive oil competitions imply that education can lead to important changes with impressive results.

Even while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and Greece and the world face unprecedented challenges, Greek olive oil producers continue to supply consumers with a wide variety of flavors and health benefits in the most nutritious—and perhaps the most environmentally friendly--type of edible oil on the planet.

All businesses, organizations, and competitions involved with Greek olive oil, the Mediterranean diet, and/or agrotourism or food tourism in Greece, as well as others interested in supporting Greeks working in these sectors, are invited to consider the advertising and sponsorship opportunities on the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil website. The only wide-ranging English-language site focused on news and information from the Greek olive oil world, it has helped companies reach consumers in more than 215 countries around the globe.

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