Why do antioxidants in olive oil matter
We often find that people are interested in the antioxidant content of our olive oil selections.
The olive oils that we work with each have comparatively high levels of polyphenols and that’s for a number of reasons:
– We work with growers that choose to harvest early when the olives are ripe but still green and the polyphenol levels are higher.
– Amongst our selection, we include a high proportion of cultivars with naturally high polyphenol levels (for example Moraiolo, Bianchera, Olivastra Selvatica, Coratina, Nocellara del Belice, Nostrana di Brisighella)
– The growers we work with are focused on smaller yields per tree, but this is in exchange for higher quality.
– In the mill, low temperatures and the very best equipment impact the quality of the olive oil and the polyphenol levels.
– We only work with oils from the current season and don’t hold any stock. This is important because extra virgin olive oil is a freshly pressed juice with no added preservatives, so oils that have been sitting around in the distribution chain will have succumbed to heat/light/time, all of which alter olive oil and their polyphenolic content.
So why does this matter?
Antioxidants are molecules that protect our bodies from the damage caused by free radicals. Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant that is found in abundance in extra virgin olive oil.
Oxidation is a natural process that our cells use to create energy from inhaled oxygen. As energy is being produced in our cells, some oxygen molecules (aka oxygen free radicals) are produced as a by-product. These oxygen free radicals can damage our cells and DNA if in high concentration and continuous damage or oxidative stress can lead to various conditions ranging from wrinkles to various forms of cancer.
The production of these harmful chemicals can be contributed to by the environment in which we live: our diet, smoking, exposure to ultraviolet radiation, pollution, high levels of stress are good examples.
Antioxidants scavenge molecules and this helps to neutralise oxygen free radicals, preventing oxidative stress and there are many known antioxidants that we consume daily such as vitamins A,C,E, manganese, carotenoids and polyphenols.
Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant produced by plants, typically in defence of ultraviolet rays. They also contribute bitterness, aroma, colour and flavour to our food (specifically fruit and vegetables). I got to know about polyphenols first from my wine education as they play a significant role in grapes.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is know to be high in monounsaturated fats and polyphenols and is a key component of the Mediterranean diet. The higher concentration of polyphenols in EVOO in comparison to regular olive oil is confirmed by a more intense flavour.
There are 36 known polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil but the majority of the research conducted focuses on the following three:
- Hydroxytyrosol: identified as one of the strongest antioxidants found in extra virgin olive oil and may help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Oleuropein: which has been shown to effectively eliminate various bacteria and viruses.
- Oleocanthal: identified to have impressive anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects very similar to ibuprofen.
So really good for you, as well as delicious. Oh, and completely natural.