Research thirst drives olive oil first

Australian researchers have identified different components in olive oils grown in two mainland states, giving growers new ways to market their product.

The findings, part of a project funded by the successful Farming Together program, could lead to a location-verification system.

Grower groups hope the method will be adopted by other Australian states keen to explore differentiation in their products.

Olive Centre CEO Amanda Bailey and SA olive oil expert Dr Richard Gawel undertook the analysis focussing on two health-giving components, phenols and an important bioactive, squalene, found in oils from Frantoio olives. This variety was used as the baseline for the project.

“It was the first time anyone had ever compared the polyphenol profiles in oils from different locations in Australia,” said Ms Bailey. “And it was the first time anyone had tested squalene levels.”

Dr Gawel said: “Squalene in particular is becoming a rock-star in the health world, with some Japanese buyers insisting on minimum levels of this rare antioxidant found only in extra virgin olive oil and, surprisingly, shark livers. Pure squalene is also used in exclusive cosmetics and skin formulations. Understanding how regionality affects these components will be valuable to Australian growers.”

The study involved a collaboration between the Queensland Olive Council and Olives South Australia, involving 100 growers from south-east Queensland and SA’s Fleurieu Peninsula region.

The study showed that the oils from the two regions, harvested at the same ripeness and processed identically, could be differentiated to more than 90% accuracy by proportions of polyphenols. Regionality also strongly influenced squalene concentration.

Additionally, the tests revealed some taste qualities that could be used to distinguish the provenance of the oils. “Provenance underpins food authenticity and puts consumers and growers together.  It shows how flavour, taste and health benefits relate to consumers’ needs,” Ms Bailey said.

The study also successfully trialled a new sensory assessment method cheap and simple enough for growers to use.

The study was supported by $66,909 from the national Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration pilot program, known as Farming Together.

The Farm Co-operative and Collaboration Program is a two-year, $13.8m initiative from the Australian Government designed to help agricultural groups value-add, secure premium pricing, scale-up production, attract capital investment, earn new markets or secure lower input costs.

Program director Lorraine Gordon said: “Provenance is a strong marketing tool for premium food products such as olive oil, and this scientific verification adds certainty for consumers. This two-state collaboration is a great example of farming together for mutual benefits.”

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