Health Attributes of Olive Oil
The Savantes programme, while concentrating on the taste and flavour of olive oil, has important sessions discussing the health attributes. Many of the taste and flavour characteristics are good indicators of the level of the ‘health chemistry’ of extra virgin olive oils.
‘You are what you eat’ goes the saying. Perhaps this is better stated as ‘You are what you ingest’.
The human body is a complex organism which is kept alive by what we ingest. Some of this is voluntary through eating and drinking, some of it involuntary like the intake of air and the absorption of the sun’s rays and other compounds through the skin.
Pretty well everything we ingest has an impact on our health.
Those of us who are involved with olive oil need to know the basics of health benefits of olive oil and how to encourage consumers to gain the benefits by using olive oil. We need this information in a form we can pass on to consumers who in general have less scientific knowledge than we do.
Health attributes of olive oil
There are thousands of technical papers on the influence that olive oil has on the human body. Almost every day there are more as scientists unravel the genetic control of our physiological activities.
The chemistry of extra virgin olive oil is complex, however its components can be divided into the saponifiable fraction and the insaponifiable fraction. Basically this means that the saponifiable fraction turns into soap if treated with sodium hydroxide, and the rest (insaponifiable) doesn’t.
The saponifiable fraction comprises 97-99% of olive oil, and is made up of triglycerides and a small amount of other compounds such as free fatty acids (FFA). The latter we measure to give us an indication of the acidity of the oil.
The insaponifiable fraction, 1-3% of olive oil, is made up of many important compounds which determine the flavour, quality and stability of the oil. In this fraction many vegetal phenols have been identified. During refining 88% of the phenolic compounds are lost.
Both the saponifiable and insaponifiable fraction have dietary and health benefits.