Olive oil is a very important product in the Mediterranean countries for centuries. Very little things have been addressed by the spirit and senses of man as the olive and its oil. Olive oil has got a sacred position in the blessed sacrament of Christianity, like in baptism and the lamps of temples. Nowhere, as in Greece, the legacy of olive is that intertwined with mythology and everyday life. And this is the same country, that integrated cultivation of olives was first held 4,000 years ago.
Olive oil is extracted by the fruit of Olea Europea tree, widely cultivated in the countries around the Mediterranean, especially in Spain, Italy and Greece. Olive oil, according to the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) is divided into the following categories:
– Virgin olive oil
– Refined olive oil
– Olive oil
– Crude oil – pomace oil
– Refined olive pomace oil
– Olive – pomace oil
The product of olive’s total milling is separated in the different types above with physical methods such as centrifugation, pressure and washdown. Virgin olive oil is not subjected to any kind of refinement, in contrast to other types of olive oil. Thus, virgin olive oil is obtained solely by mechanical and definitely physical processing of olives.
Composition of olive oil
The fatty acid composition of the olive oil varies from sample to sample. Latitude, climate, variety and ripeness of fruit at its collection affect the olive oil’s composition of fatty acids. Olive oil is a rich source of oleic acid, which because of its monounsaturation, it is considered valuable for health, since it is connected with the reduction of risk to develop atherosclerotic disease and coronary heart disease.
Microcomponents of olive oil and their contribution to health
Olive oil is characterized by subtle and unique flavor. Its exceptional taste and aroma come from varied ingredients, which are found in low concentrations. While the major part (> 95%) of the olive oil is consisted of fatty acids, there is a large number of ingredients found only in small quantities and are called microcomponents of olive oil. However, these microcomponents are of extreme importance and contribute at improvement of olive oil’s stability and its unique flavor, while they are highly beneficial to human health. By microcomponents of olive oil is meant the tocopherols, phenolic and aromatic compounds, hydrocarbons and sterols.
In detail the major compounds of these groups and their contribution to human health are:
– Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an important natural antioxidant of the oils, as it inhibits oxidation of their fatty compounds (triglycerides). Thus, vitamin E, like other natural antioxidants, protect the oil from oxidation and from the mechanism of free radical propagation, making it especially beneficial for human health.
– Phenolic compounds
The phenolic compounds in olive oil are associated with the reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Also they exert a significant anti-inflammatory action, while acting against the respiratory bursts of neutrophils and the production of hypochlorous acid at the same time.
Squalene is the main hydrocarbon in olive oil. In recent years the use of squalene is an alternative therapy against various types of cancer. Squalene is also an important suppressor of the active oxygen, protecting the surface of human skin by lipid peroxidation, which is caused due to the exposure to ultraviolet light. Moreover squalene appears to play an important role in the eye’s health, especially in photosensitive retinal rods. Finally, squalene is associated to increased elimination capacity of toxic substances, such as hexachlorobenzene and strychnine.
Sterols that are found in olive oil seem to be a real treasure for human health. Some of their beneficial characteristics are the inhibition of intestinal absorption of cholesterol and their anticancer, antimicrobial and protective effect.