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EU invests in olive oil science

14-Dec-2004

Brussels has cleared funding for research into increasing the consumption of disease-fighting olive oil across Europe.

 

For this latest initiative, TDC-OLIVE, included in the Sixth Framework Programme of the EU, the principal target is to create a physical and virtual network of Technology Dissemination Centres (TDC) 'to modernise and increase the competitiveness' of small and medium size enterprises working in the sector.

In recent years, extra virgin olive oil has been the central element for a host of studies on the mediterranean diet as researchers investigate why the dietary regime - olives, tomatoes, fish, olive oil - in the mediterranean basin appears to combat heart disease.

World olive oil production is about 2.2 million tons with the majority, about 77 per cent, sourced from Europe. Spain, Italy, Greece are the key producers in the region, and to a smaller extent Portugal and France.

Countries with the highest levels of consumption are those in the EU, with an annual rate of 1.60 million tons, out of a global 2.23 million tons.

Despite steady growth the EU claims that a current obstacle to an upward curve in the olive market is the environmental impact associated with its production and processing.

The process has an environmental impact in the production regions due to the large amount of water required and the fact that the residues are difficult to dispose of or recycle.

"A key target of the TDC-OLIVE is to spread out the latest and environmentally friendly production methods through the creation of a physical and virtual network," says the initiative.

Flavour is one of the most important food qualities in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and plays a major role in consumer acceptance. For the evaluation of the flavour quality of virgin olive oils, the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) sensory evaluation is generally considered to be the ultimate method.

In recent years, many attempts have been made to obtain more objective results by using volatile compounds analysis to predict sensory quality of olive oils.

A recent project presented earlier this year by Unilever's R&D unit at Vlaardingen in the Netherlands saw researchers developing an alternative to existing methods to evaluate olive oil aroma quality by DHS-GC-MS.

"A fast and automated analytical procedure based on DHS-GC-MS was developed in order to detect all olive oil key flavour compounds," report the researchers.

"And a mathematical model selecting a subset of olive oil key volatiles based on their OAVs was built describing the sensorial quality of olive oils," they add.

According to the study authors - Markus Dachtler, Cora Engelen, Claire Boucon, Georg Dol - the model was capable of identifying defective olive oil samples with an 80 per cent success rate.

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