Polyphenols are antioxidants found in a variety of foods particularly in Extra Virgin Olive Oils (EVOO). Polyphenols such as Oleuropein, Oleocanthal, and hydroxytyrosol demonstrate intense flavors connected with pepper, bitterness and other desirable flavors characteristics of EVOO. The Picual olive fruit variety tends to exhibit the highest polyphenol count in the olive fruit universe. Recent studies indicate that these potent phenols are responsible for many of the health benefits associated with consuming fresh, high quality EVOO. Phenols in olive oil decrease over time or when exposed to heat, oxygen and light. Consuming fresh, optimally produced EVOO with high polyphenol content is crucial when looking to obtain the maximum health benefit commonly associated with consuming EVOO.
Not all EVOO is created equal thus not all EVOO contain the same polyphenol content, which is determined by several factors:
- Varietal: The variety of olive fruit used to produce the oil determines the polyphenol count of the oil itself. For example, Picual olives have a very high polyphenol count and Arbequina have a very low count.
- Time of Picking: Oil produced from unripe (green) olives will be richer in polyphenols compared to oil produced from the same olives that have been allowed to reach maturity.
- Environmental Factors: The annual climate, altitude, irrigation and cultivation have an impact on polyphenol counts.
- Extraction Conditions: Polyphenols are lost when techniques meant to enhance yield are utilized, such as adding water, heating the paste and increasing malaxation time.
- Storage Containers: The longer an oil sits the less polyphenols it will have. Storing the olive oil in the right container will extend the oil’s life and keep the polyphenols from oxidizing too quickly.
In general, polyphenols are substances that are found in many plants and provide some flowers, fruits, and vegetables their color. Polyphenols have antioxidant activity that protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals (unstable molecules made by the process of oxidation during normal metabolism). Free radicals may play a part in cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other diseases of aging. Antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamins A, C, and E, and other natural and manufactured substances. Olive oil is a natural fruit juice with an average shelf life of approximately 9-15 months from the date of pressing. Higher quality EVOO with high polyphenol counts and high oleic acid counts will last longer, approximately 23 months, if stored in a dark environment at room temperature.