In Search of the Best Olive Oil

This is the beginning of a journey that began as a search for the best olive oil. I got a lot more than I bargained for. This is the story of how my search for the best olive oil evolved into a very personal search for the Hellenic soul.

My family immigrated to Canada in 1966, when I was nine years old. 

My Journey home to Nea Karvali

A couple of years ago (2010) as I was leaving for a vacation to Greece, a friend told me there was a huge demand for Greek olive oil in China and could I find reliable producers? I had no interest in this business then, but nevertheless I began reading articles regarding olive oil simply out of general interest. My interest was “fueled” by the fact that olive oil has been a staple in my diet. It is on my table for every meal breakfast, lunch and dinner, no matter what country life takes me to.

I read over research reports on olive oil and olives by two prominent Greek scientists, Dr. Prokopios Magiatis and Dr. Eleni Melliou.

Dr. Magiatis developed new testing methods to directly measure oleocanthal and oleacein levels – two key health promoting compounds found in extra virgin olive oil.

Dr. Melliou developed tests in order to measure active ingredients Hydroxytyrosol and Oleuropein found in Greek olives.

I contacted Dr. Magiatis for more details and we began a friendly correspondence. http://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-basics/new-tool-evaluates-olive-oil-healthfulness/30480

I found out, last minute, that Dr. Prokopios and Dr. Melliou were scheduled to present the results of their research on Nov. 4, 2012 in Nea Karvali at a meeting with local olive growers.

They were invited to speak by a Giannis Pasxalidis the newly elected Member of Parliament about their findings to the local olive growers. I was intrigued that a Greek politician would actually take some initiative to educate the local farmers on the latest scientific developments. This new method of measurement makes it possible to identify differences between extra virgin olive oils and to scientifically classify them according to their potential health effects.

It was less than two months since I had last visited Greece but felt this was important enough to make another trip. Barely two days after I learned of this event I found myself on a plane back to Greece. Getting an airline ticket shortly after Hurricane Sandy was not easy and I had to fly through Rome at almost double the cost. The feeling to attend was so strong I simply could not resist.

Giannis Pasxalidis was not able to attend but he sent his sister to welcome me and apologize for his absence – he was delayed in Athens due to the all-night debate on the new austerity measures being considered for a vote that day. He made a point of meeting with me the following night. He came on his own and we sat in an outdoor restaurant in the port of Kavala, joined by my cousin Takis who was very impressed. He was surprised this man would meet us alone and in public.

Politicians in Greece often travel with a bodyguard these days due to the fear of being physically attacked by angry citizens. It was a relaxed meeting and for several hours we discussed how to best market these vital traditional products abroad and what he could do to assist. He is the most exceptional politician I have ever had the privilege to meet and interact with. He made it easy for me to overcome my personal bias against his ND party of which I am not a fan. Personal bias or politically dogmatic views are the hardest to overcome. This man made it easy for me because his love for his constituents was apparent and his eagerness to find solutions was proven by his willingness to take the time to investigate.

If I say anymore I think I will come across like a crazed fan but the truth is; I was very impressed. I have had the opportunity to meet presidents, prime ministers and cabinet ministers in Greece, Israel and Canada before, so this was not my first time meeting a politician.

At the growers meeting in Karvali I received a warm welcome from Dr. Prokopios Magiatis and Dr. Eleni Melliou, and listened intently as they gave a very thorough review of their work. Two key olive oil compounds Oleocanthal and Oleacein were measured. These two compounds have been difficult to analyze chemically up until now. Hundreds of samples were measured from Greece and California.

High levels of oleocanthal and oleacein were present in certain cold pressed Greek extra virgin olive oils made from unripe olives from specific geographic locations. Oleocanthal has anti-inflammatory effect similar to Ibuprofen and oleacein is a powerful antioxidant. Their findings are based on a very small percentage of varieties and olive groves tested and there is much work to be done to identify the olive groves and varieties across Greece that contain the highest levels of these two health promoting active ingredients.

This research has already set a new standard by which to measure the health value of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. Modern scientific research has finally confirmed statements made by Ancient Greek doctor Dioscorides that the olives must be picked when un-ripened to have the maximum healing properties. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedanius_Dioscorides

 

The Best Olive Oil from Athan Gadanidis on Vimeo.

The study was based on only 250 samples so it is very incomplete, but they were able to identify some key factors that give the highest possibility to find olive trees that produce high levels of these 2 compounds. Here is a brief summary of the findings:

  1. The olives must be harvested when they are un-ripened.
  2. The Koroneiki variety showed the highest average levels. More than 70% of Greek olive oil production is derived from this variety. High levels of oleocanthal and oleacein were also found in other varieties such as Throuba and Amphissa.
  3. The more stressed the olive tree is from lack of water; the more they tended to contain higher concentrations of oleocanthal and oleacein.
  4. The olives must be pressed with cold water no more than 27C. Heat decreases the levels of oleocanthal and oleacein dramatically.
  5. The more peppery and pungent the taste the higher the levels of oleocanthal and oleacein. It must be embedded in our collective DNA because that is the taste that most of us Greeks prefer!

There is a lot of work that still has to be done to complete this research. This research needs to be better funded and more actively supported by the state in order for Greek olive growers to reap the benefits of this new measurement tool. Other factors like soil composition and pressing methods need to be examined more thoroughly in order to be able to better understand how to maintain and increase the potential of an olive grove or variety to increase the levels of oleocanthal and oleacein.

Samples must be gathered and tested from all the regions and varieties in Greece and from other olive oil producing nations.

The variety of olives is one of the main factors but there are other reasons that cause the levels of these two health promoting substances to be elevated. There is a need now more than ever to also establish proper tracking, regular testing and education to help the olive growers maximize the value of their crop and guarantee a steady supply of guaranteed proof of quality for every bottle of extra virgin olive oil that is exported.

Dr. Eleni Melliou made a very compelling presentation on her research on the high levels of health giving benefits of Hydroxytyrosol and Oleuropein compounds found in Greek olive varieties made by traditional processing methods.

Hydroxytyrosol –is truly on of the best antioxidants! This is the most potent antioxidant found in nature to date, it has an uncanny ability to absorb cell-damaging free radicals that is 10 times greater than green tea and double that of CoQ10. http://www.prohealth.com/library/showarticle.cfm?libid=17054

Oleuropein – is a natural wide-spectrum antibiotic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal. Unlike synthetic antibiotics, it destroys only the bad bacteria and protects the good.

Kalamata olives followed by green “tsakistes” of the variety Megaritiki contained the highest quantity ofhydroxytyrosol (2.0 and 1.8 mg per fruit). Greek-style “chondrolies” and “mavrolies” possessed quantities 1.0 mg/fruit and 0.2 mg/fruit respectively.

However, the most important finding was that Throuba Thassos olives were very rich in oleuropein (1.2 mg/fruit), while in the rest of the samples oleuropein could not be detected. These significant differences can be explained by the cultivated variety and the specific process applied on the fruits and especially the use of brine, lye or dry salt.

This was an eye opening and thorough review of the confirmation as to why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy. The levels of hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein found in these varieties of olives proves once again why our ancestors had such a high regard for the olive and why olive trees were prized and venerated in Ancient Hellenic culture. This is another example of the wisdom of Hellenic culture and their insistence that food is medicine.

Since travelling to Greece more often these past 2 years, I have discovered a vital and dynamic resurgence in spirit growing in my home country. A new sense of entrepreneurship rooted in the land is slowly taking hold. The disenchanted and the suddenly jobless are going back to the farms and traditional ways to survive by reviving their neglected or semi-abandoned farming communities. I believe there is a revival in the making. By setting their roots back in the land they are getting in touch with their Hellenic spirit of ancient times. The rugged and tenacious olive tree is a perfect metaphor for the resilience and the resurgence of this spirit that I call the new Hellenic Renaissance.

The Hellenistic seed is within us all. It is not just a part of our glorious past it is our living inheritance and it is poised to grow strong once again. The olive tree is a living embodiment and metaphor of who we were, who we are and who we will become.

There are Olive trees alive today and still bearing fruit in Greece that are well over 2,500 years old. They were living witness to our past and are living witnesses to our present. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_tree_of_Vouves

By respecting this vital resource we are respecting and listening to our living will and inheritance. Our collective soul and sense of being is embedded in the olive tree as it is embedded in our Hellenic DNA.

This new Hellenic Renaissance message reminds us,

– Food is truly the best medicine

– Great ideas are the best guides for individual actions

– Great actions are those that serve the greater social good.

 

Food as Medicine

Today we see modern marketing initiatives using Art, Philosophy, Science and Medicine, along with some recent concepts of psychology and public relations in order to sell us food products that claim to be or suggest they have many health benefits.

http://www.forbes.com/2010/05/19/food-claims-supplements-lifestyle-health-yogurt-margarine.html “We’re going through a revolution in food,” says Thomas Pirko, president of Bevmark consulting, whose clients include Coca-Cola and Kraft. “It’s a whole new consciousness–every product has to be adding to your health or preventing you from getting sick.”

The “Food is Medicine” is finally being embraced as the path for the future health of our planet. The problem is the food companies are making false or deceptively worded health claims. Under the banner of improved health they are feeding you more sickness.

Foods masquerading as drugs are a booming $31 billion business in the U.S. alone”

There is a glut of products on the market today using the word Greek on their labelling; “Greek yogurt,” “made with Greek yogurt,” The word “Greek” is being used to sell products that bear no resemblance to any Greek products, and yet that word carries so much respect that the mere mention of it on a label drastically increases sales. The consumers know instinctively the word implies higher quality and knowledge. Here are is a very recent example of this type of marketing:

How long before these types of deceptive and manipulative labeling practices begin to give the word Greek a bad name? Here is an excellent expose on this Greek yogurt trend:

http://www.foodrenegade.com/decoding-labels-yoplait-greek-yogurt/

Here is another article that compares some of the leading Greek style yogurt brands: http:// www.befoodsmart.com/blog/the-best-and-worst-greek-style-yogurts-for-your-health/

Hellenic Renaissance

Hellenic Renaissance begins with proudly using the name Hellenic to differentiate the brands and the products made in Greece and properly labelled as: Food is Medicine. The word Hellenic can be used to more accurately define products made by traditional methods and grown and manufactured in Greece under transparent conditions. Hellenic certified would mean they were scientifically proven to be what Hippocrates said they are. It would be an accurate description of our products as it will remind the world once again that Food is Medicine.

This should be on every label for quality Hellenic certified products:

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

All the elements are coming together to support a revival, a Hellenic Renaissance and the re-emergence of the creative spirit that built our modern civilizations. As Greeks, we gave up a great deal of our cultural inheritance on the way to the third millennium. I believe that we are now poised to move forward with a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper sense of dignity and hope for our national and collective future. In the words of The Hellenic Initiative:

All together – oloi mazi. http://forums.capitallink.com/greece/2012/liveris.pdf

Many of us in the Greek diaspora are returning to our roots either in body or in spirit to assist in this resurgence. The time is now to exemplify our greatest strengths and spread this message to the world. Otherwise our historical, traditional, and cultural inheritance will continue to be wasted or be co-opted, misrepresented and degraded by others and we shall be left behind once again.

It starts with one seed and the seed is in the olive – one of the most ancient and hardy plants on our mother earth. Food is Medicine as Hippocrates said is our most basic need. The olive is the most prized and ancient crop in Greece. Our national diet relies on it. Through concerted management of this resource we can make a big impact and participate more fully in the marketing of our traditional products. We need it as sustenance for our economic recovery and the world hungers for food that is nourishing, abundant and healing.

Let’s honor our olive trees and the farmers who tend them tirelessly with little compensation and fund more research and more actively market this amazing product and its health promoting properties.

Through collaboration and strategic alliances, the people, government and industry can achieve a common goal of economic recovery. As we take action each in our own way, we can be the spark that re-ignites the eternal flame of the Hellenistic Renaissance by spreading a message of hope and purpose across the globe.

Here is more evidence the Hellenic Renaissance is about to go to full bloom! The Greeks in the Diaspora are doing their part; they are visiting more often, investing in small businesses, and helping to raise awareness.

Now we need some of the Greek millionaires and billionaires in Greece to start paying their back taxes and repatriate their untaxed wealth back to Greece voluntarily, instead of lobbying the government for more exemptions and increased corruption and graft. The other prolific tax evading professions; doctors, engineers and lawyers need to step up. The fish begins to rot from the head first. The ones who profited the most from this mess need to help us get out of it.

The wage earners and the pensioners have seen their wages, pensions and benefits drop and their taxes increase. Time for all citizens to bear equal responsibility under relative terms and conditions especially those that have so cleverly and easily escaped responsibility up until now.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/world/europe/02evasion.html?pagewanted=all “ATHENS — In the wealthy, northern suburbs of this city, where summer temperatures often hit the high 90s, just 324 residents checked the box on their tax returns admitting that they owned pools. So tax investigators studied satellite photos of the area — a sprawling collection of expensive villas tucked behind tall gates — and came back with a decidedly different number: 16,974 pools.

That kind of wholesale lying about assets, and other eye-popping cases that are surfacing in the news media here, points to the staggering breadth of tax dodging that has long been a way of life here…..

..The cheating is often quite bold. When tax authorities recently surveyed the returns of 150 doctors with offices in the trendy Athens neighborhood of Kolonaki, where Prada and Chanel stores can be found, more than half had claimed an income of less than $40,000. Thirty-four of them claimed less than $13,300, a figure that exempted them from paying any taxes at all.”

Here is a more recent example of tax evasion in Greece: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/world/europe/greece-tax-scandal-shifts-focus-from-collection-problem.html?_r=0

The wealthy in the Greek Diaspora are doing their part what about you? http://www.thehellenicinitiative.org/pr_he_award_launch_11_28.html

http://www.hellenicaward.com/en/

http://www.thehellenicinitiative.org/founders_letter.html

Is Greece ready to enter the 21st century with a renewed vigour and apply equal justice for all its citizens? Or will this Government continue to focus on cutting costs and collecting more taxes only from the most vulnerable and aggressively going after the easy targets for tax collection like the working poor and the pensioners? This is the question the whole world is waiting for this Greek Coalition Government to answer. In the absence of a clear answer we will see the continued rise of the extreme left and the extreme right.

The time is upon us and the whole world is watching!

Hellenic Renaissance or Greek decline – Our choice!

I choose Hellenic Renaissance!

References:

1. Direct Measurement of Oleocanthal and Oleacein Levels in Olive Oil by Quantitative 1H NMR. Establishment of a New Index for the Characterization of Extra Virgin Olive Oils J. Agric. Food Chem., 2012, 60 (47), pp 11696–11703 DOI: 10.1021/jf3032765 http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf3032765

2. Identification of Throuba Thassos, a traditional Greek table olive variety, as a nutritional rich source of oleuropein. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Jan 13;58(1):46-50. doi: 10.1021/jf903405e. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19957933
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Extra virgin olive oil is truly a miracle food. Finding the real thing is a Herculean task these days. My goal is to offer the results of my search for the best Extra Virgin Greek olive oils as a guide to enhancing our ability to choose wisely. Our health is our greatest asset.

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