Olive oil, the heart of the Mediterranean diet, which 10 years ago was included in the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage list, may disappear from the table of the average Bulgarian. Olive oil, without which a good salad is unthinkable, has risen in price by as much as 130% in just one year, surpassing levels since 1996. World prices jumped to $8,900 a tonne in September as extremely dry weather in the Mediterranean region ruined the olive crop. Prices quickly surpassed the previous record of $6,242 a tonne set in 1996 with no sign of abating. There are enough substitutes from other fats on the global market, but consumers are still not giving up olive oil, which outlines its future shortage.
Bulgaria imports this product mainly from its southern neighbors. However, Turkey is extending the export ban indefinitely from November 1, after introducing a three-month export restriction in August. Producers have called on the government to introduce this measure because a liter will increase in price to 300-350 pounds at the beginning of next year. Retail prices in the country have increased by nearly 80 percent due to growing exports since the beginning of the year. In Greece, there is a big problem with the olive harvest because of the hot summer and the fires that burned many olive groves. So a deficit and correspondingly higher prices are emerging, which will make the product a true luxury in the Balkans. The retail price in our country of the highest quality olive oil starts from BGN 28 and up, but can exceed BGN 100 for organic products with additional flavorings and in small luxury packages.
The lack of rainfall coincided with the third hottest summer on record for Spain, the world’s largest producer of olives. Four heat waves were recorded in the country, temperatures were on average 1.3 degrees above normal and autumn was warmer than normal. Italy and Greece also grow a significant portion of the world’s olives, but the season was quite hot and dry there as well. Botusha registered temperatures above 40°C, and in Greece tourist attractions were even closed because of the heat.
Southern Europe holds over half of the world’s olive oil production. The global market was valued at $14.2 billion last year and is expected to grow to $18.4 billion in 2030, Fortune Business Insights predicts. Spain produces almost half of the quantities, followed by Italy, Greece, Portugal, Tunisia, Turkey and Morocco. The Greeks are the biggest consumers of olive oil per capita, consuming around 20 liters per person each year.
However, with a population of 331 million and a consumption of about 1 liter per person, the United States is the largest consumer of the commodity in the world. The country holds nearly a third of the world trade in this product, almost all imports are from Spain and Italy. A 750ml bottle of Bertolli extra virgin retailed for $9 last October, now it’s around $11.
According to data from the European Commission, olive oil production in the Union fell by 40 percent last year, and now a very slight increase is expected, which will have a very bad effect on world stocks and cause a new price increase.
Criminal gangs empty warehouses
Olive oil has become so expensive that it is attracting the interest of criminal groups, who have made several major hits at oil mills in Spain and Greece.
About 50,000 liters of virgin olive oil were stolen in Spain in the early hours of August 30, local media reported. That’s more than 420,000 euros, or about $450,000. Shortly before that, thieves stole 6,000 liters of extra virgin worth 50,000 euros from the Terraverne oil mill, reports the Spanish newspaper El Munco.
Due to an extremely dry and hot summer that ruined the olive harvest, Spain’s olive oil production last season fell to around 610,000 tonnes. Usually, about 1.3 to 1.5 million tons are produced in the country annually.
But theft is not the only problem, because of the looming shortage, counterfeit goods will increase. Most often the expensive extra virgin olive oils are adulterated, mints are simply a mixture with ordinary refined fat. But this is not a problem for consumers only from the point of view of price. Different types of olive oils have different purposes, and their beneficial properties are also different.
How to recognize a quality product
Refined is only for cooking, “extra virgin” is the elixir in the salad
Regular consumption of olive oil can help reduce bad cholesterol and increase levels of good cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and prevent heart disease. But its useful properties depend very much on the quality of the product and its type.
Broadly speaking, there are four main types of vegetable oil: refined, pure, virgin and extra virgin. It all depends on the quality of the olives, the method of processing, the extraction of the oil and what the final product is intended for. The aroma of olive oil from different regions is specific because the olives are also different varieties, grown under different conditions. The picked olives are crushed into a fine paste from which the oil is extracted. To obtain olive oil, the water must be separated.
Depending on the quality of the raw material, the differences begin – whether the oil will be refined, mixed or directly poured into bottles and sent to stores.
Refined olive oil is the cheapest, usually made from lower quality olives. Chemicals are often used to purify the originally extracted oil and remove the unpleasant aroma. During these processes, however, the product loses many of its valuable qualities. This olive oil is mainly used for cooking where there is heat treatment. It is not recommended to put it in raw salads and sauces.
The name pure olive oil is a bit misleading because the oil is not completely pure, it is usually a mixture of refined and virgin olive oil in a ratio of 4:1. The product contains to a large extent the nutrients of olives: the Omega-9-fatty unsaturated acid, vitamins A, B, E, D, C and K, lipids and Omega-6 fatty acids, but they are much less than the optimal amount. than in higher quality olives.
Oil of this type is suitable both for cooking and for direct use, but there is a difference in taste and aroma with higher quality products.
Virgin olive oil is made from higher grade olive oil, which means more health benefits. Virgin olive oil differs from extra virgin olive oil in the level of acidity. However, it preserves the aroma and natural taste of olives, and to a large extent their usefulness.
Extra virgin olive oil has absolutely pure olive oil, without impurities and traces of chemicals. It is the most aromatic and tastes as close as possible to olives, and retains their useful substances in itself. It is obtained during the first extraction of oil during cold pressing. In it we find vitamins, minerals and low acidity – only between 0.8 and 1%. Therefore, it is not good to use it for cooking. This olive oil is best suited for direct consumption, without heat treatment. Naturally, its price is the highest.
It should be known that unprocessed olive oils, including extra virgin, have a lower smoke point than refined ones. It’s about the temperature at which the fat starts to smoke. Extra virgin olive oil is between 350⁰ and 410⁰ F, while refined olive oil ranges from 390⁰ to 470⁰ F, making it a better choice for high-heat cooking.
Professional chefs advise buying smaller packages of olive oil for a family because it stays at its best for about a year. Store it in a dark place at a temperature of about 20 degrees. But do not worry and do not rush to throw it away if the temperature is lower and the liquid becomes thicker and with sediment. All this will disappear when heated, which is a sure guarantee that the product is genuine.
Regular consumption reduces the risk of stroke and diabetes
Olive oil contains more than 200 plant compounds, including carotenoids, sterols and polyphenols, which act as powerful antioxidants. Research shows that it is a major source of monounsaturated fats, and therefore its regular use reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Inflammation is one of the causes of many chronic health problems, including Alzheimer’s. Oleic acid in olive oil has an important role precisely against inflammation. A Mediterranean diet in general, supplemented with olive oil or hazelnuts and walnuts, helps improve brain function in older age.
People in the Mediterranean are at less risk of cancer, and many researchers believe that the key lies in the use of olive oil. Antioxidants in it reduce oxidative damage and free radicals, which are blamed for causing tumors.
Including more olive oil in the diet can help reduce the risk of common diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Olive oil contains many substances that can kill unhealthy bacteria, including Helicobacter pylori. It lives in the human stomach, can cause ulcers and even cancer. Scientists believe that olive oil fights eight variants of this bacteria, three of which are resistant to antibiotics. 30 grams of olive oil daily can neutralize the infection in some patients.
Consuming large amounts of fat causes weight gain. However, the intake of olive oil does not lead to weight gain, even its moderate use can help to lose weight.
Nutritional values for one tablespoon of olive oil
Fat: 14 grams
Saturated fat: 2.17 grams
Monounsaturated fat: 9.58 grams
Polyunsaturated fat: 1.33 grams
Vitamin E: 2.93 milligrams or 20% of the daily value.