What the Heck is A Polyphenol and Why Should I Care?

What the heck is a polyphenol and why should I care?


When it comes to olive oil, why do we care what a laboratory test tells us?  Since “Fresh Is Best” when it comes to olive oil, laboratory tests can tell us how fresh an olive oil is, how quickly and carefully it was made, as well as what level of health-giving properties it has.  The test results are like a combination quality-assurance test, CSI-forensics, and measurement of the exact ‘dosage’ of healthful monounsaturated fats and anti-oxidants there are in a given olive oil.


FFA stands for Free Fatty Acidity–  The acidity level of an olive oil tells you how young and healthy the olives were that were harvested to make the olive oil.  Acidity levels also tell you how much light, heat and air the olives were exposed to from the time they were picked until they became olive oil.  Light, heat and air make olives break down and go bad. Olives are exposed to light, heat and air when they are are left on the tree too long and get old, when the olives are bruised or split during harvest or transport to the olive mill, or when the oil maker takes too much time between olive harvest and olive oil making.  The lower the acidity level of an oil, the higher the smoke point, which means the higher the temperature the oil can be heated to in cooking.  The IOC*European  Extra Virgin standard for FFA is .8 or lower, which is considered by experts to be far too high to guarantee quality olive oil.  Our Ultra Premium standard is .3 or lower.  Lower is better.


Polyphenols or Phenolic compounds are phytocehmicals (natural substances that are found in plants).  Polyphenols are naturally present in high quality, unrefined olive oil, because quality olive oil is simply a fresh squeezed fruit juice.  Many polyphenols demonstrate anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  Anti-oxidants preserve olive oil as well as the bodies of those who eat it.  Polyphenols  are widely considered by researchers to provide a range of health benefits that counter diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.  One polyphenol present in olive oil, oleocanthal, is a strong anti-oxidant and powerful anti-inflammatory with properties that resemble ibuprofen, and is one reason a growing number of individuals take 3 Tablespoons a day of quality olive oil for health.  Most mass-market olives oils have little, if any polyphenols and the European Extra Virgin standard does not currently measure polyphenols.  Our Ultra Premium standard requires a minimum of 130 ppm.  Higher is better.


Oleic Acid is a healthful monounsaturated fat that has been associated with many of the health benefits attributed to the Mediterranean diet, such as lower rates of cancer and coronary heart disease.  Diets rich in monounsaturated fats have been associated with a reduction in belly fat and insulin resistance that occurs with diabetes.  The Extra Virgin minimum is 55%.  Our Ultra Premium standard is 65%.  Higher is better.


PV or Peroxide Value measures an olive oil’s oxygen levels (oxidation) and is therefore the primary measurement of freshness vs. rancidity in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Higher levels of peroxides signal higher levels of oxidation which indicate degradation by free radicals/oxygen or exposure to light. The European Extra Virgin standard of a maximum of 20 milliequivalents per kilo is considered by experts to be far too high to guarantee quality oil.  Our Ultra Premium maximum is 9.  Lower is better.


DAGS (Diacylglycerols) are natural compounds that occur in vegetable oils such as olive oil.  DAGs decrease over time, and so their levels are one indication of an olive oil’s freshness. Olive oils with low levels of DAGs are hydrolyzed, of poor quality or have been adulterated (mixed) with refined oils.  There is no minimum in European Extra Virgin standards. The Australian Extra Virgin minimum is 40%.  Our Ultra Premium minimum is 90%.  Higher is better.


PPP (Polyphephytins) Olive oil, like other green plants, contains chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll breaks down over time into two components (PPPs).  The ratio of these two components tells us whether an oil has been soft-column refined, deodorized, (which, though illegal,  is commonly occurring in many olive oils labeled Extra Virgin) or backblended with other oils such as soy or canola (also illegal and common).  The European Extra Virgin standard does not measure PPPs.  The Australian Extra Virgin maximum is a ratio of 17:1.  Our Ultra Premium standard is 5:1.  Lower is better.


*the IOC (International Olive Council) developed and oversees the European “Extra Virgin” Olive Oil standard.