Antioxidants in Extra Virgin Olive Oil

First off, my gift-giving recommendation for December 2008 – Herve This’ wonderful collection of 101 short essays, Molecular moleculargGastronomy.  Mr. This considers the chemistry behind common culinary questions (e.g., how to save a broken sauce?), providing real answers to some age-old issues.  The book is simultaneously more to the point, and in-depth, than similarly themed television shows I have seen in the past.  And more importantly, it is an enjoyable read.

How does this relate to olive oil?  Well, today I was reading the chapter “Antioxidant Agents” and discovered (late to the game, I guess) that extra virgin olive oil is a great source of antioxidants.  In particular, extra virgin olive oil that has not been refined to lower the acidity rate to “extra virgin” levels, as the refining process often removes the vast majority of the antioxidants.   Extra virgin olive oil is so rich in antioxidants, that studies have shown it to dramatically reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, helping inhibit heart disease.[1]

I was also fascinated to find out that the antioxidants we are looking for in our diet are the very same compounds that keep olive oil from turning rancid!  After some further poking around the interweb, I learned that olive oil losses 100% of its tocopherols (a key antioxidant) in less than 12 months.[2]  The oxidation of olive oil eventually removes all of its health benefits, as well as its beautiful green hue and bold flavors.

[1] – “Olive Oil Fights Heart Disease, Breast Cancer, Studies Say”, Stefan Lovgren, National Georgaphic News, March 21, 2005.

[2] – “Changes in commercial virgin olive oil during storage, with special emphasis on the phenolic fraction”, José-Ramón Morelló, María-José Motilva, María-Jesús Tovar and María-Paz Romero, Food Chemistry, Volume 85, Issue 3, May 2004, Pages 357-364.

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