Gemma Fernández. Journalist. @gemmafdz
Olive oil is a never-ending source of health benefits. Spain's "liquid gold" is high in fatty acids and antioxidants, making it an ideal component in gastronomy with positive repercussions for health.
Its main benefits include lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease by helping control illnesses which increase the risk of diabetes and obesity, among others, providing for a balanced, Mediterranean diet.
The Interprofesional de Aceite de Oliva Español works tirelessly to open new lines of research to contribute greater value to oil production and reinforce its benefits.
Since 2009, the organization has allocated 10% of funds contributed by the sector to R&D and innovation, enabling it to promote priority research in agronomy and improvements in crops, the final product, and health.
Enrique Quedasa, Vice-dean of Innovation, Transfer and the Campus of Excellence at the University of Córdoba highlighted the organization's role in driving research in multiple areas, especially considering "the current state of affairs; it's working tremendously hard". Moreover, it's important to note that research of this kind requires years before it yields conclusive findings.
Research projects under way
The Interprofesional currently has several research projects under way aimed at improving crops, and others focused on better understanding the positive effects of olive oil on health.
As part of the MECAOLIVAR project, headed by professor Jesús Gil Ribes, machinery is being developed to mechanize and optimize various tasks in connection with olive groves, such as collection and pesticide application. Development of the machinery is expected to be completed over the next year.
Work is also under way on five strategic lines to fight Verticillium wilt, one of the main threats to the health of Spanish olive groves. Professor Diego Barranco says that "in about 5 years [his team] will be able to provide the sector with olive tree varieties that are highly resistant to the disease and are able to produce olives for milling".
Professor Antonio Trapero, who has been working for years on the biological control of Verticillium wilt, says that "some micro-organisms have been identified which inhibit the disease by 75-100%".
Researcher Rafael Jiménez also confirms notable results in the use of grafted wild olive branches as well as fungi to control the disease.Professor Javier López Escudero highlights progress achieved in his research into water control and irrigation to stop the illness from spreading.
Manuel Laínez, head of the Spanish National Institute for Agriculture and Food Research and Technology (INIA), confirms the possibility of launching a coordinated research project on controlling Verticillium wilt that includes the lines of research headed by the Interprofesional del Aceite de Oliva.
In the field of agronomy, professor Rafaela Ordóñez is studying the use of olive mill effluent as fertilizer, which would allow olive oil production by-products to be used in sustainable environmental solutions. He is evaluating various modified atmospheric conditions in olive processing at mills and their effects on the oil's polyphenol content, and the development of alkyl esters in extra virgin olive oils and their relationship with various methods of oil production currently employed at mills.
The Interprofesional del Aceite de Oliva has signed a five-year agreement with professor Eduard Escrich and his team at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, who have been researching the effects of diet, and specifically the consumption of fats, on the development of breast cancer for almost three decades.
The team has made various contributions which prove that olive oil stops the progression of breast cancer through diverse, complex mechanisms, including its ability to inhibit the proliferation of tumour cells and induce their death.