Chasing the Early Harvest for Olive Oil

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Early olives are lean and green, less juicy than when they become mature black olives. But, they’re peppery, fresh, and yield a much higher price.

And select estates are pushing harvests earlier—thanks to technology and heightened awareness of the health benefits.

Xandra Falcó, who oversees Marqués de Griñon, her family’s 800-year-old wine and olive oil producing estate in Spain, underscored the benefits of early-harvest olive oil.

“When it’s fresher, it’s healthier, because you have a higher content in antioxidants,” Falcó said.

The presence of polyphenol compounds that are considered so healthful—antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties—largely depends on the stage of pressing. Wait too long to harvest, and those beneficial compounds may not even be present anymore.

“An olive oil that is not very intense in the beginning and not peppery [from a later harvest], it has less content in polyphenols, so it’s going to become milder and milder through the year. You still have the oleic acid, which is very good for you, but not so much the polyphenols, the antioxidants,” Falcó said.

After analysis, she found the olives on her estate maintain their optimum polyphenol levels for 8 to 10 days. After harvest, the olives are immediately taken to the mill, so that oxidation, the great enemy, is minimized as much as possible.

The quality is high, and the production intensive, but the yield is low, only about 10–12 percent. The highest quality olives are used for extraction, and they are not pressed to the last drop, Falcó said.

To put it in perspective, an entire tree yields about two bottles of olive oil. While for wine, 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of grapes produces 1 liter of wine, 10 kg of olives are needed for 1 liter of olive oil.

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