Healthier, more sustainable olive oil

Wednesday, 21 October, 2015

A team of researchers has discovered that the use of a sustainable irrigation strategy in olive oil production has both health and environmental benefits.

Spanish researchers studied the use of regulated deficit irrigation of an olive grove to verify the effects of water stress on both the quantity and quality of the oil. The results showed no effect on the quantity of production, but there was an increase in the content of phytoprostanes in the oil, which are beneficial components to health.

Olive oil is one of the main components of the Mediterranean diet and Spain, with 2.5 million hectares of cropped area, is its main producer. Phytoprostanes are minor components present in olive oil that are thought to help to modulate the function of the vascular and immune systems.

Despite the fact that olive crops are traditionally developed in dry conditions, irrigation is an essential practice. However, recent water and strong competition with other non-agricultural users has necessitated the use of sustainable irrigation to minimise water use.

The researchers, from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), Center for Soil Science and Applied Biology Segura (CEBAS-CSIC), Institut des Biomolécules Max Mousseron (IBMM) from Université de Montpellier and the Centro Agrario El Chaparrillo of Castilla-La Mancha, experimented with a particular practice of irrigation: regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) that consists of restricting irrigation during the phases in which water stress has no impact on production.

It was observed that water stress does not affect quantity production but does affect oil quality thanks to an increase of phytoprostanes. The study concluded that RDI is therefore a recommended practice for irrigation of olive groves to achieve healthier and more sustainable olive oil.

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