Olive Crazy: All About Olives and Olive Oil
Oct 242011

When we hear of polyphenols it is usually in relation to what they do that is good for us. Polyphenols are found in plants and are powerful anti-oxidants that put the smack-down on free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that, due to their instability, damage cells. My husband, the scientist and engineer, could give you a more thorough explanation, but Olive Crazy is the writer in the house.

So, when olives are crushed and the first batch of unprocessed extra virgin olive oil is milled out, the resulting oil is high in the good-for-you polyphenols. The polyphenols eliminate the extra electron in free radicals, saving you for pursuits like living to a healthy and ripe old age so you can enjoy your grandchildren.

But Olive Crazy, you say, your title says that polyphenols are bad too – what do you mean?

Polyphenols are bad when they are heavily present in olive waste used as fertilizer. The polyphenols can reach toxic levels and harm the soil and plant growth that the fertilizer is intended to help.

Thanks to the University of Sevilla (Spain) School of Agricultural Engineering, a study was conducted on the use of alperujo as a fertilizer in organic farming. The alperujo is a byproduct of a two-phase centrifugation olive oil milling process.  It is all the olive waste that is left over, solid and liquid, after all the olive oil has been extracted.

The alperujo can be used to generate energy and is being used to do so at two power plants in Cordoba, Spain. It can also be used as mulch after careful composting. The composting process reaches high temperatures which destroys pathogens and weed seeds, breaks down the polyphenols, and converts the organic waste into a stable humus, ready to use in the place of chemical fertilizers.

This technology has been around for a few years, but despite the potential cost savings and environmental advantages the processing technology is not widely available and research money isn’t either. The Spanish government is busy paying for the storage of past harvests which, by the time the oils are bottled, will have fewer of the healthy polyphenols than our bodies need, but that’s another story.

May the sun shine through your branches.


  3 Responses to “Good Polyphenol Bad Polyphenol”

Comments (3)
  1. Very interesting article!

  2. The composted olive mill waste may contain dimethoate or other branded names or derivatives of organo phosphate pesticide.Dimethoate/organophosphates are not broken down by composting they are simply recycled.Olive mill waste may be “organic” but testing both oil and waste material for pesticide residue should be a requirement for extra virgin olive oil production world wide.
    Dimethoate/organophospahate is an endocrine disruptor and designed to be lipophilic [fat loving]. It certainly “loves” the human liver and lingers there. At present there are aerial drops of dimethoate being employed to control olive fruit fly in the supergroves of Spain and California and Australia to control Queensland fruitfly. As dimethoate and its built in surfucants or penetrants is designed to break down fat and as a result is stored in the fat of fruit flies as well as human fat this should concern all public health experts. Michael Pollan has written extensively on the idea that polyphenols are really natural pesticides. It would be good for research money to be spent looking at the potential for “natural” pesticides in olive mill waste rather than recycling potential chemical hazards to human health and the ecosystem.
    It would be wise for all edible oil researchers to read Dr Bruce Blumberg on “Are pesticides making us fat”. I am an olive farmer and a teacher of special needs students many of whom suffer from morbid obesity.I find without exception my obese students have at some point been directly exposed to agrichems or solvents or been born to parents who have been exposed to agrichems or solvents. Pesticides are cumulative and almost impossible to avoid in the modern diet.There is not enough research being carried out on the neuro toxic effects of pesticide use in all edible oils in particular the modern seed oils with their own pesticide/herbicide enhanced GM seeds.
    Dr Bruce Blumberg is a cell biologist who understands and researches change in cell structure and endocrine disruption. It seems to me it is wise to keep good extra virgin olive oil that is really the only edible oil that contains anti -inflammatory and anti-oxidant polyphenols pesticide free.

    • Thank you Phyllis. Your comment is fascinating. My last position in the Army was as a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare officer. Some of what you wrote was in a course I took at the Chemical School in Alabama. Another interesting aspect is in regions where tobacco previously was grown, and now olives are being grown, the tobacco fertilizer in the early to mid 20th century employed a radioactive material which is still in the soil.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>