Jan 232016

Did you ever wonder about the saying “like pouring oil on water” to describe a calming effect?

From the producers of PBS NOVA © WGBH Educational Foundation; host, writer, animator, and editor, Greg Kestin of What the Physics?!, will show you how it works in this video called Lake vs. 1 TBSP of Olive Oil.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Jan 062014
Crispy space fries

Crispy space fries

What do olive oil and space exploration have in common? So far, two things, frying and food safety.

When sending people into space, food preparation is important. What is more important than making sure space explorers have some of their favorite comfort foods available, fried in olive oil of course?

For decades we have been assured that astronauts are well fed. Remember the Tang commercials? Even the most imaginative among us probably can’t envision them dining on fresh fruits and vegetables or even juicy burgers and fries. I know my imagination is limited by my ten years of Army field dining that involved freeze-dried nibbles encased in thick plastic enjoyed while securely anchored to planet Earth. I can safely assume dining in Earth orbit isn’t much better.

Recently, those intrepid foodienauts at the European Space Agency (ESA) conducted the first of a series of experiments on deep-frying in different gravitational conditions. In the first experiment potatoes were cut into thin strips and placed in a centrifuge with hot olive oil. The potatoes were then spun at several times Earth’s gravity (supposedly to mimic Jupiter’s gravitational pull, however news outlets differ on the gravity data). At some point in the process the potato strips had to be turned over to crisp on the other side (I’m guessing the centrifuge was stopped for the fry flipping). The results weren’t so great. The crispy bits on the top sides were delicious but the bottoms of the fries were soggy since the water in the potatoes was escaping and keeping the hot oil from cooking the watery parts. I bet a lot of the problem was using a centrifuge for frying since it does more than mimic gravitational forces, I’m just sayin’. The results of this study will be published next month in Food Research International.

On the food safety side, a science team’s bad luck may be a benefit for those of us who would like to be assured that our food is real. For the last seven years the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL Space) in England has worked on a laser device to measure carbon and hence the possibility of life on Mars BUT the device wasn’t completed in time to be part of the payloads for the ESA’s Aurora ExoMars launches. The first one goes up in 2016.

All is not lost for RAL Space and certainly not for us, the consumers of food. With funding from the ESA for a Technology Transfer Demonstration project, RAL Space has teamed with another UK company, Protium MS, to develop a small, portable device that will probe for counterfeit foods among some of the most commonly faked – honey, chocolate, and olive oil.

Dr. Damien Weidmann, team lead at RAL Space, explains how the repurposed device works to make sure the foods we Earthlings buy is real. “Each molecule, and each of its isotopic forms, has a unique fingerprint spectrum. If … you know what you are looking for, you can simply set the laser to the appropriate frequency. You take a food sample – a few milligrams of olive oil, chocolate, wheat or whatever – and you burn it. As the sample burns, it releases carbon dioxide you test with the laser instrument. You will know, in the case of olive oil, if it genuinely comes from Sicily or if it is a counterfeited fake.”

At this point Olive Crazy obsesses over Dr. Weidmann’s use of “counterfeited fake.” Is it a double negative, therefore meaning real? Or does it mean another type of fake? Or … STOP IT!

Follow this link to the ESA website for a photographic example from Dr. Weidmann’s olive oil identification research. Very cool.

Even though space travel and olive oil seemingly have at least two things in common now, I believe that if space is our final frontier, olives and olive oil will certainly be along for the journey.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Oct 312013
Data search before the internet

Data search before the internet

Olive Crazy is a huge fan of information, and not just any information, but information that has been lovingly collected and catalogued.

Information collecting and cataloguing is for the dedicated and studious among us: university students, government and business researchers, and enthusiasts. The more involved I become in the business and culture of olives and olive oil the more appreciative I am of the olive databases I find while rummaging through the internet.

Here are a few of my favorites. I use all of them for my own olive research projects:

Olive Germplasm (cultivars, synonyms, cultivation area, collections, descriptors) database from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the Italian National Research Council, and Italian Institute of Plant Genetics.

DNA molecular markers Simple Sequence Repeats (SSR) database from the Italian National Research Council, Italian Institute of Plant Genetics. the University of Cordoba in Spain, and some university I couldn’t identify from its logo.

USDA Agricultural Research Service’s National Plant Germplasm System Germplasm Resource Information Network (GRIN) database (there are two separate links here so make sure to check out both).

The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program’s Managing Olive Pests and Diseases database.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Jun 132013

Thanks to climate change growing olives for olive oil is spreading quickly. Along with the commercial growing of olives is the need for trained millers.

If you want your olives to have a fighting chance to be bottled and sold as extra virgin olive oil you have less than 24 hours to mill your olives. Of course, there are many other factors to this simplistic formula, BUT I know where you can go to learn all about milling olive oil properly and well.

The University of California at Davis is conducting its 2013 Master Milling Short Course October 3rd through 5th. The instructor is a fantastic miller, Leandro Ravetti.

Leandro is among the world’s top experts in olive oil production.   He is the technical director of Australia’s Boundary Bend Limited whose success is guided by thorough economic, chemical and sensory analysis to maximize production efficiency and oil quality. Leandro’s expertise guides Boundary Bend to top awards at international olive oil competitions.

Here is the link to the course. Don’t forget to sign up early so you can take advantage of the discount.

Also, check out the new UC Davis “Survey of Consumer Attitudes on Olive Oil.” The information is great.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Apr 232013

During Bill Clinton’s first presidential run the phrase “it’s the economy stupid” was created and popularized by Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville. It was Carville’s way of telling folks not to take their eyes off the ball and to focus on what was immediate and important, albeit in an attention-getting manner.

Lately there has been much ado in the media about the cardio health research published this past February in the New England Journal of Medicine. Some media outlets got the conclusions of the study wrong and then published them. Other media outlets who don’t write original pieces anyway and can’t be bothered to do research republished the incorrect stories. Now “Study finds that olive oil cures heart disease” stories abound on the internet.

I am certainly a major fan of olive oil and its health benefits, but temper my enthusiasm with fact checking. This is truly better for both the olive oil industry and for consumers.

Olive oil (unrefined) is a component of the Mediterranean Diet. In order to reap the benefits found in the study mentioned above folks must actually follow the Mediterranean Diet. The diet consists of eating, in varying portions:

  • grains, vegetables & fruits
  • olives & olive oil
  • nuts, beans, legumes & seeds
  • herbs & spices
  • cheese & yogurt
  • fish & shellfish
  • eggs
  • meats
  • wine
  • water

The types of food to eat are not the entire picture for the Mediterranean Diet. Also recommended by Oldways (this is a great website), a nonprofit that promotes “Health Through Heritage,” are certain controls and lifestyle choices. They are:

  • portion size
  • moderation
  • healthy lifestyle habits
  • meals in the company of others

Whether you or someone you love is suffering from cardiovascular disease or would like to eat well without feeling like you are being tortured, follow the Mediterranean Diet. It’s this healthy, delicious way of eating and pleasant lifestyle that is good for you, your heart, and your well being.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet, NEJMTraditional Mediterranean Diet, Oldways