Next to the evidence-based health benefits of coconut oil for cooking food and other purposes, olive oil takes precedence in my household due to its proven benefits documented throughout the millennia and decades of scientific research on the Mediterranean diet. Testing results of different grades of olive oil by the International Olive Council (IOC) identified extra virgin (EVOO) as the gold standard. EVOO is naturally extracted without heat (cold pressed) or chemicals, and that process retains the purity of flavor and nutrients during the bottling process.
Have you noticed that the average prices of olive oil have nearly doubled in 2023 and EVOO is very expensive? The recent inflationary pressure is not due to its nutrient-rich properties, but I’ll share more about that later. Before the recent wave of inflation at your local grocery store on everything from soup to nuts, the price of olive oil was not exorbitant or considered a luxury item. In the ancient world, virgin olive oil was called “liquid gold” by Homer and “the great healer” by Hippocrates.
“The ancient Greeks said that the goddess Athena had created the olive tree. King David hired guards to protect Israel’s olive groves and warehouses. Ancient peoples used olive oil not just for consumption and cooking, but also as perfume, anointment for the dead, soap, and lights. In ancient Greece, athletes ritually rubbed it all over their bodies. It has been the fountain of great wealth and power, anointing the noblest of heads throughout history. Olive oil was used to produce both medicine and cosmetics.” – Science Direct, Food Research International
Olive oil has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that lower the risk of heart disease and cancers, improve the immune system, and help keep your brain healthy and plump to fend off dementia and related neurological diseases. A study in Neurology found that for older people, their brains are more voluminous than people who consumed little or no olive oil. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that people who eat a Mediterranean diet with olive oil performed better at cognitive tasks than those who ate a low-fat diet. Numerous studies confirm the same linkage with a reduced risk of dementia. For the men reading this today, are you aware of a study out of Greece that finds olive oil is better than Viagra?
Is extra-virgin olive oil extra healthy?… “Regardless of the type, olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, containing about 75% by volume… Monounsaturated fats help lower your bad LDL cholesterol. The health benefits of olive oil have been attributed to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, studies have shown a link between lower risks of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and even dementia in people who consume higher amounts of olive oil than those who use little or none. EVOO does offer something extra that regular olive oil does not. EVOO is pressed mechanically from ripe olives and processed without high heat or chemical solvents. This protects chemicals in the oil called phenols. In contrast, regular, highly processed olive oils lose these chemicals. Laboratory-based experiments suggest that higher concentrations of phenols provide extra antioxidant effects.” – Harvard Medical School
The olive oil market is expected to increase exponentially over the next decade. In September 2023, IMF data printed its highest price level since records began by spiking 117% year-over-year. Notably, olive oil priced at that level is 17x as valuable as crude oil weight for weight, and it was 7x cheaper in 2019.
Global price of olive oil – IMF, Dec. 15, 2023 close…
Olive Oil Market Size… “The global olive oil market size is ‘projected to grow from USD 14.19 billion in 2022 to USD 17.79 billion by 2029, due to increasing awareness about the health benefits of incorporating the oil in the diet. By type, the market is trifurcated into virgin olive oil, refined/pure olive oil, and others (lampante oil and pomace oil). The virgin olive oil segment is expected to hold the largest market share due to increasing demand for high nutrient content.’” – Fortune Business Insights
Europe is home to two-thirds of the world’s olive oil production and is a huge consumer of the product. Recent inflationary pressures and a worsening cost-of-living crisis are curtailing consumption since prices roughly doubled in 2023. Drought and disease have also severely impacted harvests from its main producers. Consumption is estimated to drop an additional 6% in 2024, and the European Union predicts exports will plunge by at least 10%. Spain is Europe’s top grower, and production is expected to be higher this year but still a third lower than the four-year average.
Why the price of olive oil is soaring… “Last season was particularly bad. Spain had a hot spring: in April, some regions were 5°C warmer than the average for that month, meaning that olive groves failed to bloom. Summer offered no respite. According to the environment ministry, one-third of the country suffered a ‘prolonged drought’ in June, damaging the few olive trees that had flowered. Meanwhile in Italy, where temperatures were also scorching, Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium, ravaged trees. The disease, which is spread by insects, is thought to have been introduced by an ornamental plant from Costa Rica in 2008. It has since killed an estimated 21 million trees. As a result, production in the EU fell by around 40% last year, causing prices to surge. Two factors pushed them higher still. First elevated interest rates and the surging cost of fertilizer squeezed farmers’ margins. Second Turkey, one of the few countries that enjoyed a good olive harvest, banned the export of olive oil in bulk in an effort to bring domestic prices down. That kept prices stable in Turkey, but drove them up elsewhere.” – The Economist, Dec. 13
Not only are Mother Nature, central banks, and trading partners not being kind to growers or the market but there’s a crime wave hitting Spain’s olive oil industry that makes matters worse. Thieves not only target fresh olives hanging from trees, harvested olives, and olive oil in storage, but they also wound trees by cutting down whole branches with chainsaws.
Thieves Target ‘Liquid Gold’ as Olive Oil Prices Soar… “Another brazen theft of Spanish olive oil — this time worth over half a million dollars — is the latest example of how record prices are fueling a crime surge in the top grower.” – Bloomberg, Sep. 6
Lurking behind the most popular EVOOs in the world that are produced in Greece, Italy, and Spain, a crime syndicate is cashing in on the “liquid gold” rush. They sell fake EVOO by adding sunflower, canola, and other cheap oils that rob global consumers. In March of 2023, Spain’s Extremadura region removed 11 brands from the market that were adulterated with other oils, including one that was unfit for human consumption.
Extra virgin olive oil is getting very expensive. And it might not even be real… “In late November, authorities in Spain and Italy working with the EU’s Europol law enforcement agency arrested 11 people tied to a criminal gang, sequestering 12 barrels containing some 260,000 liters of adulterated, or non-virgin or EVOO. They also seized 5,200 liters of market-ready quality oil that had been ready for export. Authorities said it was ‘unfit for consumption,’ despite false labeling that claimed the oil was 100% Italian or Spanish. Authorities also found 91,000 euros (almost $100,000) in cash, four high-end vehicles, falsified labels, and paperwork that stated the oil was Spanish and Italian-grown when sample tests revealed it was more likely made by mixing olive oil byproducts with other types of oil.” – CNN, Dec. 9
Counterfeiters arrested following operation OPSON – EUROPOL, Dec. 4
While shopping for olive oil and EVOOs at your local grocery store or specialty outlet, do not assume the oil you choose is not adulterated despite any inspection label that claims otherwise. EVOO is the king of olive oil, is less acidic, has a fruity or peppery flavor, and has a pleasant aroma. Do your best to know where the olives were harvested, pay attention to packaging, stay with dark glass bottles, and be sure there is a harvest date indicated for freshness. Olive oil will go rancid after a year or sooner if not kept in a cool and dry place without direct sunlight. Consider using the fridge test:
“Around 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit, the natural wax particles in olive oil will begin to precipitate out of the oil, making it look cloudy or crystallized. Around 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit, it will begin to form a consistency that is similar to soft butter. Since most fridges are kept around 37 degrees Fahrenheit for food safety purposes, oil will solidify if put in the fridge… You may have heard of the fridge test, which is based on the myth that only high quality, 100% genuine EVOO solidifies. The theory went that adulterated olive oils would not solidify in the fridge… This myth was based on the idea that polyunsaturated fats — which genuine olive oil contains in very high levels — solidify at a lower temperature than monounsaturated fats. Thus, the idea was that high quality flavored olive oil containing lots of polyunsaturated fats would solidify in the fridge, while lower quality, adulterated oil that contains more monounsaturated fats would not. While this myth may be appealing, it is simply false. All oils will eventually solidify if you lower the temperature enough (although some, such as canola oil, do remain liquid at refrigerator temperatures). Furthermore, because olive oil can be adulterated with both high polyunsaturated fat oils (such as sunflower oil) and high monounsaturated fat oils (like peanut oil), adulterated oils can still solidify in the fridge.” – Brightland
EVOO prices are not going to drop anytime soon according to October data compiled by the European Union. Since 2022, prices spiked significantly across the board, and normal production levels are not expected until at least 2025 IF conditions are conducive. There are no retail avenues for investing or trading a rally, and olive oil futures were discontinued in 2016 due to regulatory issues.
Olive Oil Prices Skyrocketing; Experts Share Their Views – Hugo Investing, Oct. 27
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