CROATIA’S OLIVE OIL: A Global Superstar and a Superfood
Over the last 25 years, Istria has significantly improved its agricultural policies; today, its olive oils are made from hand-picked olives and coldpressed straight after harvesting. In 2022, Mate Oil from Istria got 99 points, an accomplishment in itself – so if you can get your hands on a bottle, give it a taste.
There are some 100 extra-virgin olive oil producers on the Istrian peninsula, mostly small and family-run, often hailing from generations of communal work in ancestral groves. Istria’s extra-virgin olive oil now has official recognition for its high quality on the national level, with the designation ‘Istrian Extra-Virgin Olive Oil’, as well as being on the European Union’s register of Protected Designations of Origin (PDO). If you buy a bottle that carries this label, you can be sure that it’s an authentic product, as well as truly being an extra-virgin olive oil. The labelling of an olive oil as extra-virgin can only be done if the acidity level is less than 0.8; Istrian olive oil is often far below this. Produced by a cold-pressing process, extra-virgin is the best grade of olive oil. When tasting your oil, look out for fruity green notes and a spicy burning sensation in the throat, which indicates that it is full of health-boosting polyphenols.
People who eat a Mediterranean diet, which is high in olive oil, have a low rate of cardiovascular disease. Taking olive oil daily may also help you manage your weight, control your blood sugar levels, alleviate depression, maintain cognitive function and protect you from chronic diseases. But again, always choose a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil because it’s unrefined (with very little processing), and has the highest level of antioxidants. Labels with categories: “pure” or “light” oil, “olive oil” and “pomace olive oil” signify industrial, processed oils that are best avoided. The polyphenols in extra-virgin olive oil have antioxidant properties, which benefit health, in part, because they combat oxidative stress—a type of stress that contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.
Extra-virgin olive oil triggers changes in gut bacteria that are associated with prevention of colorectal, colon and breast cancer. The polyphenols may also slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, and olive oil’s brain-nourishing nutrients can help elevate your mood, since this oil’s beneficial fats support the central nervous system, helping optimal nerve function and increasing your levels of the mood-supporting neurotransmitter serotonin. Extra-virgin olive oil may be a particularly good addition to your diet if you suffer from arthritis or another chronic inflammatory condition; it has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen.
And finally, eating three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil every day has been associated with greater growth and activation of T-cells, immune cells that attack foreign invaders. Healthy fats are a key dietary component for anyone trying to prevent or manage Type 2 diabetes. Fats generally help slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, which can keep blood sugar stable, but research suggests the main monounsaturated fat in olive oil, oleic acid, may be particularly protective against insulin resistance.
Many producers also offer tastings of their olive oils. The family-run Chiavalon (chiavalon.hr) olive oil producers in Vodnjan offer guided tours and tastings, so you can experience the entire olive oil production process at their on-site mill. Visitors can learn how olive oil is extracted using a modern milling system and witness the extraction process during the autumn harvest season. Vodnjan’s Istria Olive Oil Festival, is a great place to join the locals in sampling many different olive oils from the region.
Valamar has also dedicated itself to producing delicious, nutritious and high-quality extra-virgin olive oils. Our special feature is that we combine olives from Istria, Kvarner and Dalmatia, so you get to taste the full range of Adriatic olives. We have established a tradition of collective hand harvesting over the last two decades. Valamar’s staff all get together once a year and pick the olives from our 1800 trees, which are then pressed into our delicious oils.