Olive oil is the 'liquid gold' of the Spanish economy. In the last campaign, 1.3 million tons, and most will be exported to more than 160 countries. An established sector that is not alien to technological advances. Far from its traditional image, this industry has incorporated innovations such as infrared equipment nearby to analyze the fat content or the yield of the olive in just five minutes. From Dcoop, the cooperative group considered the world's leading producer of olive oil with an average of 225,000 tons per year, the head of oil mill analysis, Antonio Terán, explains that with these teams they can "analyze the parameters of the olive and separate it by quality."
Specifically, there are already 25 teams installed in the oil mills of the group. The goal is to separate the oil and, in the near future, pay the farmer for the quality of his harvest. In this regard, they have been designing 'ad hoc' indicators of maturity (fermentation, acidity ...) and health of the olive, among others.
In his opinion, the improvement of virgin olive oils is directly related to this type of segregations. “We have been collecting samples since September in 50 plots. In this way, for example, we are monitoring the yield of olive oil to find the optimum moment for harvesting: the more days the olive is in the air the worse its quality ”, explains Terán. Dcoop has the Danish Foss as a technology partner in this project.
For her part, the head of the Oil Laboratory, Rosario Luque, recalls that with previous techniques the results of the fat content of the olives would take 48 hours, but this new technology «is giving very good results both from the point of view of Health as well as the maturity index and, in this way, a large amount of data reaches the cooperative ». Complementary techniques are also being studied, such as 'mass gas chromatology' or 'mass spectrometry' to increase the reliability of the tastings that, according to the legislation, determine the category of each olive oil: lampante, virgin and extra virgin. Criticized throughout the sector for "subjectivity", with this new technique, it seeks to take advantage of the mass detector sensitivity to set the organoleptic parameters (bitter, fruity, defects ...) and physicochemical (acidity, initial oxidation ...).
The activity on the farms is not the same either. Both technicians and farmers already have a greater amount of information than all previous generations. Specifically, they are already being created ICT platforms in which climate information is collected from different sources.
Such is the case of Dcoop, which participates in a project co-financed by the European Commission's 'Horizon 2020' research and innovation program. To do this, they have been developing a web tool for easy visualization of this type of data by farmers and technicians. For what it uses the European program 'Copernicus' and allows to offer more reliable predictive analysis. 'For example, farmers can look at this tool to organize your work within a week or, in the cooperative, schedule the next campaign with a harvest forecast, ”explains its R&D manager, Silvia López.
Innovation also goes through the search for new products derived from olive oil. Prominent representatives of the sector such as Anierac (National Association of Industrials, Packers and Refiners of Edible Oils) believe that there is the key to win back younger consumers in mature markets such as Spanish. All this, despite the fact that the new quality standard expressly prohibits condiments and dressings from highlighting the term 'olive oil' in their sales denomination, although it does allow it to be included on labeling. Something that is not posing any obstacle to the research of new derived foods of this liquid 'gold'. For example, it would not be unusual for a spreadable oil to be marketed on the market soon as if it were a real jam and that it was the ingredient for some canapé.
Nor would it be unusual that oil could be printed thanks to a 3D printer. Fiction? This is what is being pushed from the CDTI (Center for Industrial Technological Development), together with cooperatives such as Clun and Dcoop, whose R&D manager explains “that the objective is through a device in which By introducing a capsule, with a series of ingredients, I can develop -'print'- a plate for you ». In particular, there is already a printable olive mass.
Another line of research seeks to improve techniques such as table olives fermentation using native probiotic bacteria and, incidentally, saving millions in losses in this type of process estimated at up to two million euros.