The Italian Almanac

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olive oil

Genes in the Oil

Italian scientists said they have singled out the genes behind the key ingredients in olive oil. Published in the scientific journal BMC Genomics, the study identified thousands of genes for producing the fats and acids which make up olive oil, in addition to the ``bouquet`` of aromas which give it its taste.

Researchers from the National Institute of Technoloy (ENEA), the Italian Institute of Vegetable Genetics and the National Research Council (CNR) said that the findings would further understanding of olive oil`s health benefits and help distinguish protected local varieties from cheap imitations. A so-called ``genetic profile`` for the olive is a major step towards decoding the complete genetic sequence which makes up the plant`s genome, researchers said.

A staple of the Mediterranean diet, studies have linked olive oil to reduced rates of coronary heart disease, strokes and peptic ulcers. Olive oil has half the saturated fat content of vegetable oils and is thought to control cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. There are over 1,200 different kinds of olives, more than half of which are grown in Italy. Italy is the second-biggest producer of olive oil in Europe after Spain with an annual yield of over five million quintals.

The extra-virgin and virgin olive oil sector has an annual turnover of some two billion euros.