Polyphenols and Antioxidants in Olive Oil

polyphenols and antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil

Since we found our True Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, we knew it was special. Its robust, peppery taste delights the palate and lingers even after you've swallowed. It’s the only extra virgin olive oil we’ve found in ten years of searching that is actually made mostly from olives native to Tuscany. After reviewing hundreds of Italian EVOOs, all but True Tuscan contain around 10% native Frantoio olives. Healthy Harvest True Tuscan is a 50/50 blend of early harvest Frantoio and Moraiolo olives. Not only does it have rich history and robust flavor, but it contains nearly triple (550 mg/kg) the polyphenols of a standard olive oil.

These molecules are found in plants and are generally involved in defense against ultraviolet radiation or aggression by pathogens. We are literally absorbing plants' defense mechanisms when we eat them.

What are Phenols?

Polyphenols are micronutrients in our diet with antioxidant properties, meaning they absorb harmful free radicals. Polyphenols have been gaining interest recently, most notably for their "probable role in the prevention of various diseases associated with oxidative stress, such as cancer and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases."(1)

These molecules are found in plants and are generally involved in defense against ultraviolet radiation or aggression by pathogens. We are literally absorbing plants' defense mechanisms when we eat them.

There are hundreds of polyphenols, and they can be found in a variety of foods from dark berries and kale to chocolate and red wine. According to AgBioLab, "more than 30 polyphenols have been identified in extra virgin olive oil."

What Affects Polyphenol Content in Olive Oil

Polyphenol levels are affected by a variety of factors: climate, soil, rainfall/irrigation, sun, ripeness when harvesting, and fruit yield per tree, Moreover, studies have shown "the polyphenol content of vegetables produced by organic or sustainable agriculture is certainly higher than that of vegetables grown without stress, such as those grown in conventional or hydroponic conditions." (2)

This is why knowing the source of your olive oil is so important. For instance, the frantoio olives in our True Tuscan are a varietal naturally higher in phenols (3). They are grown using organic methods, and they are harvested early. Phenols naturally decrease as the olive fruit ripens.

Related: Phenols in EVOO May Protect Bone Mass

Which Olive Oils Have Polyphenols?

All real, pure extra virgin olive oils have polyphenols, but there is a spectrum that correlates with flavor. The more phenols the oil contains, the more bitter it tastes. Olive oils perceived as mild typically have less than 180 mg/kg total phenols, while robust oils generally have more than 300 mg/kg. Lab reports show that Healthy Harvest True Tuscan contains 550 mg/kg total phenols.

Get the Most Benefit Out of Your Olive Oil

At Healthy Harvest, we send our olive oils to an independent lab in California to be tested for purity and polyphenols. Our Healthy Harvest Greek contains 220 mg/kg of polyphenols, more than most oils, yet it is mild and buttery, making it perfect to use as a daily cooking oil. It is safe to use up to about 410 degrees. However, to get the most health benefits, it's best used below 350 degrees.

Our 2018 True Tuscan contains 550 mg/kg polyphenols, which in many cases, is off the charts. It packs a powerhouse of phenols and a strong flavor that makes an amazing finishing oil or dipping oil. A generous drizzle adds pronounced flavor and character to any dish. If you're mostly interested in the antioxidant properties, we even recommend taking a spoonful in the morning or adding it to a smoothie. Just don't heat it if you want to enjoy this special oil for its health properties.



1. Manach, et al. “Polyphenols: Food Sources and Bioavailability | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 May 2004, academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/79/5/727/4690182#109820564.

2. Asami DK, Hong YJ, BarrettDM,MitchellAE.Comparison of the total phenolic and ascorbic acid content of freeze-dried and air-dried marionberry, strawberry, and corn grown using conventional, organic, and sustainable agricultural practicesJ Agric Food Chem2003;51:123741.


Note: This post has been updated since it was originally published on 2/24/17.