Technology, Tradition… and Olive Oil.

In a century revolutionised by technology, even the oldest and most traditional processes cannot escape new ways to improve efficiency and reduce time. This time, the olive oil extraction process is the perfect example of how a millenary and traditional process can be improved to get the highest quality as well as much quantity as possible of olive oil – the dream of any olive farmer -!

The current olive oil extraction processes are highly automated and very efficient; however, with a focus on wanting to be as sustainable as possible whilst focusing on extracting the most out of every olive, the current malaxation process employs a lot of energy and time, which ends up being expensive and time consuming for producers.

New technologies have focused on the need to improve the malaxation process to increase yield without sacrificing energy. How? Well, according to, OptiCept Technologies AB based in Lund, Sweden produces olive oil technology called oliveCEPT®, a sort of pretreatment of olive paste just before malaxation that increases the amount of olive oil released from the olive paste cells. This is how the process works:

It Is based on PEF technology. PEF stands for Pulsed Electric Field System, a physical, non-thermal and low energy processing method. OliveCEPT® unit (basically a treatment chamber with electrodes) creates high-intensity pulsed electric fields of very short duration (microseconds to milliseconds) that produce   electroporation: a process that enables softening of cell tissue and the formation of pores in cell membranes that were not disrupted by the crusher.

Disruption of the olive pulp’s cell envelopes that act as a physical barrier is required to facilitate the oil release during malaxation. OliveCEPT® aids both, crusher and malaxer units by increasing the rupture of cell membranes that were not disrupted by the crusher. As a result, the malaxer has less work to do. Thanks to pretreatment of the olive paste with oliveCEPT®, malaxation time can be brought down to 25 minutes on average and malaxation temperature to 25° C on average.

This technology reduces both, malaxation time and temperature without negative impact on extraction yield. Quite the opposite, extraction yield increases from 5% to 15%. This percentage to a large degree depends on the genetic origins of olives (cultivar) and ripening level of olives. Moreover, olive oil at the end of the process exhibits significantly higher total phenolic content, Increases ranging from 10 to 30%.

As a result of increased extraction, PEF treatment also reduces the amount of pomace (solid residue left after olive oil extraction), hence reducing overall waste.

As malaxation time is cut almost in half, there is a reduction of energy consumption. OptiCept Technologies produces three units of different capacity and energy consumption is quite low.

At present, it is used in France, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Chile. This new and energy efficient technology improves quality and quantity by decreasing the malaxation time and increasing the extraction yield and phenolic content of olive oils. Moreover, oliveCEPT® improves the oil extractability and antioxidant contents of extra virgin olive oil without altering the main qualitative and organoleptic characteristics. None of the legal quality parameters for extra virgin olive oil are negatively affected.

With the view of protecting the environment and being sustainable, many producers might welcome this new technology with open arms, especially if there are benefits related to the final product. However, producers that rely on traditional methods may not be willing to adopt these new processes, especially smaller producers or family owned farms that try to keep the harvesting season as simple as possible.

Do you think new technologies should replace traditional methods?