Professor of Chemical Engineering at University of Jaén and head of Process Engineering Unit of University Institute of Research on Olive and Olive Oils (INUO) was invited by ASOLUR, AGROLAND and International Olive Council to give a training course in Uruguay last August. The course consisted of an in-depth study of olive oil production process and recent technological innovations incorporated in recent years.
Sebastián Sánchez, indicated that in his classes in Spain he speaks highly of Uruguayan oils and declares that: “it is a country where extraordinary oils can be made, despite the production difficulties due to climate change, in which there are times when it does not rain at all and others when it rains more than it should, thus affecting production and, often, the quality of the oil, as is often the case in Spain“. In addition, during different tasting sessions of olive oil from South America, the expert has been able to verify its positive evolution over time, although he is surprised that the olive grove in Uruguay has not increased in size. In this sense, he points out, “my assessment is that there should be more and more plantations, in Spain we have difficulties for olive trees and more are being planted. Moreover, it is not linear, but rather it is increasing notably in spite of all the problems that may exist. According to my logic, production in Uruguay should increase“.
On the other hand, the head of Process Engineering Unit of INUO also mentioned Mario Solinas’ competition, considered the most prestigious award in the world, since extraordinary olive oils are presented. In the case of Uruguayan olive oil, he added that it is known, but not on a large scale due to the scarcity of olive groves in this country, which is why Sebastián is committed to the extension of this crop in order to have the possibility of greater world exports. “There is a trajectory and to achieve this diffusion, more litres of olive oil are needed on the market. Because I must also recognise that for what is produced there is an extraordinary diffusion“, the researcher advocated. Moreover, in Uruguay, almost 50 percent of the population consumes imported oil, as they think it is of higher quality than their own country. This may be due to the lack of education of the population and, therefore, the consumer does not know how to differentiate between good olive oil, which is often found in his own country, thus forcing him to buy more expensive oils from abroad.
In addition, during the different sessions of course, he reported on fraud that usually occurs in the marketing and labelling of olive oil, since it is the product with the most cases of fraud in the world, due to incorrect classification of olive oil by categories. In this sense, he points out that in order to be able to label an olive oil within the “Extra Virgin” category, a series of physical-chemical and sensory requirements established in the legislation must be fulfilled. What is more, it is not enough just to comply with requirements of regulations, but rather, correct compliance must be inspected. In fact, Spain, which is one of the largest producers of oil, is the country where the authorities carry out the fewest inspections. If inspections were carried out more frequently, this would prevent consignments from being returned in other countries where olive oil has been exported because they do not comply with regulatory requirements and with corresponding category. However, the cause of poor classification and, therefore, possible export returns is not only due to the classification at origin, but also to transport, which must be carried out under optimum conditions so that the quality of oil is maintained throughout process.
With regard to the general consumption of olive oil, he believes that the trend will continue to grow, as there are more news and publicity about the benefits of this extraordinary product. He also reports that two aspects of olive oil stand out: health and gastronomy, as people are increasingly concerned about improving their diet and are more demanding when it comes to consuming olive oils, especially those Extra Virgin Olive Oils of the highest quality. Finally, the expert, Sebastián Sánchez, points out the need to create a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for Uruguayan olive oil. In this sense, he points out that “certain countries, such as United States, have no reference to Uruguay’s local brands, but they are looking for a seal that guarantees that this oil is certified by something“. This point will reward and value quality, and this will lead to greater production and export of Uruguayan olive oils, since those products that meet requirements and standards of this certification will be marked with a DOP seal.