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The Many Casualties in Aleppo Include an Ancient Olive Oil Soap

The amazing traditional olive oil soap makers of Aleppo, Syria.

The amazing traditional olive oil soap makers of Aleppo, SyriaThe Battle of Aleppo is an ongoing military confrontation in Aleppo, Syria between the Free Syrian Army, Islamic Front, People’s Defense Units and Sunni militants against the Syrian government, Hezbollah and Shiite militants. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to evacuate. The battle has also caused catastrophic destruction to the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

One of the myriad of casualties of this war to be lamented is the loss of the world’s oldest soap: the soap of Aleppo. 82 percent olive oil, 12 percent laurel oil and soda. There are only three ingredients in this product that has been the same for centuries beyond the walls of the historic citadel of Aleppo, in Northern Syria.

Being all natural without any synthetics or other additives, the soap of Aleppo is made from local Syrian olive oil, and it is renowned for its beneficial effects on the skin. The soap moisturizes and adapts to all skin types, from dry to delicate because it regulates the production of sebum. It is even used for hair care.

Syrian soap producers around Aleppo used to gain their livelihood from local sales and, more recently, in international markets. In the last 30 years or so, in the United States, Europe, and Japan plenty of consumers began to know and search for this small green bar with an Arabic stamp and a magic smell. But in reality the first exports of this soap were centuries ago by crusaders, coming from the Northern Syrian city.

A long time has passed by, but this land still remains a battlefield. Turmoil between rebels and Assad forces have led to the near complete destruction of the city. Indeed, 2012 could be considered the last year of production of the green gold from Aleppo. Because of the intense conflict, soap makers fled the city. They left their workshops and their homes in Aleppo when they could not easily find olive oil from villages surrounding the city and as they grew fearful for their families’ safety.

We at Little Angel are proud of our traditionally made olive oil soaps because they are simply that – traditionally made. While our Little Angel/Patounis olive oil soaps are made in Greece, we share the loss of these amazing artisans that perfected their traditional olive soaps for centuries. We wish them Godspeed and pray for their safety and longevity. Right now, however, the return of soap makers and their families will not happen any time soon.

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New EU Labeling Laws Appear Just in Time for Olive Oil’s ‘Black Year’

Read the label on olive oil bottles to be sure you know what you are getting.

It appears that 2014 will be known by Italian olive oil producers as the ‘black year’ — a particularly bad one for a number of reasons — among them the fact that the weather has been great if you’re an olive fruit fly, and a bacterial blight that seemed to come from nowhere has led to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of trees in Apulia. Not to mention Spain will produce nearly one million tons less than it did last year. If there ever was a year to read the fine print on the label, it is now.

According to all estimates, world olive oil production is expected to tumble by 27 percent, putting an entire agricultural sector in distress.

Meanwhile, as usual, prices for Italian olive oil are commanding a healthy premium, rising by 50 percent in just the last month to nearly $7.25 per liter in bulk.

All of this is also contributing to a tough situation for olive oil consumers as retail prices will climb and the climate, as unfriendly as it has been for olives, is even more ripe for olive oil fraud. The Italian agricultural association, Coldiretti has raised the alarm about an “invasion of foreign olive oils,” based on Istat data for the first seven months of 2014. “If the trend is maintained,” said the president of the association, Roberto Moncalvo, “the arrival in Italy of foreign olive oil will reach a historic high in 2014,” and so will the pressures to commit olive oil fraud. A whopping two out of three bottles filled in Italy will contain foreign olive oil (a significant amount from Greece). “Read the label well, especially the small print,” he advised.

Just in time, consumers are reminded that, from December 13, new European Union labeling laws will come into effect which mandate more transparent label information.

The recently-amended EU marketing standards for olive oil (regulation 29/ 2012) require the following:

  • Information that has to appear on olive oil packaging must be in the main field of vision in a uniform body of text. The EU hopes this will stop a misleading practice sometimes seen whereby some information, such as about the quality of the oil, or the country of origin appears in a smaller font;
  • The back label of olive oil bottles must indicate that they should be stored in a cool, dark place. This aims at helping consumers maintain the quality of their oil longer;
  • The harvest year may only be stated on the label if all the olive oil is from that harvest. This is said to be to enable consumers to ensure product freshness;
  • EU member states must strengthen compliance checks – based on risk analysis – as well as sanctions, and send more detailed annual reports to the Commission on these checks and the outcomes.

It is important to note that Little Angel Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil is in complete compliance with the new EU labeling regulations and guarantees that its oil is 100% a Product of Greece and completely unadulterated.

The olive oil industry has welcomed the news and the clearer labeling is seen as a step in the right direction for consumers and a way to add value in this black moment for producers.

Meanwhile, enforcement efforts are being beefed up to combat the expected surge in falsely labeled olive oils, including those claiming to be made in Italy and substandard oils labeled extra virgin.

We promise to keep you posted as things develop in 2015.

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Cost of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Set to Rise

Extra virgin olive oil price will continue to rise due to a horrible drought and fruit fly infestationThe price of crude oil and gasoline products may be at a five-year low, but there is one kind of oil price that is literally skyrocketing in value. The extra virgin olive oil price!

Extra virgin olive oil prices have jumped by a over 33% after a devastating olive harvest in parts of Italy, France, Portugal and Spain. The crop is down 35 percent in Italy, with newspaper La Repubblica calling it “The black year of Italian olive oil.” The European olive harvest is getting hit by the perfect storm of anti-olive oil weather: High temperatures in the spring, a cool summer and a lot of rain. Those also happen to be perfect conditions for the devastating olive fly and olive moth. The olive fly burrows into an olive and lays its eggs inside, and the maggots tunnel out of the fruit, eating as they go. Along with them goes the precious olive fruit and, therefore, the extra virgin olive oil.

Silvio Bandinelli of the Tuscan Olive Growers Coop said: ‘The new oil will cost 2-3 euro more per liter compared to last year, or an average of 10 euro a litre. Some producers have decided not produce extra virgin because the flavor of the oil will likely be too acidic. Others have cut their losses by not harvesting at all, according to the Confederation of Agricultural producers in Italy (CIA). Greek production has remained untouched by this sad state of conditions and, as such, Italy and the European extra virgin olive oil producers have turned to Greece to solve their problems. The Greek extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is in great shape and the Europeans are buying it as fast as it can be produced. Little Angel Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil is coming in with a very low acidity and a rich, peppery flavor!

Renzo Modesti of CIA in Florence said that the hot spring followed by a wet summer had led to a poor start to the year. He explained: ‘Because of this we were already expecting a harvest of less than 20 per cent. But the arrival of the fruit fly has blown everything up in smoke. “This is the worst year in memory,” the head of an Italian olive growers’ group told the Associated Press news service. A leading extra virgin  olive oil supplier told The Grocer trade magazine that this is “the most difficult year I have ever seen.”

“For extra virgin olive oil producers, 2014 is the year they wish had never happened,” says Rolando Beramendi, who imports fine Italian oils and other food products. “The weather was so strange … terrible hailstorms, unusual wet weather,” he says. As a result, one of his top producers — Tenuta di Capezzana in Tuscany — isn’t going to make any oil at all.

“They ran the press one day and then just said the quality was so bad that they just turned it off,” Beramendi says.gin

Making matters even worse in Italy, says olive oil expert Thomas Mueller, author of “Extra-Virginity,” are government actions. “Aside from the weather and fly, this low harvest is also an expression of the rapidly deteriorating olive oil industry in Italy, where more and more oil is imported, and less and less is made from Italian trees,” he wrote in an email.

“[The] lack of long-term strategic planning on a national and regional level, terrible (often fraudulent) use of EU subsidies not to modernize groves and mills, as the subsidies were designed to do, but to grease palms,” are among the reasons he cites.

Tom Mueller warns that this shortage may well lead to even more of the kinds of olive oil fraud he describes in his book — cheaper oils from other countries being imported and sold as fine Italian, lesser grades being labeled extra-virgin, even the addition of vegetable oils. Indeed, Olive Oil Times has already reported a 45% increase in imports of oils into Italy.

To be sure you are getting what you pay for given these conditions, pay careful attention to the label. A twist in Italian oil labeling laws allows producers to label their products by where they are bottled, not necessarily where they are grown. Therefore, a company in Tuscany that imports Algerian oil can sell it as Tuscan extra virgin olive oil.

An exception, Beramendi says, is bottles labeled “produced and bottled by,” which have to have been grown by the estate that’s selling them. Even better are bottles that are marked with the harvest date.

Tom Mueller, whose book uncovers all manner of bad business in olive oil, is more pessimistic.

“Given the current lack of transparency in labeling, I’m afraid there are no good answers for how consumers can shop smart,” he wrote.

Olive oil price is not the only way to judge an oil but it is an important indicator. Olive oil market prices are a function of quality and availability.

“Certainly, anything claiming to be Italian oil that costs below, say, $12 per liter should be avoided, as it simply can’t be Italian from this year’s harvest, at least, and cost that little (prices for 100% Italian extra virgin olive oil have skyrocketed as this bad harvest has emerged). Anything cheaper has to be – in whole or in part – last year’s oil, or oil from another country like Greece or Algeria, or some other vegetable oil. Be very suspect of anything that claims to come from Tuscany, Umbria or another of the harder-hit regions.”

He advises trying Greek oils, as they were relatively unaffected. At Little Angel, we couldn’t agree more!

One Italian olive grower is estimating that the price of oil there will rise to about 10 euro per liter, or about $47 per gallon. The price is expected to rise by £2 a bottle after production fell by up to 80 per cent in some areas of Italy, a farmers’ cooperative said. And, the olive crop in the U.S. isn’t faring much better. The harvest in some parts of California is down because of the state’s prolonged drought and a winter cold snap, according to Olive Oil Times. Growers are also dealing with environmental disputes over how to dispose of the curing and brining solutions involved in olive processing.

‘There are so many small and medium producers who this year will not harvest because the fly has eaten all their olives leaving only the skin and the stone.’ The olive fruit fly or Bactrocera oleae, lays its egg in a hollow in the olive and when hatched the larvae tunnels its way out gnawing at the flesh destroying the fruit.Only those larger farms with technical prowess to treat their trees with pesticides managed to reduce their losses by around a third. Filippo Chiocchini, who owns an organic farm Poggio al Sole near Florence, said he had suffered losses of 30,000 euros. He wrote on Facebook:’The organic farms have been hit worse than the others by this fatal year. It’s a shame to give up the harvest but this is real farming which depends on natural methods.’

Paolo Calosi owner of a farm in in Sesto Fiorentino, Tuscany, where 1000 trees were hit by the fly, said: ‘Unfortunately this year we will not produce extra virgin oil because the fly has damaged all the trees. ‘This will produce a very acidic oil which cannot be sold as extra virgin. ‘It will in any case have a nasty aftertaste with a marked woody flavour.’ Roberto Nocentini of Coldiretti Tuscany said: ‘It’s difficult to quantify the loss in production because the situation changes not only from area to area but from grove to grove. Italy may have to import olive oil this year.’

The southern European countries produce more than 70 percent of the world’s olive oil, and last year received nearly $2.2 billion from exporting the commodity, according to The AP. The U.S. imported more than $800 million of that total. The soaring olive oil price is hurting Europe’s already struggling economy.

Adapted from CBS MoneyWatch Dec. 02, 2014, LATimes Nov. 24, 2014, and Daily Mail News Oct. 30, 2014

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Phenols in Extra Virgin Olive Oil Inhibit Colon Cancer Cell Growth and Protect Bone Mass

Phenols in olive oil help protect against colon cancer and osteoporosis

Research shows that estrogen receptor β has a protective effect on colon cancer and may inhibit proliferation of colon cancer cells. Estrogen receptor β is the main estrogen receptor expressed at a high level by normal human colon mucosa. In a cancerous colon, however, expression of estrogen receptor β decreases and is associated with progression of colorectal cancer.

Interest in phenols present in extra virgin olive oil as possible anti-carcinogenic agents for colon cancer stems from the fact that most phenols have a chemical structure similar to 17 β-estradiol (main form of estrogen in humans) and may be protective against colon cancer by acting as selective estrogen receptor modulators.

In a recent study carried out in the University of Florence and published in the Journal Nutrition and Cancer, researchers evaluated the effects of phenolic extracts from two different varieties of extra virgin olive oil on human colon cancer cell lines in vitro. They reported that the total polyphenol content of the EVOOs, was 12.69 and 8.43 milligrams per milliliter, respectively. Hydroxytyrosol, secoiridoids and lignans were the main phenolic extracts identified in these EVOOs.

The phenol extracts were tested on human colon cancer cell lines that were designed to overexpress estrogen receptor β. The authors reported that the EVOO extracts interacted with signals dependent on estrogen for growth of colorectal cancerous cells, thus providing an anti-proliferative effect on them. EVOO extracts also down regulated the expression of several genes, including BAG-1 that resulted in inhibition of cellular growth.

The researchers plan on conducting more studies to investigate the role of EVOO extracts in stopping colorectal cancer growth through the estrogen receptor β metabolic pathway.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

These latest findings add to the health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean diet, which provides many cancer-protective components because it is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, seafood, whole grains, and wine.

And, here’s yet another reason to add extra virgin olive oil to your diet. A recent article based on review of 37 scientific studies reports that the phenols in extra virgin olive oil may prevent loss of bone mass.

There is already evidence that populations who consume the Mediterranean diet have a lower incidence of osteoporosis and fractures. In 2013, a large cohort study of 188,795 subjects from eight European countries reported that subjects with a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of hip fractures.

The link between olive oil intake and bone health was investigated in another study that evaluated three groups of elderly men over a two-year period. Their Mediterranean diets included a daily intake of at least 50 milliliters of virgin olive or 30 grams of mixed nuts, while the third group consumed a low-fat Mediterranean diet. At the end of the study period, the researchers found that only the group with extra intake of olive oil had increased levels of serum osteocalcin and procollagen I N-terminal propeptide procollagen, both of which are associated with a protective effect on bone health.

Furthermore, there is a positive association between intake of monounsaturated fatty acids and bone mineral density. This is highlighted in a study that reports that incidence of fractures is lower in Greece, where olive oil is the main source of monounsaturated fatty acids, than in United States and North European countries.

In this 2014 review paper published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, the researchers focused on literature from biomedical databases to determine if phenols present in virgin olive oil affected bone mass.

Extra virgin olive oil contains many phenols that provide health benefits including protection against cardiovascular disease, some cancers and the aging process. According to the findings of the review, virgin olive oil phenols may also play a role in the prevention of osteoporosis.

Oleuropein, a key phenolic component of olive oil, may prevent bone loss associated with osteoporosis and aging by increasing formation of osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) from bone marrow stem cells, and decreasing generation of fat cells. In animal studies, oleuropein protected against bone loss by preventing inflammation-induced osteopenia.

Experiments on human bone marrow stem cells found that oleuropein could prevent bone loss and osteoporosis caused by age. Another study on mouse bone marrow cells indicates that oleuropein and hydoxytyrosol may be effective in reducing symptoms of osteoporosis. Data also suggests that other phenols such as luteolin may prevent bone loss in postmenopausal osteoporosis by reducing the action and function of osteoclasts, which are cells that break down bone tissue.

The antioxidant properties of phenols, tyrosol and hydoxytyrosol, may increase bone formation, act as free radical scavengers and prevent oxidation-induced damage to bone cells. Hydroxytyrosol alone also stimulated deposition of calcium and inhibited formation of osteoclasts.

Although results of experimental models indicate the benefits of phenols in virgin olive oil in maintaining bone health, clinical research is necessary to confirm these findings.

It appears, however, that in addition to protecting against heart disease and cancer, regular intake of virgin olive oil may be a simple but effective solution to preventing osteoporosis, which the World Health Organization has designated as the “second most healthcare problem worldwide after cardiovascular disease.”

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