The book titled The Chemical Story of Olive Oil: From Grove to Table, coauthored by Dr. Zeynep Delen Nircan, instructor at Sabancı University Foundations Development Directorate was in spotlight during the Chemistry Caucus event at the US Capitol last month. Two of the three coauthors, Professors Pat O’Hara and Rich Blatchly (front row 3rd and 4th from the right in the photo) gave a lecture about the chemistry of olive oil and organized a tasting event. Zeynep Delen Nircan told GazeteSU about the event and the content of the book...
-Could you briefly talk about the content of your book "The Story of Olive Oil from Olive Groves to Table", of which you are one of the authors?
Our book answers the questions that anyone who has an interest in olive oil as a producer or consumer, in Turkey and around the world, may wonder on a scientific basis. The book may also be considered as the logbook of a higher education initiative (www.egedeatolye.org) that started in Yenifoça in 2011. The interdisciplinary and intercultural learning adventure started in Yeni Foça and covered the northern and southern hemispheres. The ten-part book begins with what is known and believed about the origins of the olive. The next sections deal with the establishment of the olive grove, the olive tree, the harvest, the processing of olives and their transformation into olive oil, quality criteria, chemical and sensory determination of quality and adulteration, health benefits of olive oil, areas of use and sustainability.
- The authors of the book made speeches at the Chemistry Working Group Event on the chemistry of olive oil in the US Senate. What was discussed in these conversations? Can you tell us a little bit about the details of that day?
I couldn't attend, but we met on zoom right after the event. I can tell you what Pat and Rich excitedly told me about how the day went. Of course, it was very exciting to address senators, ambassadors of Turkey, Italy, Greece, France and Spain, CEO of American Chemical Society and the 2021 Nobel prize laureate in chemistry. The U.S. Capitol building, as you know there was an attack here last year, is being protected by strict security measures. They prepared four olive oil samples from various countries around the world. First, they talked about fat molecules that make up the bulk of the olive oil content, namely triglycerides, then the substances that give flavor, smell and aroma, then the molecules that give bitterness and pungency, finally those that are responsible for the health benefits in olive oil. They explained oxidation and the conditions that cause it, which must be avoided in order to preserve the quality of olive oil. Finally, they covered tasting a good olive oil and the points to be considered in oil-food pairing.
-What was the reaction to the book in the US Senate?
Enthusiam and lots of handshakes. Olive oil is becoming popular all over the world as a new luxury food item. The popularity is mostly driven by its health benefits. It is at top of the list of healthy functional foods. A lot of research is being done on olive oil and Mediterranean diet. The beginnings of Western civilization is not independent of the wealth provided by the olive oil trade in the Golden age of Antiquity. For this reason, even if we are separate nations today, in fact, the roots of all civilized nations are united around the image of the olive. Chris Coons, the Delaware senator who organized the event, is a former student of Pat from Amherst College said it right: olive oil is “a crucial staple that unites cultures from across the Atlantic and Mediterranean and has a rich historic and economic significance.” You can imagine how proud I am that Turkey was present in this event not just because we produce olives but also due to an intellectual contribution that narrating Anatolia’s importance in olive cultivation and human civilization.
-What are your upcoming studies? Could you give brief information about your projects in this field or on different topics?
Pat O'Hara's new book on molecular gastronomy and food chemistry, Alchemist in the Kitchen is to be published soon from the University of California Press. Besides research, our olive-focused community projects continue thanks to the Olive Academy opened in Karaburun in 2016. Open access Olive Oil Chemistry courses is now on the Olive School's Youtube channel as of last month. These recordings provide access to local interdisciplinary basic science content to general public, particularly we hope to young olive growers. We believe science and scholarship can lead the world towards a better future, starting from local connecting to global. In this regard, Ege’de Atölye recently started a scholarly microinitiative in Ömerli called Community Fungi. First article about it was published last week in journal MDPI Social Sciences..