While olives have a general health halo owing to their association with the Mediterranean diet, recent studies exploring the benefits of olive polyphenols on markers of chronic inflammation, joint health, skin conditions such as eczema, platelet aggregation in the blood, oxidized LDL cholesterol (a risk factor for heart disease), and neurodegenerative disorders are opening up several new opportunities.
Dr Roberto Crea: ‘I was throwing away liquid gold’
One firm that has pioneered research into olive bioactives is California-based CreAgri, which markets a polyphenol-packed ingredient called Hidrox to the food, beverage and supplement markets.
Hidrox is made from olive juice, which used to be thrown away as a by-product from the olive oil production process until CreAgri founder Dr Roberto Crea discovered he was "throwing away liquid gold" and developed a solvent-free process of recovering it.
While Hidrox is being marketed on a range of platforms from a skin health ingredient to a natural anti-microbial, it has real potential in the heart health market, Dr Crea told FoodNavigator-USA.
“The messages are around three key areas: Its ability to fight free radicals, stop LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and manage chronic inflammation.”
Tackling cellular inflammation will be at the core of medicine for the next 20 years, and people want to manage it with natural compounds
And the inflammation message - while perhaps the toughest to communicate to consumers - is potentially the most exciting, he says.
“We’re not yet at the stage where we can talk to consumers about NF-κB pathways and C-reactive protein, but they can understand the concept of addressing the underlying pathways of disease. Research has shown that Hidrox can stop the cytokine cascade.”
He added:“Cellular inflammation - and trying to control it - is going to be at the core of medicine over the next 20 years, and people want to manage it with natural compounds."
And while hydroxytyrosol is not the only polyphenol Dr Crea believes is responsible for the health benefits of Hidrox, it appears to play a key role as it is a “very small molecule that can cross the GI tract and has been identified as an intracellular compound”, he adds.
We’re talking to some major companies in the beverage industry
While Hidrox is now established in the dietary supplement market, it is just starting to make headway in the food and beverage space, he says.
However, interest from food and beverage companies has increased significantly following the recent PREDIMED study on the cardio benefits of the Mediterranean diet, and rising awareness of the ability of olive polyphenols to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol after EFSA gave this claim a green light in Europe.
Available in powder or liquid form, Hidrox is heat stable and cost effective as it does not need to be used in large amounts, and will feature in a new range of functional beverages from Sunsweet launching soon, he says.
“We’re talking to some major companies in the beverage industry now, who want to work with us because our claims are backed by hard clinical evidence, even if the claims they use with consumers are fairly ‘soft’ claims, as they don’t want to sound too ‘medical’.
“We’re getting interest from companies looking at sports nutrition, beauty-from-within, joint health and products targeting the aging population.”
We believe that the benefits are not just coming from the hydroxytyrosol
While a flurry of olive extracts boasting high levels of hydroxytyrosol has recently flooded the market, surprisingly few are backed by clinical evidence demonstrating safety or efficacy, he claims.
Meanwhile, Hidrox doesn’t just contain hydroxytyrosol, he stresses.
“Hidrox contains a combination of polyphenols from organic olive juice, and it is that patented formulation that has been tested in all of our human clinical research. We believe that the benefits are not just coming from the hydroxytyrosol.”
CreAgri has also secured a US patent covering the use of hydroxytyrosol or hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein for addressing several conditions with an underlying inflammatory component, which complements process and composition patents it has already secured, and gives the firm very broad IP protection, he said.
PL Thomas: Hytolive has good organoleptic properties that make it acceptable for food applications
Another company making waves in the olive ingredients market is PL Thomas, which sells Hytolive, a solvent-free self-affirmed GRAS water extract of olive fruits from Spanish supplier Genosa.
Dr Barbara Davis, director, medical & scientific affairs at PLT, says that while Hytolive has been on the market since 2011, there has been a recent upsurge in interest, due in part to the publicity surrounding the PREDIMED study and the Mediterranean diet.
“I think making this kind of connection for Hytolive really holds a lot of potential – ‘some of the goodness of the Mediterranean diet captured’.”
Stability is excellent
Meanwhile, Hytolive also “has good organoleptic properties that makes it acceptable for food applications, because it does not contain oleuropein, which can create a bitter taste”, she adds.
Nevertheless, ”highly flavored products or products that can absorb the flavor are better targets”, she said.
"And stability is excellent."
As for claims, “inflammation is tricky from a claims perspective”, she notes.
“But I would say that the concept and its relationship to health is becoming more and more familiar to consumers.
“So while the connection between inflammation and joint health is probably best known, there is increasing understanding that inflammation is related to other health issues such as cardiovascular health, diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease.”
Click here to read about Olive Innovations, which is aiming to turn the ultra-traditional olive oil market on its head with a polyphenol-rich extra virgin olive oil targeting oxidized LDL cholesterol (OxLDL).
Click here to read about emerging biomarkers in cardiovascular health.
Click here to read about the recent PREDIMED study.