What are the health benefits of olive oil and why is it so expensive?

MADRID, SPAIN - 2022/06/17: Bottles of Spanish olive oil are seen displayed for sale at a Carrefour Express supermarket in Spain. (Photo by Xavi Lopez/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Olive oil prices have skyrocketed in the past year. (Getty Images)

If you happened to have looked at a shelf of olive oil at your local supermarket lately, you might have noticed that prices seem a bit steeper than they were a year ago.

In fact, recent analysis by The Grocer found that prices of olive oil have gone up by nearly 50% in just one year.

Separate insight from the Daily Mail found that the average price of a bottle of olive oil was £3.54 in January 2021, which rose to £9.49 by April this year, an increase of 168%.

It’s a phenomenon that hasn’t gone unnoticed on social media either, with X users taking to the platform to raise their concerns about the raised prices.

"Sorry but wtf is going on with the price of olive oil??" user @melraunch1 asked earlier this week in a post that has received over 30,000 likes and 4,000 comments.

The image shows a shelf of olive oil with prices ranging from £4.30 to £13.85. Others commented that they were ‘horrified’ by the prices, so what’s the reason for the steep increase?

Why olive oil is so expensive

"A significant drought in 2022 across major olive-growing regions, particularly the Mediterranean basin, is the key reason behind the price rises," Mike Walls, a nutrition expert and director of Fantastic Nutrition, tells Yahoo UK.

"Unfortunately for farmers and consumers, the scorching temperatures and scarce rainfall impacted olive flowering and fruit sets, resulting in a substantial drop in olive production, particularly in Italy, which is a major exporter."

Wall adds that the 2023 production of the oil also failed to see much recovery.

"Spain and other key exporters once again experienced droughts as the whole planet endured the hottest summer on record," he says.

This limited production means supply is less than the demand, which is what causes prices to rise.

NORTHWICH, ENGLAND - JULY 06: Olive oil sits on display in a Tesco supermarket on July 06, 2022 in Northwich, England. The British Retail Consortium recently said food manufacturers and supermarkets are having to pass on some of the cost of soaring raw materials to consumers, leading to the price of basic goods throughout the UK rising at the fastest pace since September 2008. Fresh food prices increased by 6% in the year to June 2022 coupled with an increase in inflation, and fuel and energy prices to create a cost of living crisis.  This is leading to millions of low-income households going without essentials items, falling behind on bills and taking on debt. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Olive oil prices in 2022. (Getty Images)

Will olive oil prices continue to rise?

Walls says that whether or not we will continue to see a rise or a decline in olive oil prices is not yet clear, largely due to the unpredictability of weather patterns.

"Although some experts predicted that olive harvests in 2023 would see some improvement, no significant developments were made," he adds.

"The long-term effects of climate change on olive production remain a concern, while rising global demand for olive oil, particularly from health-conscious consumers, might also continue to put pressure on prices."

Health benefits of olive oil

The steep rise in prices of olive oil is especially unfortunate for consumers as olive oil has a slew of health benefits, which is why it’s a key component of the Mediterranean diet.

Olive oil is a healthy fat, which means it is good for your heart health, and it also contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

"Extra virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, known to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and raise ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, promoting heart health," Walls explains.

"It’s also a natural source of antioxidants, which help combat free radicals that damage cells and contribute to various health issues. Studies have also suggested that olive oil has anti-inflammatory properties that may benefit conditions such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease."

He adds that further research has indicated that olive oil consumption could potentially improve cognitive function too, specifically memory.

Female food blogger wearing apron pouring olive oil into vegetable salad while standing at modern kitchen, close-up shot
A drizzle of olive oil on a salad can offer several health benefits. (Getty Images)

How to make the most of olive oil

As olive oil feels like more of an investment grocery item these days, it’s best to use it sparingly – but that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the health benefits.

Olive oil has a low smoke point, so Walls says it’s best reserved for drizzling over salads, using as a marinade, or splashing on top of your soup to get a little infusion.

When using a frying pan or pot, Walls recommends using sunflower oil or avocado oil as these contain high smoke points.

"Marinating meats and fish overnight with a small amount of olive oil alongside a mixture of herbs and spices will allow you to enjoy the health benefits of olive oil without using a huge amount of it," he explains.

"Don't underestimate the impact of the flavour a good quality olive oil can bring to a dish. A drizzle can elevate the taste of roasted vegetables, soups, or stews."

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