High up in the hills overlooking the city of Hania— not far from where both of my parents were born— there’s a lush field of hundreds of olive trees that make some of the finest olive oil on the planet.
The fields surround the village of Varipetro and the farms are owned and operated by a fifth generation farmer named George Poulakas, whom I’ve known for more than 25 years. George is dedicated to this land that’s been in his family for generations and treats each tree like his child.
He harvests tons of the finest olive oil in the world every year and sells it to various providers who, in turn, sell it on the local market.
The harvest of ripe olives usually begins in November— but beginning in late September, a special group of trees filled with UNRIPENED olives will be harvested early to produce a special kind of oil.
George calls it “liquid gold”— not only for its qualities but also because early harvest olive oil is much more expensive to produce than regular olive oil. It takes TWICE the weight of unripe olives to produce a single liter of oil than ripe olives.
FUN FACT ABOUT MAKING OLIVE OIL: For regular olive oil, it takes about 5-6 kilograms of olives to produce ONE liter of oil. That’s about 6,000-8,000 olives. To make a single liter of early harvest olive oil, you need TWICE that amount, or about 10-12 kilograms of (unripe) olives or 12,000 to 16,000 of them!
Early harvest olive oil is known throughout Greece as “agoureleo,” from the Greek word “agouro” or unripe. In Crete, they call this oil as “agourolado,” which is also the name I’ve chosen for my brand– as an homage to the people of this island, including my parents.
This “early harvest” is rarely sold on the market because it costs so much to produce and, despite being the healthiest olive oil available, most people don’t understand its green color and unique peppery taste. Most farmers keep it for their own family and share it amongst friends— especially when visiting someone’s home during a holiday gathering.
The uses and benefits of early harvest olive oil
“Agourolado” isn’t for cooking. It’s meant to be eaten raw, on bread, or over a salad or topped over practically any dish. Many people I know in Crete— including myself— drink a few tablespoons every morning as part of a daily regimen.
I actually started doing this a few years ago after being diagnosed with cancer and being introduced to the numerous health benefits of early harvest olive oil from many people, especially Marilyn Harding and Athan Gadanidis, who have devoted their lives to promoting healthy olive oil.
You’ll be shocked by its burning, peppery sensation once it hits your throat. It’s not smooth like regular olive oil and furthermore, it’s green and thicker than regular olive oil. The peppery flavor comes from elements called “polyphenols,” which are what make this olive oil so healthy. Basically, the higher the polyphenols, the healthier the oil.
FUN FACTS ABOUT THE TASTE: The presence of Oleocanthal is indicated by the peppery effect on the back of the throat sometimes even causing a cough reflex. Oleacein is known for the bitterness on the tongue. These compounds are known for their anti-inflammatory benefits and are the reason why Agourolado is so healthy.
The Ancient Greeks considered this oil from unripe olives to be medicine. They called it “omphakion.” Hippocrates, the ancient physician considered to be the father of western medicine, called omphakion oil “the great healer” and prescribed it for more than 60 medical conditions. Dioscorides, another ancient Greek doctor, was one of the first to recognize that the healthiest olive oils were the fresh oils extracted from unripe olives.
Two thousand years later, modern science has proven this with dozens of studies from some of the world’s most prestigious university research centers revealing that “agourolado” has higher levels of two polyphenols, namely Oleocanthal and Oleacein, which are known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and so many other health benefits.
To be classified as “high phenolic” the European Union states that the olive oil must contain a minimum of 250mg of Oleocanthal and Oleacein per kilogram.
My 2021 batch of “Agourolado” has been tested in a certified laboratory in Crete using U.S. and European standards and has been classified as “high phenolic” with an amount of 1110 mg/kg of Oleocanthal and Oleacein. That’s over FOUR TIMES higher than the required amount of these super-healthy compounds.
Again this year, I’m spending the early autumn season in Crete working on this project to bring a small batch of this amazing product to the United States.
I did this last year for the first time and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I produced and imported 500 bottles, which sold out in a few weeks since launching.
This year I’m doing the same— with a larger bottle size (750ml). I wish I could bring more, but the product is so rare and costly to produce that there just isn’t enough.
I’m obviously placing most of my attention on the product– the olive oil itself, but also all of the details that go along with the design of the product, including the bottle.
For example, in my research, I learned that stainless steel is the best material to protect the qualities of olive oil. Both light and oxygen can have a deteriorating effect on the beneficial phenols in olive oil, but the actual container itself is important to maintain freshness.
I’ve selected an Italian-made single cut stainless bottle for Agourolado.
What do studies say about early harvest olive oil?
According to numerous studies from throughout the world, a daily intake of two tablespoons of high phenolic olive oil is necessary for the human body to derive the numerous benefits that come with the polyphenols.
Temple, the University of Thessaloniki, UC Davis, Harvard and many other research centers in Europe and throughout the world have released studies on these benefits, which include:
•Lowering blood pressure
•Protecting arteries from damage
•Lowering bad cholesterol
•Reducing the risk for type II diabetes
•Preventing many types of cancer
•Fighting premature aging
•Decreasing the risk for depression and dementia
•Slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s up to 40%
•Reducing inflammation in the body