By Maria Christina Baklava
Two Greek professors at Yale University’s School of Public Health founded the Institute for Olive Science and Health, and organized the 1st Symposium on Olive Oil and Health, in 2018, with experts from many areas of the field in attendance. The 2nd Symposium on Olive Oil and Health will be held from December 1 – 4, 2019, in Delphi, Greece, the oracular site of Apollo, and to the ancient Greeks the center of the world. The area around Delphi is known for its extensive olive groves. Professors Vasilis Vasiliou and Tassos Constantino Kyriakides have spoken to Maria Christina Baklava about their mission and vision for the Institute for Olive Science and Health.
Tell us about Yale’s School of Public Health. What motivated you to start the Institute?
On a cold New Haven October morning in 2018, I walked into Vasilis office while he was enjoying some nice coffee from beans he roasted himself, and I told him ‘We need to do something about olive oil’. Next thing you know we are drafting the program for the first Symposium at Yale for October 2018!
Since then we have been on a mission talking and discussing about the Institute we are trying to establish at Yale. We have been to Madrid, New York, Toledo, Serres, Roma presenting the Institute idea and it has been enthusiastically embraced all over the world
Tassos Constantino Kyriakides, PhD
What is the mission of the Olive Oil Institute and what is your vision for it?
The Yale Institute will serve as the interface and catalyst between US and global entities working in olives, olive oil and other products of the olive tree.
To facilitate and coordinate the rigorous study, robust research and creative interdisciplinary activities and education. Through academic, public and industry partnerships, this institute will foster the investigation and dissemination of evidence-based best practices and guidelines pertaining both to sustainable olive and olive oil production and usage, and their downstream health benefits
What are the benefits of this initiative for society in general?
Clearly, as seen in the vision for this institute as well as the proposed initiatives and projects by its core groups, society will benefit, both at the public health level vis-à-vis the nutritional aspects of the benefits of the olive tree products, as well as the impact of olive tree cultivation on planetary health and sustainability.
How would you rate Greek olive oil and why?
Each oil is unique in its own way and in the context of its use. Ascribing scores to oils is rather subjective, not only because this is usually personal choice but also its intended use. So an excellent oil used in one context might not be perform as well in another context.
With that said, one should focus on the quality and parameters that would qualify an oil as Extra Virgin for example. And it is undisputable I think that the quality of Greek olive oils has been increasing sharply over the last few years.
Who are some of the speakers at the Symposium?
See program and pull some names;
Antonia Trichopoulou, Georgios Theodoridis, Nikos Thomaidis,Prokopis Magiatis, Francisco Vano,Rosa Vano, Konstantinos Karantininis
Takeyasu Kubota,Aris Kefalogiannis,Joseph Profacci,Panagiotis Sarris, Eva Maria Murgado, Manuel Parras. I would highlight also Jaime Lillo, of the International Olive Council, Joseph Profaci from the North America Olive Oil Association etc
How will the deliberation at the Symposium find practical use?
Work always begins the day after such events finish. We are poised, excited and ready to bring the ideas and discussions from this symposium to the forefront of the olive tree/products world. All this as part of our concerted and sustained effort to launch the Yale Institute in the next few months
Vasilis Vasiliou, PhD
How will consumers benefit from the work of the Institute? For example, how will they be able to distinguish high quality from ordinary olive oils?
There is some information out there that could help but unfortunately sometimes the message is not very clear. This is one of the issues the Delphi Symposium but also the Institute will try tackle. In terms of education and awareness about olive oil and health benefits, it is my personal opinion, that somehow we failed; I believe we have a lot of work to do in terms of transmitting correct, uniform, unified and consistent messages to the public about the benefits of olive tree products. One of the aims of the Institute is bring together all towards creating such a message. It is indeed a lofty goal but we are willing and ready to take on the challenge! Let Delphi be the launch-pad for this effort!