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The popular image of a Mediterranean family sitting down to a traditional meal inevitably includes pouring a hefty amount of raw, extra virgin olive oil over a number of dishes. The benefits of olive oil are well documented. Recognised by nutritionists worldwide as the best vegetable oil on the market, it can, in fact, help in the prevention of a variety of health-related diseases.

In a global survey, however, the production, trade and consumption aspects of olive oil were only marginal (3%) compared with others in the category. In a similar survey on the consumption of olive oil in the EU, it came in at a staggering fourth place, beaten by rapeseed, soya bean and sunflower oils as our preferred purchases, with palm, corn and peanut oils trailing behind as our least favourite. So, then, which of these are good and which are bad for our health?


The answer, unfortunately, is a mix of scientific facts and speculation. For example, it has been proven, although it is not widely recognised, that the presence of linolenic acid in soya bean oil decreases the serum level of cholesterol. However, the theory that palm oil could be detrimental to our health, especially for the cardio-circulatory system, because of the high contents of saturated fatty acids, is a controversial one that requires further study.

Furthermore, while the majority of edible oils have maintained a consolidated presence for centuries, some, such as palm oil, have only recently appeared on our supermarket shelves. Extracted from the palm fruit Elaeis guineensis, this oil is not produced in the EU, but imported from Malaysia and Indonesia. Collective quality and safety guarantees must come from the scientific research world as well as the producers of the oils.

The Mapping and Comparing Oils (MAC-Oils) project brings together an impressive consortium of personnel from EU, Mediterranean and Latin American countries, to focus on the individual and comparative properties of eight oils: olive, argan, soya bean, corn, sunflower, peanut, rapeseed and rice, through specific thematic ateliers. Beyond just the risks and benefits, the project partners are comparing and evaluating each of them on chemical properties, extraction, conservation and packaging methods, as well as the problems and perspectives of cultivation.


A simple and readable consumer guide is being produced as part of the project to encourage awareness of the nutritional properties, either in raw or cooked form, and the effect of their uses on our health. A second handbook is aimed at supporting and informing SMEs across the globe currently producing the eight target oils. Additionally, a dedicated website is operational during and beyond the two-year life span of the project for the dissemination and archiving of information. The final phase of MAC-Oils is the realisation of an international conference, which fulfils the important role of sharing information and stimulating continued engagement.

List of Partners

  • Institute of Food Sciences - National Research Council (Italy)
  • Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura - Istituto Sperimentale per l'olivicoltura (Italy)
  • Institute for Lipid Research (Germany)
  • Institut des corps gras - Centre technique industriel (France)
  • European Federation for the Science and Technology of Lipids (Germany)
  • Faculté des Sciences Université Mohammed V-Agdal (Morocco)
  • Centre de Biotechnologie Technopole de Borj-Cedria (Tunisia)
  • Istitut de l'Olivier (Tunisia)
  • Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Spain)
  • Central Science Laboratory (UK)
  • Food Industrial Research and Technological Development Company (Greece)
  • Agricultural Research Organisation (Israel)
  • Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel)
  • Israel Olive Oil Board (Israel)
  • RTD Talos (Cyprus)
  • Microform Formazione & Multimedia (Italy)
  • Consorzio Technapoli (Italy)
  • Planta Piloto de Ingeniería Química (Argentina)
  • Universidade Católica de Brasília (Brazil)
Full title:
Mapping and comparing oils
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Gian Luigi Russo,
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche
EC Scientific Officer:
Dirk Pottier,
EU contribution:
€ 593,108
Specific Support Action

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top