The science behind extra virgin olive oil’s antioxidant properties
08 Jun 2021
- Shikha Gianchandani



The first-ever study to look at the antioxidant properties of extra virgin olive oil with a neutron scattering instrument has been conducted at ISIS, in collaboration with the ISIS@MACH ITALIA Research infrastructure (IMI), hub of ISIS.




When looking at lists of the healthiest oils to eat, extra virgin olive oil is certain to be found. Some of the health benefits exhibited by olive oil include high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, which is also why past studies have focused on linking its consumption with a lower incidence of different cancers.

The antioxidant capabilities of extra virgin olive oil are linked to the phenolic components (shown below) found within its vegetable oil structure. The properties of these phenolic constituents is linked to their structure, which is predominantly defined by the hydrogen bond interactions. Whilst many papers have tried to investigate the behaviours of isolated components of olive oil, this is the first-time researchers have been able to study the full composite material using Inelastic Neutron Scattering (INS) on the same samples at ISIS and at Florence and Tor Vergata laboratory sites-IMI.


Fig 1: Hydroxytyrosol – An example of a phenolic compound found in extra virgin olive ​oil. (Source: Richard Gawel)

As the major component of extra virgin olive oil is fatty acids like oleic, linoleic, and palmitic acids, it is challenging to measure the indicators of the minor phenolic compounds because they are overpowered by the bulk makeup and give very weak signals. However, in their study published in Antioxidants, researchers from IMI and the University of Coimbra worked alongside ISIS scientists to carry out INS on several oil samples and pure antioxidant samples. They discovered that it would be possible to extract information about the minor phenolic compounds by using a deuterated sample of extra virgin olive oil.

 Using TOSCA allowed the researchers to identify how samples containing minor phenolic compoun​ds can be studied, and at what ranges of energies. This study sets a precedent for other investigations that can exploit INS for studying extra virgin ​olive oil in more detail, by testing other parameters to further our knowledge of its useful properties.

 Further information:

​The full paper can be found online at DOI:

Additional details on light characterizations are available at Florence laboratory site – IMI

Contact: Gianchandani, Shikha (STFC,RAL,ISIS)