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Olive Oil Yields Soar with NMR

By correlating fruit color with oil content measured via nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), growers can find the optimal time to harvest their olives. Cynthia Graber reports.

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Olive oil producers generally guess the best time to harvest their olives by
checking the fruit’s color. The olive has to hit that perfect spot where they’ve just turned ripe—purple to black—but aren’t yet falling to the ground. Now, scientists at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University are helping them out with nuclear magnetic resonance, also known as NMR. NMR is usually used medically to create images or measure a specimen’s levels of proteins and fat.  But this is the first time it’s being used industrially.

Researchers first take digital photos of olives at different levels of ripeness.
Then they put the olives in the NMR machine. Within a few seconds it determines the olives’ oil content. Combing the photos with the oil information allows scientists to create a database correlating peak oil with perfect color. A farmer in the field could take pictures of his crop. A special camera would average the olives’ color and tell him the optimal time to harvest. In a test, a local farmer learned that if he had harvested his crop 10 days earlier, he could have gotten 25 percent more olive oil.

—Cynthia Graber

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