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Squalene in Olive Oil: A Super Organic Marvel and Healthy

Squalene in Olive Oil: A Super Organic Marvel and Healthy

Melanie Panagiotopoulou

For the discerning aficionados of olive oil, the merits of polyphenols as a health compound have long been celebrated. But here's a revelation: there's another treasure hidden within the verdant liquid gold gaining modern scientific recognition for its own array of health benefits—it goes by the name of squalene.

Before getting into its health benefits, what is squalene scientifically speaking?

Chemical bottles.
To know the chemical properties of our food is always important.

Once again, as in many things having to do with olive oil, it’s all about chemistry and how this amazing and nutritious compound reacts with our bodies.

Simply put, squalene is a naturally occurring organic marvel.

It is classified as a triterpene with a chemical structure of 30 parts carbon and 50 parts hydrogen (C30H50), a significant hydrocarbon compound (building blocks of many organic molecules) that serves as an intermediate molecule in the process of producing sterols (organic compounds that are essential for maintaining the integrity of cell membranes) in both plants and animals. Diving further into its chemical structure, those 30 carbon atoms are intricately arranged and marked by an impressive unsaturation featuring six double bonds.


Double bond structure of chemical compound, Squalene.
"The Efficacy of Squalene in Cardiovascular Disease Risk-A Systematic Review" (See link for MDPI article.)

In the realm of organic chemistry, “unsaturation” isn't just an overused term; it’s the secret behind squalene’s captivating character. Picture this: it's all about those double bonds, the stage for chemical reactivity extraordinaire. And in squalene, there’s not just a couple—there’s a whopping six double bonds elegantly woven into its 30-carbon atom framework.

These double bonds, those points of action and intrigue, are the lifeblood of squalene’s distinct chemistry. They give it that unmistakable edge. But here's the twist—this unsaturation comes with a catch. Squalene's high degree of unsaturation leaves it vulnerable to oxidation over time, which can affect its longevity; one of the reasons why every bottle of olive oil must have a “Best Before Date” and be packaged in a way that protects the precious, life-sustaining oil from light, heat and oxygen.

Best Before date for a high quality extra virgin olive oil.
Best Before date for a high quality extra virgin olive oil; PJ Kabos Phenolic "Shot"
PJ KABOS is a top, on-line seller of High-Phenolic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It is: "For those who want to be good to their bodies."

But the other side of the coin is that squalene's unsaturated nature is what makes it a superpower; a sought-after antioxidant, potentially delivering health benefits when incorporated into a well-rounded diet. In the world of chemistry, as in life, sometimes it’s the twists and turns that make all the difference.

Where does squalene make its presence known?

Beyond the object of this article, olive oil, squalene can be found in an intriguing assortment of natural sources.

Showcasing the diversity of its habitats, venture into the depths of the ocean, and you'll encounter it in great amounts in shark liver oil. Indeed, the name of the compound, “squalene,” is borrowed from the Latin word, squalus, which means “shark.” The -ene suffix indicates that the compound called squalene is an unsaturated hydrocarbon with double bonds, a common naming convention in organic chemistry.

a-	A huge shark swimming in the deep ocean.
Sharks produce a high concentration of squalene.

Back on land wheat germ, rice bran, and amaranth seeds contain squalene. Along with olive oil, all plant-based.

Photo of products that contain squalene.
Along with EVOO, wheat germ, rice bran, and amaranth seeds contain squalene, too.

But looking even closer to home, it resides in the human sebum—your own skin’s oil, i.e. it’s natural to you!

A beautiful woman showcasing her skin.
Squalene is in human skin.

Here it plays an unassuming yet crucial role in moisturizing your skin, acting as a barrier against external factors and pollutants, as an anti-inflammatory agent, and other things. As mentioned previously, squalene is good stuff.

Sharks and the beauty industry: Why producing it in olive oil is so important

But let's touch on the subject of sharks and squalene for a moment, which is one of the many reasons that a high content of squalene in mindfully produced extra virgin olive oil is so crucial. It helps in the preservation of one of the Earth's most awe-inspiring and oldest animal species—sharks.

A high quality bottle of extra virgin olive oil high in polyphenols and squalene
A high content of squalene in mindfully produced extra virgin olive oil is crucial. PJ Kabos Phenolic "Shot"/Robust is just such an oil.

Here is where the narrative of squalene and its human consumption during the last many decades takes a somber turn.

Squalene's exceptional moisturizing and skin-softening properties have made it a prized ingredient in numerous cosmetic products, including anti-aging creams, moisturizers, sunscreens, foundations and makeup, shampoos, conditioners, hair serums, lip glosses. Regrettably, deep-sea sharks, such as the Gulper Shark and the Dogfish Shark, known to contain high squalene levels in their livers (which assist them in buoyancy regulation), face the grim reality of overhunting, rendering them vulnerable and raising concerns of potential extinction.

In the intricate tapestry of ocean life sharks occupy a position of paramount importance as apex predators. They are the sentinels of the deep, offering a critical window into the health of our marine ecosystems. But here's the twist: many of these enigmatic creatures, slow-growing and long-lived, aren't prolific reproducers, with some varieties birthing only two to a handful of offspring at a time. It's a strategy that has served them well for eons—some accounts report more than 400 million years.

But the one thing sharks might not survive is human overexploitation. The relentless pursuit of sharks for the coveted squalene plentiful in their livers is decimating these remarkable creatures. This is particularly disheartening given the available alternative sources of squalene, with olive oil being a prime example.

But wait? Most beauty and pharmaceutical products use Squalane, with an “a.” What’s the difference?

A medicine cabinet.

When you peruse the ingredients list of the everyday cosmetics and pharmaceuticals in your cabinet, it becomes evident that squalane with an "a" is the ingredient that is actually found in a wide array of such products.

Beyond its perplexing nomenclature, squalane with an "a" is a man-made derivative, and notably, a saturated one of squalene with an "e." Squalane undergoes hydrogenation and other chemical processes, rendering it particularly suitable for topical applications. This transformation doesn't tarnish its reputation; in fact, squalane's heightened saturation plays a crucial role in enhancing its stability and shelf life, making it a prized ingredient in various topical products. It’s important to note that while squalane is primarily used in cosmetics and skincare, it is not typically ingested orally. Whereas squalene with an "e," the natural counterpart, is found in dietary sources such as olive oil and should be part of a balanced diet.

Dietary supplements made from shark's liver oil.
Squalene is sometimes found in dietary supplements—tragically, mostly coming from sharks liver oil. But the norm is for it to be ingested naturally through food that is eaten.

One might say, "Okay, terrific! Chemists can create squalane with an 'a' and spare the sharks." However, there's a caveat. The production of squalane with an "a" still relies on the natural squalene with an "e," and sharks possess one of the highest concentrations, if not the highest, of this critical ingredient.

This underscores the important quest to locate alternative sources of squalene, ensuring an adequate supply for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. With these sources, they can meet the demand for our beloved creams, lotions, and life-saving pharmaceuticals. Extra Virgin Olive Oil to the rescue!

Remember the joke between a scientist and God: The scientist challenges God to a contest of who can make the better human. God takes the challenge. The man stoops down to pick up some dirt. God stops him and says, “Go find your own dirt.”
So, scientists can create squalane with an “a,” but they can’t do so without the natural squalene with an “e.”

Not all olive oils are "created" equal

Even within the realm of extra virgin olive oil, the squalene content can vary considerably with the vast majority of extra virgin olive oils containing under two grams per kilogram with those exceeding four grams per kilogram being rare.

What affects the concentration range of Squalene in olive oil?

It all goes back to the 1) olive variety, 2) the geographical region, 3) cultivation practices, 4) ripeness of olives when harvested, 5) processing methods, 6) unique variability 7) and most importantly, producers.

1) Olive Variety: Different olive varieties can have varying chemical compositions, including squalene content. Some olive varieties naturally have higher levels of squalene compared to others.

2) Geographical Location: The geographical region where olives are grown can influence their chemical composition. Factors such as soil type, climate, altitude, and general geography and geology of the land can impact the squalene content and other compounds in olives.

3) Cultivation Practices: Specific cultivation practices, such as organic or sustainable farming methods, lead to differences in the chemical composition of olives, potentially affecting squalene levels.

4) Ripeness: The stage of ripeness at which olives are harvested influences their chemical profile. Olives harvested at different ripeness levels have varying squalene content.

5) Processing Methods: The processing methods used by the producer can also affect squalene content. Cold-pressing methods that maintain the integrity of the olives and their natural compounds will preserve higher levels of squalene.

6) Unique Variability: Olive trees, like other agricultural crops, can exhibit natural variability, resulting in some individual trees or groves producing olives with exceptional characteristics, including higher squalene content.

7) Producers: The integrity of the farmers and producers that bring the oil to your table using transparency which includes among other things, the correct chemical testing from qualified labs and accurate labeling.

Why is olive oil high in squalene concentration highly priced?

To meet the stringent criteria mentioned above, the cost of producing extra virgin olive oil reflects the meticulous care required in its making. Early-harvested olives, which boast high levels of polyphenols and squalene, are smaller and not fully ripe. Consequently, these prized young olives yield less oil compared to those harvested later. However, the trade-off is that their oil is of superior quality.

And as we will discover in the following section, the investment in such an oil is undeniably worthwhile.

A man and a child inspecting olives in a crate just harvested from a tree.
PJ Kabos owner and founder with his daughter inspecting the young, just harvested olives (October 20, 2023).
Using the analogy of human stages of life, you could say these early olives are teenagers compared to the fully “ripe” senior citizens. This means that their vitality is at its youthful peak, resulting in an exceptional oil full of polyphenols and squalene that is in turn, passed on to consumers.

Scientific health claims that turn squalene in olive oil into a super organic marvel

A significant squalene content in olive oil is regarded as a highly desirable quality. Just as it occurs naturally in shark livers, squalene is a bioactive component that not only enhances the health benefits but also elevates the overall quality of olive oil. This is precisely what we seek when choosing foods for our bodies—optimal quality, ensuring that what we consume is in its finest state. Olive oil with substantial squalene content aligns with this aspiration.

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We eat apples and other fruit when at their best, so why not the olive that make olive oil?

What's even more remarkable is that by incorporating extra virgin olive oil rich in squalene into our diets, we can naturally ingest this vital compound, just as people have done for millennia in the Mediterranean region. This practice not only contributes to the essence of the Mediterranean diet but also to the enduring legacy of longevity and good health that has been associated with this culinary tradition for generations.

A kitchen showing ingredients on the counter used in making a Mediterranean Diet meal.
High quality extra virgin olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean Diet.

If one were to regularly incorporate a "shot" (as in a spoon) of olive oil enriched with high squalene levels, modern scientific research suggests that it could offer diverse benefits to our bodies. These potential advantages currently range from alleviating inflammation and providing support for individuals with heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and hepatitis to mitigating the risk of cancer. Further research will probably uncover additional health claims.

A "phenolic shot" of PJ Kabos (1100 mg/kg) high quality extra virgin olive oil on a spoon.
A "phenolic shot" of high quality extra virgin olive oil on a spoon.

But squalene doesn’t even have to perform these super duper feats to be considered valuable. When regularly consumed, high quality extra virgin olive oil and especially that containing the subject of this article—high levels of squalene—gives our immune system a boost, something we all welcome during these days of epidemics. Simply put, squalene’s historic claim that it promotes overall health is becoming increasingly undeniable to the modern scientific world.

Once again, cutting edge research continues to affirm what ancient wisdom has long held true: the consumption of high-quality extra virgin olive oil is indeed good for humans.

A chart from MDPI showing the potential benefits of squalene.
Potential beneficial effects of squalene. (See link for MDPI article.)

In the narrative of olive oil, squalene assumes the role of the proverbial knight in shining armor, ever poised to combat the relentless assault of free radicals within our bodies. With its potent antioxidant properties, bolstered by its super-powered ally, polyphenols, they jointly serve as the defenders of our cells, shielding them from the ravages of oxidative stress that could otherwise pave the way to chronic diseases and premature aging.

A knight in shining armor.
Squalene is as a knight in shining armor figuratively protecting human bodies from free radicals.

And if that’s not enough…

Quality and flavor.

When you reach for a cherished bottle of extra virgin olive oil, the high squalene content listed in its chemical test result becomes a hallmark of quality. It's a clear indicator that you're indulging in one of the finest olive oils available.

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PJ KABOS Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the real deal.

Although not as pronounced in flavor as polyphenols, high squalene counts also imparts extra virgin olive oil with slightly nutty or vegetal undertones, enhancing every drizzle and dip into an experience worth savoring.

“That just mean it’s good for you!”

However, just as with all high-phenolic extra virgin olive oils, it is not for faint-hearted food connoisseurs.

Returning to our knight in shining armor analogy, extra virgin olive oil with high polyphenols and squalene exudes robustness and strength, fearlessly bestowing its full-bodied and hearty richness, occasionally bordering on bitterness and pungency. Yet, as the old adage wisely reminds us, "that just means it's good for you."

This is when a “Phenolic Shot” is a good idea

Rarely does an oil deliver an extraordinarily high squalene content. Regardless of the producer’s meticulous adherence to proper procedures, the selection of premium olive varieties, the harvest time, etc., the outcome hinges on the intricate and singular growing conditions of each year. However, when all these elements align seamlessly, and the producer receives that eagerly anticipated call from the chemist affirming an exceptionally high squalene count, a wave of jubilation sweeps through the olive groves.

PJ KABOS "Family Reserve Organic - Phenolic Shot" label

A bottle of high phenolic and super high squalene extra virgin olive oil.
Just over 9 g/kg of squalene. “Off the chart!” the chemist exclaimed.

This year, such a remarkable occurrence transpired with PJ Kabos' "Family Reserve Organic - Phenolic Shot" label. Upon testing, the contents of the elegant gold bottle revealed an impressive 9,084 mg/kg (i.e. just over 9 g/kg) of squalene. “Off the chart,” was the term PJ Kabos’ highly trained and IOC certified chemist used. This amount pushed the limits of the scale.

Is it an indicator of quality? Absolutely.

Is it a testament to conscientious production? Undoubtedly.

Does it signify that you're receiving the genuine article rather than a counterfeit substitute? Without a doubt.

Just half a tablespoon of PJ Kabos’ “Family Reserve Organic - Phenolic Shot” is needed to fulfill the EU health claim.

Twenty grams is the recommended dose for extra virgin olive oil containing 5 mg/20 g of Hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives. PJ Kabos ‘Phenolic Shot’ contains 14.5 mg/20 g. Since the content is roughly 3 times more than the 5 mg/20 g, simple math shows that the amount of this olive oil that needs to consume is 3 times less than the 20 g (i.e 7.5 ml).

A daily phenolic “shot” routine

High in polyphenols, high squalene gold bottle of EVOO--extra virgin olive oil.
Organic, high-phenolic, high in squalene, super high in robust taste. This extra virgin olive oil "pushes the limits" in all positive ways.

In the realm of olive oil, squalene quietly stands alongside the better-known polyphenols as an uncelebrated hero, enhancing our lives drop by drop. It exemplifies yet another organic marvel that the unassuming olive tree, guided by the producer's artful hands, generously bestows upon people across the globe.

A bottle of a "phenolic shot" of extra virgin olive oil showcasing with a picture of a spoon that it should be taken by spoon.
"A spoonful a day...to keep the doctor away!"
A little girl taking a phenolic "shot" of high quality extra virgin olive oil...and offering a spoonful to her doll, too!
A little girl taking a phenolic "shot"...and offering a spoonful to her doll, too! Click to see the full reel on Instagram.

Please enjoy having a look around our websites, pjkabos.com and oliveoil.com, as well as our Amazon Store for more about our many high-phenolic olive oils, recipes, etc. And follow along with us on Instagram for pretty photos concerning olive oil production, our groves in Greece, family history and more.

Until next time...stay happy and well!

PJ Kabos High-Phenolic Extra Virgin Olive Oil: For those who want to be good to their bodies.