The aim of this study was to investigate how the treatment of olive paste of the Picholine variety with pulsed electric fields (PEF) under real operating conditions in a large-scale olive oil extraction plant affects the extractability, chemical composition and sensory profile of the oils. The application of pulsed electric fields (PEF) as a non-thermal food processing technology is interesting for many food extraction processes. The results of this study show that pulsed electric fields can be used as a pretreatment before oil separation to increase the extractability of the process and improve the content of functional components. The application of pulsed electric field (PEF) treatment (2.4 kV/cm, 4 kJ/kg, 6 µs pulse width) to olive paste through a continuous system significantly increased the extractability and total concentration of phenols (especially oleuropein derivatives) compared to the control. In addition, the volatile compounds, α-tocopherol, the fatty acid profile and the main legal quality parameters of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), including free acidity, peroxide values, extinction indices and sensory analysis, were evaluated. The pulsed electric fields (PEF) treatment did not modify these EVOO quality parameters, neither the α-tocopherol content nor the volatile profile. The sensory properties of EVOO were not affected as well as the PEF treatment showed a similar intensity of fruity and pungent attributes without any off-flavor according to the European Union legal standards. An increase in the bitter taste attribute was observed in the PEF oils. Consequently, this study demonstrates that pulsed electric fields (PEF) processing could be implemented in olive oil processing as pretreatment for improving the efficiency of the process.
Keywords: olive oil; phenols and volatile content; process efficiency; pulsed electric fields; sensory characteristics.