East Asian Olive Oils Reach the World Stage

As extra virgin olive oil culture slowly expands in China and Japan, high-quality production in two of the world’s largest economies does too.

Typhoons and the challenges posed by unpredictable weather did not stop five olive oil producers in Japan from participating and winning at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

The producers earned five Gold and three Silver Awards, two more than they did at the 2022 NYIOOC.

Since 2015, the number of Japanese producers participating in the NYIOOC has steadily grown, with their results reflecting a significant interest in olive oil in the country.

“In Japan, olive oil is perceived as a healthy oil. This consideration is especially strong for extra virgin olive oil, even if most people still believe that any extra virgin olive oil will do,” Yuko Iwado, the head of quality control in the research and development department at the Nippon Olive Company told Olive Oil Times.

Ayako Ohno, the owner of the Kunisaki Olive Garden, confirmed the growing interest in olive oil by health-conscious Japanese consumers.

“However, cheap foreign olive oil is more popular than expensive Japanese olive oil,” she told Olive Oil Times. “We would like to promote the fact that Japanese domestic olive oil is a high-quality olive oil.”

Nippon Olive won two Gold Awards at the 2023 NYIOOC and has been awarded at the competition every year since 2020. Kunisaki Olive Garden debuted at the NYIOOC in 2023 and earned a Silver Award for its blend Yumeshizuku.

Iwado said Nippon Olive is focused on providing an opportunity for local consumers to explore the olive oil world.

“We have many customers who look forward to our extra virgin olive oil every year, and they can taste the difference in flavor [compared to lower quality olive oils],” she said.

“We believe that our customers are discovering how extra virgin olive oil comes in a variety of flavors,” Iwado added. “Above all, we want our Japanese customers to taste this olive oil so that they can discover the true taste of olive oil in Japan.”

The company produces the Ushimado and Ushimado Superior brands from about 2,000 trees in the Ushimado hills, which face the inner Japanese waters in the central-southwestern region of the country.

Weather is not the only challenge Nippon Olive has to cope with to produce its award-winning products.

“Our farm is cultivated without spraying herbicides,” Iwado said. “Therefore, we must mow the grass constantly. We also have to do hard work to control pests and prevent tree diseases.”

“To manage a vast 10-hectare farm with a small number of employees, we use mechanization and have all employees mow the grass at the base of the plants twice a year,” she added.

In southwest Japan, constant work and passion are behind Kunisaki Olive Garden’s extra virgin olive oils.

“We care for each of our trees adapting to its individual condition,” Ohno said. “We take extreme care in cultivation, harvesting and processing the olives.”

Olives are handpicked by the company, which selects the olives to ensure only the best fruits will go to the mill. “Within 12hours of harvesting, we process the olives with the goal to produce an olive oil rich in flavor and low in acidity,” she said. More