TOKYO — European olive oil, which has been gaining popularity in Japan mainly due to growing health awareness, has seen its price soar. This is attributed to a poor olive crop caused by global warming, and there are concerns that the situation will be repeated in the future.
The price of olive oil in Japan had been slowly rising due to higher transportation costs and the weak yen, but this fall some products have seen an increase of 50% at once.
An Italian restaurant owner in Tokyo revealed, “We use extra virgin olive oil for salads, but for dishes prepared with heat, we manage to use a blend of sunflower oil and olive oil.” The owner said that the restaurant is trying to keep costs down while minimizing the impact on flavor and aroma.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications’ consumer price index, the price of cooking oil rose 58% in September compared to the level in 2020. In the case of olive oil, major manufacturers successively revised their prices starting with October deliveries. For household and commercial use, The Nisshin OilliO Group Ltd. and J-Oil Mills Inc. have announced price increases of up to 38% and 57%, respectively.
The biggest factor behind the price hike is a serious crop failure in Europe, a major olive-growing region. Heat waves and droughts hit Spain and other Mediterranean coastal areas last year and this year. According to the European Commission, olive oil production in Spain for the 2022-2023 season declined by 56% compared to the previous season. The European Union as a whole saw a 39% decrease.
The price of olive oil has reportedly risen to nearly double that of a year ago as of this summer in Spain and other countries. Japan, which imported about 60,000 metric tons in 2022, led by Spanish products, has also been greatly affected. According to preliminary trade statistics, the volume of imports between January and August this year fell 15.7% from the same period last year, while the value increased 18.6%.
There is no guarantee that production conditions will improve in the future. Droughts in the Mediterranean region are occurring with increasing frequency due to global warming. According to an analysis by a foreign research team, a severe heat wave such as the one that occurred in Spain this summer is expected to strike southern Europe about once every 10 years. Furthermore, these heat waves are 2.5 degrees Celsius higher than those that would have occurred under the assumption of no global warming.
Are there any unusual circumstances occurring on Shodoshima Island in Kagawa Prefecture, which accounts for the majority of olive production in Japan? According to the Shozu olive research institute of the prefectural government’s agricultural experiment station, there is no drought in Japan that would affect production because of regular rainfall from the rainy season and typhoons.
However, research institute director Hidekiyo Shirai said, “There has been a tendency for the olive blossoming season to start earlier in Japan, too, and we are sensing signs of global warming. If there is an increase in torrential rainfall, the moisture content of the olives will increase, which may affect the quality of the oil.”
Fifty years have passed since the beginning of the oil crisis, which was marked by tight oil supply and “crazy prices.” The “olive oil shock” that is now sweeping the world tells us that global warming is hitting our dining tables.
(Japanese original by Tomoko Mimata, Lifestyle, Science & Environment News Department)