HISTORY OF THE OLIVE
The olive was native to Asia Minor and spread from Iran, Syria and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean basin 6,000 years ago. It is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world – being grown before the written language was invented. It was being grown on Crete by 3,000 BC and may have been the source of the wealth of the Minoan kingdom. The Phoenicians spread the olive to the Mediterranean shores of Africa and Southern Europe. Olives have been found in Egyptian tombs from 2,000 years BC. The olive culture was spread to the early Greeks then Romans. As the Romans extended their domain they brought the olive with them.
1,400 years ago the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, advised his followers to apply olive oil to their bodies, and himself used oil on his head. The use of oil is found in many religions and cultures. It has been used during special ceremonies as well as a general health measure. During baptism in the Christian church, holy oil, which is often olive oil, may be used for anointment. At the Christmas mass, olive oil blessed by the bishop, “chrism”, is used in the ceremony. Like the grape, the Christian missionaries brought the olive tree with them to California for food but also for ceremonial use. Olive oil was used to anoint the early kings of the Greeks and Jews. The Greeks anointed winning athletes. Olive oil has also been used to anoint the dead in many cultures.
The olive trees on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem are reputed to be over 2000 years old, still relative newcomers considering the long domestication of the olive. We don’t know the exact variety of the trees on the Mount. Man has manipulated the olive tree for so many thousands of years that it is unclear what varieties came from which other varieties. Varieties in one country have been found to be identical to differently named varieties in another. Some research is now being done using gene mapping techniques to figure out the olive family tree. Shrub-like “feral” olives still exist in the Middle East and represent the original stock from which all other olives are descended.
More than 750 million olive trees are cultivated world wide, the greatest number (95%) being planted in the regions of the Mediterranean. About 75% of the global olive oil production comes from the European Union, while around 97% of European production comes from Spain, Italy and Greece.
In the past several hundred years the olive has spread to North and South America, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa
Athens is named for the Goddess Athena who brought the olive to the Greeks as a gift. Zeus had promised to give Attica to the god or goddess who made the most useful invention. Athena’s gift of the olive, useful for light, heat, food, medicine and perfume was picked as a more peaceful invention than Poseidon’s horse – touted as a rapid and powerful instrument of war. Athena planted the original olive tree on a rocky hill that we know today as the Acropolis. The olive tree that grows there today is said to have come from the roots of the original tree.
ABOUT EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Olive oil levels of Quality
- “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” will retain an intense fruity flavour, has no defects and its fatty acid level is less than 0.8% per 100 gram of oil.
- “Virgin Olive Oil” – Virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 2 grams per 100 grams (2.0%).
- “Pure Olive Oil” is a blend of about 90% refined oil and 10% virgin oil. When olive oil has defects or high acidity it is not fit for human consumption and needs to be refined to make it edible.
- Pomace Oil is oil extracted with the aid of high heat and solvents from olive waste and then refined. It can still contain some solvents and can be dangerous to the health.
CHARACTERISTICS OF EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL – EVOO
When it comes to Olive Oil, Extra Virgin equates with highest quality and best flavour. To qualify as Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the juice must come from the first pressing of olives. All Extra Virgin Olive Oil is categorised as “cold pressed” because no high heat (at levels that could degrade the oil) or chemicals are used to extract the juice. It must be produced entirely by mechanical means without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil.
In addition, to qualify as Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the juice must meet certain levels in laboratory testing for things like peroxide and acidity. For instance, Extra Virgin Olive Oil must have no more than 0.8% acidity. And equally important, to qualify as Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the juice must be deemed to have excellent flavour and odour. In other words, it must taste like fresh olives.
Having pleasant spicy fruit flavours characteristic of fresh ripe or green olives. Ripe fruit yields oils that are milder, aromatic, buttery, and floral. Green fruit yields oils that are grassy, herbaceous, bitter, and pungent. Fruitiness also varies with the variety of olive.
Creating a mostly pleasant acrid flavour sensation on the tongue.
Creating a peppery sensation in the mouth and throat.
HEALTH & NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION
Olive oil brings so much delicious Mediterranean flavour to salads, fresh fish, poultry and vegetables. And if that were not enough, it is rich in Vitamin E and high grade monounsaturated fatty acids – so it promotes a healthy life. Olive oil helps to lower cholesterol and to reduce the risk of heart disease. Comforting isn’t it, to know that something you like is good for you!
For centuries the Greeks have prized oil for its therapeutic benefits and believed it to be the secret to beauty and longevity. Studies show that extra virgin olive oil reduces many health risks from heart disease and diabetes to breast and prostrate cancer. Olive oil’s main benefit is cardiovascular. Of all the commonly available oils, olive oil is the highest in lower cholesterol This type of fat is known to lower blood cholesterol levels. Olive oil is also an excellent source of antioxidants, which protect the heart.
The body easily absorbs olive oil so readily absorbs Vitamin E and phenols which prevent the oxidization of fatty tissue. Experts have suggested that this because it is high in monounsaturated fat. Olive oil should be used in everyday cooking. It can be used in salads or added to any recipe. It is perfect even for frying. Olive oil is the healthiest oil with no cholesterol and rich in vitamins.
Medical studies indicate that Mediterranean countries particularly Greece where olive oil consumption is high have less cardiovascular disease than any other country. Vitamin E, phenols and other antioxidizing substances protect the human body from the negative effects of free radicals. Olive oil contains a high percentage of phenols and Vitamin E and as a result helps delay the aging process.