The history of olive oil dates back to antiquity, and parallels the evolution of the Mediterranean civilization. The tree is said to have originated in Asia Minor, but its primary distribution today is around the western Mediterranean Sea.
Due to its popularity and concomitant increased demand, California, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand planted thousands of hectares of olive groves.
The olive tree and olives have always influenced Mediterranean populations, interlaced with other aspects of life, i.e. religion, diet, art, and health. The tree and olive oil are incontestably tied, like bread and wine, to farming, rich in tradition and profoundly different from modern, hectic lifestyles of western developed and industrialized countries.
Olive oil is the only vegetable oil obtained from fruit and fruit is a drupe, i.e a fruit with an external part and solid core. The proportions of pulp and nut vary according to variety.
The mesocarp contains anywhere from 14 to 30 per cent oil, which contains water (75 %), sugars (3 %), pectins 1.5 %), proteic nitrogen (1.5 %), acids ( 4 to 6 %), trace amounts of bitter oleoropein.
Three adapts to a range of terroirs, but cannot tolerate cold. Several varieties have been cloned and planted in different parts of the Mediterranean. Although the tree adapts itself to different terroirs admirably, it requires great knowledge and skill to grow suitable fruit.
According to archeologists, the tree was already cultivated 8000 years ago and used in Syria and Crete.
Phoenician traders spread it to northern African shores and Greece, Italy, southern France and Spain.
Romans were the most influential in spreading of the tree. Wherever they wet olive trees were planted along with vineyards.
Egyptians considered the olive tree a gift of the gods, Phoenicians called it “liquid gold” and both Greeks and Romans not only consumed the fruit and oil but also use the oil for medicinal purposes and as fuel for lamps, Jews used it to anoint their kings, and for Christians it played an important part in rituals. Even today some people use it for grooming their hair, for massages and in the production of cosmetics.
Ancient Romans classified olive oil as
oleum ex albis ulivis (green olive oil)
oleum viride from ripe fruit
oleum maturum from mature olives
oleum caducum from fallen olives
oleum cibarum from shriveled olives
Olive oil consists of triglicerides (98 to 99 %), glycerin esters, monounsaturated fatty acids, hydrocarbons, sterols, chlorophyll, aldehydes and terpenes, esters, phenols tocopherols) polyunsaturated acids, aliphatic and triterpenic alcohols, polyphenols, and aromatics.
Olive oil is primarily an alimentary fat of very important nut. Some of the components are antioxidants, other provide calories.
The quality of olive oil depends on the quality of olives, much like wine. The fruit ripens around October pending location in the northern hemisphere; in the southern hemisphere, around March or April
Picking starts when olives start turning dark (from green to purple) and may be mechanical or manual.
The best method is by hand and selectively, but the cost is high. Beating down and causing the fruit to fall on nets spread on the ground is less expensive and faster. The most wine-spread harvesting is mechanical by shaking the tree and branches violently.
Small well-aerated crates are best for transportation to presses. The delicate fruit get bruised in large containers (200 –300 Kg capacity).
Olives should be pressed no later than 24 hours after harvest and after thoroughly washing them. There are three stages to extraction – crushing, kneading and pressing. Crushing may be accomplished in old-style, large granite wheels, or by using hammer or disk mechanical crushers.
Then comes kneading, followed by pressing – vertical presses or continues centrifugation. Vertical presses yield a better quality.
After pressing, the oil should rest for a few months to render it soft and mellow. After one year, unfiltered olive oil will start to deteriorate. Light and oxygen are the worst enemies, so is constant exposure to low temperatures (fridges). The olive oil classification often used today:
Extra virgin (less than half a per cent acidity measure in oleic acid)
Virgin up to two per cent acidity
Virgin olive oil “corrente” up to 3 .3 acidity
Virgin olive oil “lampante” 3.5 per cent acidity
Organoleptic evaluation of olive oil, much like wine, is important, and often employed by professionals before making purchasing decisions.
For proper evaluation the oil should be at room temperature and evaluated for
Below please find commonly used terms:
Musky, nutty woody
Olive oil reduces LDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, prevents arteriosclerosis, heart attacks, increases absorption of vitamins A, D, and E and bile secretion. In short, olive oil is healthy oil if used in moderate quantities. Its caloric content is the same as fats approximately nine calories per ram.
Spain (with 215 million trees and 600 000 metric tones of annual production) is the largest producer in the world, followed by Italy, Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Syria.
Chile, California, and New Zealand are new comers to the production and will undoubtedly increase their production in the near future. Chilean olive oils are soft and pleasant, but relatively expensive. Greece is the largest extra virgin olive oil producer.
Some Italian manufacturers import Turkish. Greek and Tunisian oils and blend; others rely on local fruit but charge more.
Single orchard olive oils from Tuscany or varietal oils from Spain are expensive
intriguiging and display taste profiles unique to the terroir or variety of olive.
Italian olive varieties: Albatro, Allora, Americano, Arancino, Ciliegino, Corregiolo, Cuoricino, Cucca, Frantoio, Leccino, Moaraiolo,Grappalo, Leccio del Corno, Leccione, Madonna, del impruneta, Pendolino, Pignolo, Rossello, Rossellina. The largest producer of olive in Italy is Puglia and smallest Friuli.
Spanish olive varieties: Picual, Hojiblanca, Lechin, Cornicabra, Verdial, Picudo, Arbequina and Empeltre.