From the earliest civilisations, the olive tree has always been a positive symbol of sacredness and peace.
UOne example for everyone: the biblical dove returns to Noah with an olive branch to announce that the waters are receding from the land.
For centuries, the Christian faith has used olive oil for the celebration of various Sacraments such as Confirmation, ordainment as a priest and Extreme Unction.
On Palm Sunday, all worshippers are offered a small, blessed olive branch as a reminder of the resurrection and as a symbol of peace.
For the Greeks, the olive tree has always had strong symbolism, as well as being one of the main resources of the agricultural economy. In Ancient Greece, the winning Athenians were offered a crown made from olive branches and an ampoule of oil.
The olive tree appears in numerous Greek myths and legends, including that of the birth of Athens, the intellectual and political centre of Greek civilisation. It is said that the inhabitants of this city, which did not yet have a name, decided to let the gods choose, through a challenge between Poseidon and Athena.
Both of the contestants were supposed to make a gift to the inhabitants, who were to choose which was more appreciated.
Poseidon planted his trident in the soil and made water run forth, a very precious element for the Athenians, although when they sipped it, they found its taste to be unpleasant and were disappointed in its salty taste.
Instead, Athena made an olive tree grow on a rock, where the Pantheon stands today. The olive tree was immediately recognised as an extremely important resource as it was able to provide oil, timber and food.
At this point, the Athenians had no doubts whatsoever and chose the powerful goddess as the patron of the city, also giving it her name.
IThe Romans, who have cultivated the olive tree since 580 BC made almost excessive use of it.
As with all delicacies, it was expensive: Pliny, who identified at least 10 varieties and listed all of the advantages, noted that cabbage was not an economic dish, because it had to be dressed with oil. Virgil, in turn, when proposing a recipe for a Ligurian dish called ‘agliata’, recommended using lots of garlic, lots of vinegar, but just a “few drops of oil”.
Oil played a fundamental role in the eating habits and the culture of the Imperial era, so much so that Julius Caesar forced the provinces close to the Empire to deliver numerous litres of oil to the city as an annual tax. The fruit of the olive tree enjoyed such high esteem that, in a civilisation based on a rigid military structure and on mandatory recruitment, citizens that planted at least one jugerum (around 2,500 square metres) of olive trees were exempted from military service.
Also in this era, olives were also served at the most important luncheons, both at the beginning and at the end of meals. They were preserved in salt water, pitted, chopped and mixed with honey.
The value of the olive tree for the ancient Romans is also demonstrated by the fact that they wove small olive twigs to create crowns to award to the most courageous citizens.
The first olive cultivations started around 7,000 years ago in regions of the Middle East. From here, the production of oil spread throughout the Mediterranean, first in Egypt and then in Greece and Italy. In Crete, the cultivation is documented in the Minoan era, from 3,000 to 1,500 BC.
The olive tree that Ulysses built his nuptial chamber around, carving the bed from the trunk
The cultivation of olive trees and the production of olive oil continue to this day to be mostly located in the area of the Mediterranean.
The European Union as a whole accounts for 80% of global olive oil production. The main European producers are Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal and France.
In these countries, olive cultivation involves around 2.5 million producers, one third of farmers in the European Union.
Outside the European Union, the largest producers are also countries which face the Mediterranean sea, namely Tunisia, Turkey, Syria and Morocco. A very small share is produced in the USA, Australia and Japan.
Spain and Italy: the world’s top producers
Spain is the world’s top producer of olive oil with an annual production of around 1.5 million tonnes, corresponding to over 45% of global production, and 32 DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin), 24 of which are recognised by the European Union.
Italy is the second largest producer of olive oil in Europe and in the world with an average national production of around 500,000 tonnes, two thirds of which extra virgin and with 41 PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and 1 PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) recognised by the European Union.
There are around 170 million trees in production and over one million farms are involved in olive cultivation.
The largest consumer countries of olive oil are Italy (30% of world production), Spain (20%), Greece (9%), the United States (8%), France (4%) and Syria (3%), followed by Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey (all of which with 2%).. The European Union consumes 71% of world production, while 77% is consumed in the Mediterranean basin.
At global level, the market for all types of olive oil represents only 4% of all food grade oils and greases.
The global demand for olive oil, due to the nutritional qualities of olive oils and its association with the Mediterranean diet, highly appreciated for its simplicity and for its healthy qualities, is continually on the rise, with an increase of between 3 to 5% per year.
Based on the quality of the olives, their freshness and wholeness, the degree of acidity and the processing, olive oils are broken down into a number of classifications.
European Community regulation EC 1513/2001 defines and classifies olive oils:“oils obtained from the olive by mechanical or other physical means, under conditions that do not lead to the alteration in the oil, which have not undergone any treatment other than:
The production process of the oil is made up of 5 stages
- The harvesting of the olives and their transport to the mill
- The washing of the olives and their pressing
- The grinding of the olive paste
- The extraction of the oil
- The storage of the oil
Virgin olive oil is classified on the basis of free acidity.
Based on the acidity expressed in terms of oleic acid, they break down into:
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL:
absolutely perfect taste and maximum free acidity, in terms of oleic acid, of 0.8%.
VIRGIN OLIVE OIL:
perfect taste and maximum free acidity of 2%.
Refined olive oil blended with virgin olive oils, other than lampante olive oil, with acidity not exceeding 1%.
OLIVE POMACE OIL:
oil obtained by blending refined olive pomace oil and virgin olive oil other than lampante oil; acidity not exceeding 1%.
Extra virgin olive oil is tasty, healthy and natural: using it regularly (between 30g and 60g per day) helps us to live well, and to prevent and treat various ailments.
This is due to its numerous healthy virtues, which have led doctors and nutritionists to recognise its value as a “medicinal food” and as a fundamental condiment of the “Mediterranean diet”, which for years has been a symbol of taste and wellbeing at the table.
From children to the elderly, at all ages, the nutritional properties of extra virgin olive oil are a powerful ally to keeping fit and healthy.
In fact, olive oil contains antioxidant substances such as tocopherols, phenolic compounds, carotenoids and squalene, as well as having a good balance between vitamin E and linolenic acid; it is also poor in saturated fats and rich, instead, in mono-unsaturated fats, and has a correct ratio between the Omega6 and the Omega3 contained in its poly-unsaturated fats.
A perfect balance of components and nutrients which help to keep us healthy and to look after our bodies.
At least 10 good reasons for choosing extra virgin olive oil