Olive oil has always been a main ingredient in the Mediterranean kitchen. Next to wheat and wine, olive oil or “liquid gold”, is one of the oldest known foodstuffs in the world.
Over 8000 years ago, in Jericho, olive oil was already being pressed out of wild olives. The Assyrians used olive oil for their oil lamps. In ancient Egypt the valuable liquid was put into graves as a gift. Already in those times olive oil was appreciated for its excellent qualities. The olive tree is a Mediterranean cultivated plant and about 97 % of all olive trees grow in the Mediterranean area. Here we can also find the biggest production of olive oil. Spain alone produces up to 800.000 tons of oil yearly.
This tree is a long-living, undemanding plant. Because of its knobbly wood, its leather-like leaves and its deep root system it is able to survive even the longest drought. Its blossom time is in summer and harvest time is from the beginning of November until February. An olive tree can produce up to 100 kilograms of olives depending upon the watering and fertilizing.
Most of the olives that are used for oil production are harvested at the beginning of November. They are either harvested with machines which shake them down from the trees and then caught in nets which are spread out under them or they are picked by hand. They should be pressed no longer than three days after picking. In the traditional olive oil production process the olives are first washed, then ground with the pit between large millstones at the mill.
The cloudy mash of liquid and fruit meat is then spread on big mats. These mats are stacked on top of each other and then mechanically or hydraulically pressed under high pressure, adding cold water.
The oil-water mixture is then separated in centrifuges to filter the resulting oil, which will be called Virgin Extra oil if it reaches the highest quality and flavour levels. If it does not reach such levels, it will be called Virgin oil. The remaining mixture can be pressed a second and even a third time, using hot water instead of cold in order to obtain more oil, which is called plain “olive oil”, and which is often mixed comercially with a small amount of Virgin or Extra Virgin oil to add flavour. Finally, chemical products can be used for a last pressing, obtaining Rest-oil.
The “green gold” of the south is not only singular in its taste; it is also very healthy and has found its way into many households. With daily use, olive oil’s unsaturated fatty acids can help prevent heart and circulation diseases and even cancer. This is in contrast to animal fats, which have a high ratio of cholesterol. In addition, olive oil contains a lot of valuable minerals like phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, calcium and different trace elements like iron, copper, zinc and iodine. This product is also rich in vitamin A and E, which turns it into a valuable ingredient for the cosmetic industry, because of its very beneficial effect on hair and skin. So, it is not surprising that olive oil is very much appreciated and used all over the world.