Olive Oil: An Ancient, Versatile Ingredient

Olive oil comes from the olive fruit harvested from olive trees, which some historians believe first grew in the Iran-Turkestan area. Other historians believe that olives began in multiple locations.

Olive oil most likely originated in the Mediterranean region around about 6,000 years ago. Olive oil comes from the olive fruit and the olive tree, which is found all over Asia Minor. While it is not known precisely when olive trees were first cultivated, historians believe that they are among the oldest cultivated trees in the world. The olive tree is said to have been cultivated for longer than written language has existed.

Stone tablets from 2500 BCE show olive trees being cultivated on the island of Crete. The farming of olive trees and the production of olive oil may have been the source of the Miona Kingdom’s wealth. The Minoans used olive oil in food and for hygiene purposes.

Olives made their way to Egypt and have been found in tombs there that date back to 2000 BCE.

In Greece, olive oil was a product for the wealthy Greeks only. It was used for cooking and as a soap substitute as well as for lamp fuel. Olive oil also had medicinal value for Greek doctors who used it as an ointment to treat skin conditions, burns, and ear infections. Olive oil was also used to prepare dead bodies for burial. Greek athletes oiled themselves before exercise and competitions. The Greeks took olive trees with them as they explored the Mediterranean region and spread olive cultivation throughout the region.

Olive oil would become the most important commodity traded in the ancient world. It attracted merchants from as far away as Russia for trade.

Olive Oil

Olive oil was prized by the Ancient Romans as well. The Roman author Cato wrote extensively about cultivation practices for olive trees. Romans copied Greek methods for farming olives and expanded on them. Olives were not cultivated in Italy at first but in Spain and other colonies. Only after the full conquest of the Mediterranean did the long history of Italian olive farming begin. As the Roman Empire expanded, the olive traveled with its armies.

Olive oil production would decline during the Dark Ages and rise again during the Middle Ages. Europeans would introduce it throughout the New World. These days, it is cultivated in various parts of the Americas, including California, Mexico, and Argentina.

Olive oil flavor profile

Olive oil’s flavor can vary greatly depending on its source and whether it is extra virgin, virgin, or light. Most olive oils will have fruity and nutty notes with a hint of bitterness.

Health benefits of olive oil

Renowned for its medicinal qualities, olive oil boosts health because of compounds like:

  • Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids: Olive oil is recognized as a heart-healthy oil because it contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the best possible ratio.
  • Oleic acid: Another fatty acid, oleic acid, is responsible for much of olive oil’s antioxidant benefits.

Use olive oil to treat or prevent:

  • Heart dIsease: Omega-3 fatty acids are converted to prostaglandins in the body, which help to prevent heart disease.
  • Cancer: Oleic acid has powerful antioxidant properties that can fight free radicals. Free radicals can cause cancer and other serious health problems.

Common uses

Olive oil is versatile enough for frying and salad dressings; however, not all olive oils are equally suited to these tasks. Light olive oil works best for high-temperature frying and extra virgin for uncooked preparations.