History of Olive Oil

By Terriann

History of Olive Oil

Olive tree cultivation and the production of olive oil have been around for at least 6,000 years according to artifacts and archaeological remnants of the most ancient civilizations. The olive has been a fundamental part of life in the eastern Mediterranean from the very beginning of civilization. There are stone mortars and presses used for olive oil extraction that have been dated as far back as 5000 B.C. The sustainable cultivation of the olive tree is believed to have occurred for the first time in Greece, on Crete to be more specific, in about 3500 B.C. during the Early Minoan times. Although olive oil pressing had existed for hundreds, possibly even thousands of years by this time, the domestication of olives and the culture of olive oil was spread by the Greeks. Olive trees were a dominant feature of the stony Greek countryside and became the cornerstone of Hellenic society. As early as 700 B.C., the Greeks were the first to protect the fruit by law. In fact, they were so sacred that those who chopped one down were condemned to exile and even death.

During the following years, the importance of olive oil and the olive tree continued to expand culturally. The symbolism of the olive tree and the exceptional value of olive oil are visible in every aspect of life in ancient Greece. At the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C., an olive branch was awarded as a symbol of peace to winning athletes. In the following years, the branch was joined by extremely generous quantities of olive oil itself, sometimes as much as 5 tons for a single winner, marking one of the earliest accounts of presenting a monetary award to competitors in a sporting event. Taking into account that the laws in Athens prevented the export of the olive oil with the exception of this concession for winners of the ancient Olympic Games, it is easy to imagine how rich any winner could become.

The olive culture was spread from Crete to Syria, Palestine, and Israel; commercial systems and new knowledge then brought it to Southern Turkey, Cyprus, and Egypt. The ability to cultivate olives reached Southern Italy and Northern Africa in the eighth century B.C., and then spread into Southern France. During the Roman rule, olive trees were planted in the entire Mediterranean. As the Romans extended their empire they planted olive trees as a peace offering to lands they had conquered. By the height of the Roman Empire’s reign, olive trees were growing successfully in Spain and northern Africa, and olive presses were ordinary tools throughout the Basin. Due to the expansive geographical area, countless olive oils were produced and each differed widely in heat, flavor and sweetness similar to the variety of types and quality of wine.

By early 1600s, olive groves could be found in coastal Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Chile and California. Today olive trees are cultivated in South Africa, China, Japan and even Australia. Olive oil has never lost its symbolic power despite traveling so far from its original home. It is still an essential part of everyday life for people worldwide, and each new destination that produces olive oil reminds us of the lessons in perseverance and peace that the strong and stubborn olive tree symbolizes.

I hope you enjoyed this article and as always STAY HEALTHY!