Oil of Olives, An Ancient Wonder

A Place in History
The sun baked olive groves of the Mediterranean are woven into ancient literature and history. Between the 7th & 3rd centuries B.C., philosophers, physicians and historians classified olive oil and referred to its curative properties. Homer and Liny praised its virtues and Hippocrates regarded it as both a food and a medicine. The Hebrews used olive oil in sacred ceremonies and saw the olive as a symbol of peace and prosperity. The Acropolis in Athens is always depicted with an ancient olive tree growing on it. According to Greek mythology, the goddess Athena placed it there to win the favor of the inhabitants of the city.

The Olive Grower Leaves Nothing to Chance!
Olive trees have a life span of 300-400 years. Some grow to be 700 years and older. (Plato's olive tree is still alive, though no longer productive.)

Before a site is selected to start an olive grove, it is observed, often for many years. It must be free of strong winds, winter floods or other faults. Each tree planted is surrounded by a low wall of stones, so that the soil around the roots will not be disturbed by rain. To produce the finest olive oils, the grower carefully tends each tree, coaxing the most abundant fruits to spring forth.

The olive oils of some small producers are treated like fine vintage wines, and are often grown by wine producers. Some of these oils are priced like fine wines as well. The great varieties of subtle flavors and textures from different regions, producers & vintages make them well worth trying. Used sparingly in salads and dips, a bottle should last weeks or months.

A Contribution to Good Health
Olive oil is easily digested and aids the gall bladder, sometimes even helping to remove gall stones. It is an excellent source of oleic acid, a type of fat that has been shown to raise the levels of "good" cholesterol (called high density lipoproteins - HDLs) in the body. Only canola oil is higher in this fat. Olive oil is reputed to combat liver problems and constipation, as well. It slows down production of hydrochloric acid, reducing the chances of ulcers and other gastrointestinal ailments.

A Culinary Delight and More
Olive oil's great variety of flavors makes it excellent for use on salads, pasta, beans and bread. It has a relatively high smoking point which means you can brown foods with it without great danger of burning. Still, it is not suitable for deep frying.

When olive oil becomes very cold the oleic acid tends to coagulate, seen as whitish globules. Simply return to room temperature to reliquefy. Store fine extra virgin oils in a cool dark place. Use plastic or glass spray bottles to regulate the use of olive oil; it is great sprayed on popcorn, or in frying, or over pasta, potatoes, rice or toast.

Olive oil is excellent for the skin, can be used to fuel lamps, for healing and for hair dressing. It has been used to help heal wounds and as an unguent for massage.

This ancient food has much to offer us. Reap the benefits of centuries of knowledge and wisdom from philosophers, growers and scientists. May we all live in greater health with this unique fruit.

Types of Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - top grade, low acidity, comes from the first pressing of the choicest, handpicked olives. Mechanically pressed, requiring no heat or chemicals. Extra virgin olive oil has natural antioxidants which keep it from going rancid. Flavor, color & consistency vary, like fine wines, due to different olive varieties, location and weather.

Virgin Olive Oil - slightly more acidity, pressed from olives that are not necessarily top grade, may be from a second or third pressing of pulp, also mechanically pressed. This grade and extra virgin are the only truly "cold pressed" oils.

"Pure" Olive Oil - Also called commercial grade oil. It is extracted from pulp and pits left after the second pressing of lower quality olives. Heat, high pressure and solvents are used. Sometimes a small amount of better quality olive oil is blended in. "Pure" refers to the fact that no non-olive oils are mixed in.

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This page built by Ray Neff andDavid ResSeguie Last update: May 23, 1996