History of Olive Oil

ελαιόλαδο. Olive oil. The history of the oil wrapped within each tender Greek fruit is as rich as the taste and health perks in every drop.

From the Gods

Legend has it that the birth of olive oil stems from the ancient Greek gods. They knew it good to bless the lands of their people with savory spheres of olive oil and so swept their hands over the land - commanding it's trees to become ripe with them. In fact, Aristaeus, the God of Olive Growth, was worshiped for his protection over the olive plantations created to harvest this divine blessing.

The historic roots of the olive tree

The olive tree itself first sprouted in Asia Minor (i.e. Ancient Greece). Archaeological evidence suggests that olive oil began to be created as far back as 6000 BC. Evidence also hints at the eastern coastal region being heavily cultivated up until 1500 BC, with olives being grown in Crete as early as 2500 BC. There is no question that Crete olive trees were being cultivated by 1500 BC. The cultivation of this Greek gift intensified in the post-palatial period. In fact, it is by cultivating these golden orbs and their gentle moisture that the Greeks fueled their economy into days of splendor!

EVOO extractions and exports

Word quickly spread across ancient lands on the beauty and value of olive oil. In 2000 BC, dynastic Egyptians imported olive oil from Crete, as well as Syria and Canaan because of the value it held in wealth and commerce. The oil quickly become a staple item among the wealthy. Olive oil was one of the most exported items from Greece between 1600-1100 BC.

Several references to olive oil can be found in Tanakh, the canonical collection of Jewish texts (which form the basis of the Bible's Old Testament). In the telling of Noah's Ark, the olive tree is referenced when the dove returns to Noah with an olive branch from an olive tree, indicating the dove had come into contact with something not covered in water. Accounts on the Exodus from Egypt that took place in 13th century BC tell of how olives were squeezed by hand to extract the olive oil and store it in jars under guard of their priests.

Mention of olive oil and it's trees is also made on dozens of clay tablets found in the city of Aleppo, Syria.

Through frequent trade with Phoenicia (an ancient civilization that lasted for 800 years (1500 BC and 300 BC) along the coast of present-day Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Palestine) and Carthage (now part of the Tunisian Republic), growth of the olive tree expanded into Iberian and Etruscan cities in 8th century BC. The expansion continued in to Southern Gaul in 7BC by the Celtic tribes.

Olive trees were planted throughout every region that surrounded the Mediterranean sea (i.e the Mediterranean Basin) as the Roman empire emerged and expanded.

Ancient applications

Even in ancient days, olive oil was used for much more than only meal prep.

Religious rituals: Many religions are laden with olive oil including ancient Greek religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

  • Ancient Greece: The Minoans used olive oil in many of their religious ceremonies. The Athenians preferred to use Athena's gift of olive oil in worship as opposed to Poseidon's (the gift of salt water). When medical patients died from their illnesses, olive oil and perfumes were used to anoint and prepare their bodies. Olive oil and other gifts were also offered to their bodies at their graveside during burial.
  • Judaism: During the Exodus of the tribes of Israel form Egypt, olive oil was the only oil that could be used to light the Menorah during the Mishkah service. Olive oil is the preferred oil when celebrating Hanukkah today to imitate the oil used to light the original Menorah. The oil was also used to anoint the ancient kings of Israel (the last of which was Tzidkiyahu).
  • Christianity: Olive oil is frequently used by those in the Orthodox and Catholic church. The Orthodox Church frequently uses the oil to anoint it's religious leaders, kings, monarchs, and the ill. They use extra virgin olive oil - because it is the best olive oil and should be offered to God - to light the vigilant lamps in their cemeteries, monasteries, churches and home prayer spots. Olive oil is used by Catholics in many of their liturgical ceremonies. Some of these ceremonies include confirmation, anointing the sick, and consecrating ministers and bishops.
  • Islam: Reference to the purity of olive oil is found in several places in the Quran. Muhammad said that the olive tree is the sacred tree, and can cure up to 70 diseases. He is quoted with saying “Consume olive oil and anoint your bodies with it as it comes from the blessed tree.” The Quran also states that “God is the light of Havens and Earth. His light is like a torch inside a lantern. The torch is in a glass ball and the ball is like a bright planet lit by a blessed olive tree. Its oil glows without fire touching it, light upon light.”

Medicines: Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician who is one of the most notable figures in medical history, cited over 60 medical uses for olive oil including treatment for skin conditions, wounds and burns, ear infections, gynecological conditions and tons of others. He deemed the substance so medically helpful that he dubbed it "The great therapeutic." This is no surprise given the oil's health benefits.

Athletics: Olive oil was applied to the bodies of Spartan and other Greek athletes before exercising at the gym or the different games held by the Athenians. The oil was so valued that it was given as a prize to winners of the Panathenian games.

Skin care applications: Using olive oil to clean their bodies was a luxury enjoyed by the wealthy in ancient Greece. There are several ways you can use olive oil today to make your skin and hair glow. This article can tell you more. We've even made lavender and unscented (perfect for dry and sensitive skin) EVOO soaps that enhance the vitality in your hair and skin with each scrub.

Grades of purity

There are many grades of olive oil that have been made since ancient days.

Many governing bodies have been formed to judge the level of purity in every drop. According to the International Olive Council and other sources, the grades of olive oil include:

  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO): This is the highest quality of olive oil available. The oil is obtained from the first press of the olives. It has a low acidity level, in oleic acid, of no more than 0.8/100 grams. This olive oil is judged to have a superior taste with a hint of fruitiness and no discernible sensory defects. This olive oil has the highest amount of health benefits among the types of olive oil available.
  • Virgin olive oil: This olive oil is obtained through the second press of the olives. The acidity of the olive is slightly higher, reaching at most 1.5/100 grams of oleic acid. Generally deemed to have an appealing taste, and may contained some definable sensory defects. This olive oil has less health benefits than extra virgin olive oil.
  • Ordinary virgin olive oil: This olive oil is obtained after the third press of the olives. It has an acidity of no more than 3.3/100 grams of oleic acid. This oil may only be sold directly to consumers if permitted by the country of retail sale.
  • Olive pomace oil: This leftover oil is the olive pulp and pit that have been ground into a paste from pressing the olive multiple times to extract olive oil. It's neutral taste makes it unappealing to many olive oil connoisseurs. The olive oil is used in many restaurants and homes for cooking because of it's high smoke point. While olive pomace oil, like all other olive oils, do have some health properties (e.g. health monounsaturated acids), it does not contain other health perks such as the polyphenols found in fresh EVOO that fight cancer.

Olive oil with an oleic acid level of more than 3.3/100 grams is not fit for human consumption.

EVOO: A rich history

The history of ελαιόλαδο is a rich one that spans for generations - much like our EVOO. We have upheld the quality and purity through keeping our olive trees on Greek soil, and adhering to ancient practices of cultivation that allow us to provide you with best-in-class EVOO.

May you taste EVOO's rich history with each drop that lands on your lips.