Olive oil is a vegetable oil.
It is extracted from the fleshy part of the ripened fruit of the olive tree, Olea europaea.
Olive oil is commonly used in cooking, for frying foods or as a salad dressing. It is also used in the preservation of foods, particularly canned fish.
The olive is one of three core food plants in Mediterranean cuisine – the other two are wheat and grapes.
Olive trees have been grown around the Mediterranean since the 8th millennium BC.
Throughout the history of the Mediterranean, the olive was a symbol of wealth, fame and peace. It played a fundamental role in culture, the arts, trade, technology and the economy.
Archaeological evidence shows that by 6000 BC olives were being turned into olive oil.
Dynastic Egyptians before 2000 BC imported olive oil from Crete, Syria and Canaan and oil was an important item of commerce and wealth.
According to the historian Pliny the Elder, Italy had “excellent olive oil at reasonable prices” by the 1st century AD—”the best in the Mediterranean”.
Believing olive oil possessed natural healing powers, Hippocrates was the first known medical practitioner to use olive oil based ointments to treat wounds and traumas.
By the Middle Ages, olive oil continued to reveal new curative properties as it became a well-known remedy for sore throats, cuts and bruises.
Today, Spain is the largest producer of olive oil by volume, followed by Italy and Greece.
Much like wine-making, climate, soil and the way the olives are harvested and pressed all have an impact on an oil’s character.
Olive oil varies in color from clear yellow to golden – some varieties obtained from unripe fruit have a greenish tinge.
Oils of varying characteristics and qualities are produced by almost every country that grows olives, the variations depending on the district and the ripeness of the fruit.
Extra virgin olive oil is the most expensive type, and is made from the first cold pressing of the olives. It has a very low acidity rate (under 1%) and is best used for dipping or to dress salads – both because its superior flavour is impaired by heat and because it has a low smoking point.
Virgin olive oil is also a first pressing, but has a slightly higher acidity level (under 2%). It should be used in much the same way as extra virgin.
Refined olive oil to remove its impurities, and blended to improve flavour, pure olive oil is the cheapest olive oil there is.
The ripe olive fruit with the pit removed contains 20 to 30 percent oil, depending on the climate and care in cultivation.
Per capita national consumption is highest in Greece, followed by Spain, Italy, and Tunisia.
Olive oil is widely recognised as one of the world’s healthiest oils.
Olive oil is rich in antioxidants, including polyphenols, and in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Studies of olive oil have shown that its consumption in the diet, particularly in the form of extra-virgin olive oil, is associated with lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus and with reductions in brain inflammation and amyloid-beta plaque formation, which are characteristic of Alzheimer disease.
The most expensive olive oil in the world is called Lambda and is produced by Speiron Co. in Greece. The oil is labeled as an “Ultra Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil,” and the Koroneiki olives used to make Lambda are harvested by hand and first cold pressed to produce a fruity and well balanced flavor. It costs US $54 per bottle or US $200 in a special gift box.
The Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches use olive oil for the Oil of Catechumens (used to bless and strengthen those preparing for Baptism) and Oil of the Sick (used to confer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick or Unction).
Some Eastern Orthodox Christians still use oil lamps in their churches, home prayer corners and in the cemeteries.
In Jewish observance, olive oil was the only fuel allowed to be used in the seven-branched menorah in the Mishkan service during the Exodus of the tribes of Israel from Egypt, and later in the permanent Temple in Jerusalem.