It is not known when olive oil history began exactly; nor cultivation or olive oil production, for that matter. However, various archaeological discoveries have unearthed stone presses, as well as mortars, dating as far back as 5000 BC. These were meant to be used to extract olive oil in Crete. It seems that Olive Oil has always been used in religious ceremonies in Egypt, Babylon and Israel.
Mediterranean people have always held the olive tree in high regard and olive oil has been essential in economy, agriculture and trading. Crete was one of the most important areas in olive oil history and it still is one of the major locations to produce olives and olive oil.
Of course nowadays people can get olive oil directly in stores. They can choose between extra virgin olive oil , and more distinct varieties, like scented olive oil (truffle, basil, garlic, lemon, etc.). There are several different types of Extra Virgin Olive Oil: on the one hand you have the Blends and on the other Monocultivars such as: Arbequina ,Picual, Frantoio, Barnea, Cobransosa, Coratina, and the list goes on and on).
Minoans are said to be among the first people to benefit from economic and agricultural abundance thanks to the incredible value of olive oil, they used it in many ways in their daily lives. Olive oil was used as soap, medicine, protection for fragile surfaces, ointment and scent base and it was also used for lighting, tanning, and of course, in cuisine.
The Origins of Olive Trees
It is unclear where olive trees originated exactly. While some argue that they appeared in Turkestan and Iran in ancient times, others say that they must have appeared in multiple places at once. The truth is that they have been documented in Levant (Lebanon and Syria), Palestine (Israel and Jordan) and Anatolia (Turkey) around the same time.
By the time Greeks took over the peninsula, North Africa, Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean were all cultivating olive trees. Ancient Greeks had strong ties with the olive tree – it was a symbol of victory, wisdom and peace. It is still widely known that the olive branch symbolizes peace and that the Olympic Games winners received olive wreaths as a sign of victory. In addition, it also appeared as a motif on jewelry and vases, not to mention that it was used in religion and food.
Olive trees and consequently olive oil eventually made their way to the ancient Greek colonies, in parts of France and Spain, as well as the Black Sea. By 600 BCE, olive oil practically sustained ancient trading. Later, the romans started copying the Greeks in many ways, and this includes the use of olive oil. However, they did not engage in olive tree cultivation, but limited themselves to trading with Spain for it. Only after the Roman Empire conquered Greece did they start cultivating olive trees in Italy.
Olive Oil after the Dark Ages
Olive cultivation dropped for a whole millennium after the Roman Empire collapsed and the Dark Ages arrived in Western Europe, but Byzantium continued to produce it in the place that is now known as Turkey. The Middle Ages saw a rise in use and popularity for olive oil, but not as much as it used to be.
Olive oil history ends in the New World, where it was taken in the 1500s AD. Olive trees are currently cultivated preponderantly in places like Greece, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, California, Uruguay and Peru. It has gained gastronomical popularity, especially in recent years, as it has become the preferred oil for cooking, salad dressings and others. It is also used in beauty regimens, as a hair conditioner, skin conditioner and makeup remover.
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