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Walla, Walla, WA | 509-529-7537

The History of Olive Oil

Olive oils and olives are a part of the cuisine in many homes and restaurants. For some, infusing olive oils into cooking and recipes is relatively new; other home chefs have been enjoying the delights of this ancient fruit for years.

Classified as a fruit, olives are composed of up to thirty percent oil. Its oil can vary in taste and color. Where the trees are grown, the process to extract the oil, and the ripeness of the olive are all factors in the resulting oils.

Origination of Olive Trees and Olive Oil

Findings from archeologists suggest that olive trees and olive oil may have existed as long ago as 5000 BCE. Pieces of pottery excavated in present day Israel contain evidence of olives and olive oil that supports the belief that olive oil may be up to 8,000 years old. The exact location of the first tree or grove of olive trees has not been discovered, but most scientists believe its origins are in the area of Syria, Israel, and/or sub-Saharan Africa.

Regardless of the location of the first tree, olive trees have been mentioned in literature from ancient texts and often throughout the Bible. As with its proliferation in writings from thousands of years ago, the trees themselves spread throughout the Mediterranean as trade flourished.

Records show that in ancient trading ports of 2000 BCE, olive oil was the most expensive oil traded and far more valuable than wine. Ancient Phoenicians continued spreading the propagation of olive trees with the growth of their trading routes. With the dramatic expansion of the Roman Empire, the cultivation and trade of olives, olive oil, and olive trees continued to spread.

Ancient Uses of Olive Oil

Due to its many uses, olive oil had tremendous value, which caused its rapid dissemination throughout the ancient trading pathways and the Roman Empire. Numerous rituals, civic and religious, included the use of olive oil. Kings, leaders, and warriors were anointed with olive oil to mark special occasions. Messiah means the anointed one. It was an essential part of daily life, used in cooking and providing fuel for lamps.

Many cultures refer to olives, olive oil, and olive branches. In the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, Noah receives an olive branch delivered by a dove. This was Noah’s notification that the flood was over, and he with other survivors could leave the ark. When the Jewish people had to flee from Egypt, only olive oil was permitted to light their Menorah. Today, olive oil remains the preferred method to light the candles.

Ancient Greeks believed olive oil was holy and used it in their sacred ceremonies. Preparation for burials included anointing the body of the deceased with olive oil. Ancient kings were anointed with olive oil in their coronation ceremonies. Many of the ancient religions believed that extra virgin olive oil was the only one worthy of offering to the gods. Religions of today continue to use olive oil in the anointing and consecration ceremonies.

Not only was olive oil used in burials, but olive twigs were also part of the ancient Spartan ritual. Branches created a protective foundation for the soul of the deceased. Attendees to the funeral wore crowns made from olive branches as a safeguard against evil spirits.
Ancient medical practitioners, including Hippocrates, treated over sixty known maladies with olive oil. Galen, a doctor from ancient Rome, used olive oil in his formation of cold cream. Conditions from infections to burns to sore throats were all healed with olive oil. Some people today believe that drinking olive oil each day maintains a healthy body.

Olive Oil’s Rise in Popularity and Use

Rising cholesterol levels and their corresponding medical issues in the 1980s caused concerns in the medical community. Research into contributing factors included the connection between trans fats and heart disease. These fatty acids now require labeling and in some areas are banned. Not only do trans fats increase the bad cholesterol, but they lower the good cholesterol levels in those who consume them.

Additional research from the medical community demonstrated the positive impact of a Mediterranean or Tuscan diet. Eliminating the use of killer fats with the healthier fats of olive oil was one key factor in suggested diet changes for many Americans. Medical experts touted olive oil’s role in controlling cholesterol. Data supports olive oil’s health benefits in lowering risks for heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation.

Olive Oil Production

It can be confusing to know which olive oil does what and when to use each grade. Processed without heat in the traditional method and creating a deeper flavor is cold-pressed olive oil. First cold pressed oils are more expensive, of higher quality, and healthier. It’s these oils that receive the Extra Virgin Olive Oil designation.

EVOO or Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the healthiest olive oil with vitamin E, polyphenols, and antioxidants. It is processed without any chemicals and will contain less than 0.8 percent free fatty acids. Between brands and manufacturers, the aroma, flavor, and color of the oil can and do vary. EVOO is the tastiest olive oil and makes a wonderful addition to many recipes.

Virgin Olive Oil is still a tasty olive oil with a slightly more elevated level of acidity. Sautéing and other low heat food preparation can be good uses of virgin olive oil. Virgin olive oil has a milder taste than EVOO, so it works well in recipes that the taste of the oil is not the star. Its free fatty acid levels will be less than 2.0 percent.

Refined Olive Oil has been processed through more steps than EVOO. This oil can cook foods at a high temperature, which is what refined olive oil is most useful for.

Pure Olive Oil is a blended oil created by combining extra virgin or virgin oil and refined oils. Used for cooking, massages, or skin treatments makes the best use of its qualities.

About Our Olive Oil

Here at D’Olivo Tasting Bar, we pride ourselves on only selling the highest quality of olive oil to our customers. While we’re thrilled that olive oil consumption continues to increase, we are concerned about the misleading labeling. Be sure you’re getting the most out of cooking with olive oil by purchasing the best quality products.

Visit our store in person or online, D’Olivo Tasting Bar. You will see and taste the difference between our line of olive oil and others.