What does Greek Olive Oil have to do with History? What does it have to do, with an entire nation, the Greeks?
Sometimes is really funny to dig throughout thousands of web or encyclopedia pages and discover how much history can vary depending upon who wrote it. With olive oil this kind of historical arguments are not that feverish – everybody agrees that olive oil has been with us from early civilizations. We know that olive trees came to Greece from the Middle East probably around 3000 BC. Then, ancient Greeks took the magic oil with them to their colonies, later some new empires conquered Greece and learned the secret of the olive oil production on spot. The rest is history on its own.
But back then, when a new beautiful and fruitful tree came to Greece, Minoans welcomed the gift and soon – one century later, to give credits to archaeologists – they developed the whole process of cultivation and production of olive oil sending it to the land anchored part of Greece, North Africa…Ever since then, olive oil has been the most important export item of the Cretan economy, and however modesty forbids (if forbids it at all!), it’s hard not to say that Crete has been one of the most famous producers of one of the best olive oils in the world.
Truth is, over time, the olive oil production has spread to the mainland as well, and it all became the Greeks’ affair: the first world’s cultivation of olive trees happened in Crete; best and healthiest possible diet is based on Greek extra virgin olive oil which also has highly healing characteristics (by the way, both recently “scientifically discovered phenomena” were known to old Greeks thanks to their ancient philosophers and doctors).
- Olympic Games in 776 BC introduced a winning olive-tree branch representing the Peace ( the award was replaced by modern items for the modern Olympic Games, but the olive tree branch still symbolizes the peace!)
- The first law protecting the olive tree was introduced by the Athenian legislator Solon in the 6th century BC
- The first certification for a product in history belongs to the Greek olive oil as well (due to “Panathenaic Amphorae”, the award given to the winners of the Panathenaic Games during the celebration of the Goddess of Athena.
What makes Greek olive oil so different and so unique?
The best way to learn it is to taste Greek olive oil yourself. From ancient times, the best salad dressing for Greeks has been just an abundant of olive oil. You can add a little bit of lemon, herbs, vinegar, or anything you like, but Greek olive oil itself will do it! Greeks themselves consume amazing amount of olive oil – 16 liters per person annually, far from any other nation in the world.
The main secret of the best olive oil in the world is the fact that Greek producers try to keep ancient methods of extracting the oil, avoiding industrial ones, as much as possible. For Greek producers this whole business is more than just a business – it’s an art. Olive tree fields in Greece are mostly family owned orchards and producers, who keep jealously the whole process of production in the family circles, make practically entirely extra-virgin olive oil that contains zero grams of cholesterol.
Of course, Greek olive oil is not just one type and one brand. It has so many flavors, depending on the region and even – orchard! In general, Greek producers come up with four grades (or ratings):
- Extra- virgin olive oil (the best one), from the cold first pressing of the oil fruit
- Virgin olive oil, also from the first pressing of the olives whose acidity doesn’t exceed 2 g/100g
- Olive oil, a combination of virgin and refined olive oil with acidity no higher than 1 gram
- Olive pomace oil, a mixture of refined oil from olive stones and virgin olive oil, generally used for lotions and soaps.
How much the olive tree and its fruit and oil are important for Greeks illustrates the old Greek custom of planting an olive tree when a child is born so the two grow together. When time comes for the kid to go to school, the olive tree produces the fruit. And life goes on.