Taste, odour, colour, health, food… Olive oil does not need any presentation. Olive tree, mill, cruet, seasoning… Something vibrates well inside us with these sounds that our Mediterranean history has engraved, as when we savour the pleasure of a dash of virgin olive oil on a toasted baked in wood. Have a nice meal!
- We all know that Mediterranean is the cradle of oil which has become jointly with wine, one of its great symbols. The most ancient oil amphora we know about was found in Crete. It seems that olive tree crop originated in the east (Turkey, Syria, and Palestine), but some scores of centuries before Christ it was extended towards Greece, Sicilia, and Maghreb… The Roman Empire promoted its arrival to all the corners of Mediterranean and the expansion of Arab world boosted it even more. For example, many Spanish words related with oil (the very same “aceite, aceituna, almazara“) are of Arab origin.
- In the Hebraic culture, the oil unction conferred authority, power and glory before God. Today oil continues playing an important role in different rituals either Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
- In Greek mythology, olive tree was a gift of gods. Goddess Athena made it emerge from the earth, and as appreciation for the gift, which was symbol of warrior resistance and nourishment, the city of Athens was called after her. Homer already referred to oil as liquid gold.
- Besides being nourishment and a religious unction, the Mediterranean culture has used the olive oil as a cosmetic product, as fuel for lamps and to make soap.
- According to the data of the International Olive Oil Council, in the campaign 2006/07, the 97% of worldwide olive oil was produced at the Mediterranean countries, although olive trees are grown up all over the world, in California, Chile, South Africa, Australia, China and Japan… Spain is producing almost half part of it (44% in the campaign 2006/07) and together with Italy and Greece, they reach 72%. The next productive countries are Turkey, Syria and Tunisia, with a 6% each. The main olive region is Andalusia, which was already an important supplier of oil to the whole Roman Empire.
- The Mediterranean countries consume a 73% of the olive oil produced all over the world, although there are quite big differences in the consumption per inhabitant.
It is said that olive oil is very good for health because it helps to reduce cholesterol, but that is not exactly thus. Let us know the role of fat and olive oil in the organism.
- We need to eat fat, animal or vegetal ones, because they are essential for the organism (it permits to assimilate certain vitamins, it operates on the formation of some hormones… and they supply energy). Olive oil, that mainly contains fat, is one of the options.
- An excess of animal fat (a non-equilibrated diet, thus) can facilitate an accumulation of cholesterol in the blood vessels.
- If we have an excess of cholesterol, to substitute in the diet animal fats for vegetal ones (except palm and cocoa) or those from fish will be beneficial, because we will reduce the quantity of cholesterol that we are consuming.
- Olive oil also contains vitamins A and mostly E, which are antioxidant (they neutralize certain toxins that are formed by metabolism of the cells). It seems that those antioxidants also provide elasticity to the blood vessels.
- So that the oil provides us all this nourishment it has to be virgin, because when it is refined (look at the following tab), nutrients disappear or get denatured.
In the conventional farming, plagues are fought with pesticide, in the ecological, mainly with other methods such as traps. Although olive tree are dry-land crops, since a fewer years. it has become usual to irrigate them for increasing the productivity, mainly in Andalusia and in conventional farming. This has the effect of weakening the resistance to plagues and the oil produced is milder. It is important to support the agriculture that adapts better to nature’s action.
- Most of Mediterranean countries are members of AgroBioMediterraneo, an organization that promotes the ecological agriculture and the rural tourism to the Mediterranean. The main producers of ecological olive oil are Italy and Spain, but there are other countries like Tunisia where it is quickly expanding it.
The flavour and the odour of virgin olive oil are very different depending of the variety of olive tree from which it is obtained. There are hundreds of them, and Greece is the country where the greastest number of varieties is produced. The traditional grinding method with millstones is quite kept in some countries (88% of mills in Lebanon, 51% in Syria) and almost abandoned in others (14% in Spain, 7% in Jordan), where they have been substituted by the extraction by centrifugation. The paste of olive can be heated so that more oil is obtained, but then it is not so tasteful and it is less nutritious. We will get more pleasure and nutrition if we look for oils extracted without heat.
- We can recognize the oils extracted in millstones and without heating by its name, first cold pressed oil.
- The oils obtained by centrifugation without heating the paste above 27º are identified as cold extraction
- The virgin oil most appreciated (by its taste) is the one called extra, because it has less acidity. It is usual that it is sold filtered (or clarified), which is done so that it has a brilliant appearance and not muddy, but thus, it also loses antioxidants and aroma.
The oil that is too acid is not edible and thus, it is refined: a dissolvent is introduced and it is brought to high temperature, a solvent is added and borne at high temperature, so that is turns to a liquid without nutritional value. To make it edible it is mixed up with a small quantity of virgin oil and is sold as olive oil (that’s to say, without the word virgin). In the ecological production it is not permitted to refine the oil. The refined olive oil will be more nutritious the more contents it has of virgin oil. Let us look for the one having more acidity.
- We will find the degrees of acidity on the label. It usually ranks between 0’4º and 1º.
Oil can reach us from the olive peasants via the agricultural cooperative where they are incorporated; in Spain a 33% of the oil is produced by agricultural cooperatives and the rest by enterprises. The cooperative where there is the mill, extracts the oil, packages it and sells it, either at the very same place (then it is called agrarian shops) or at other shops. Buying at the agrarian shops let us know in a very direct way the origin of the nourishment we are consuming and to enhance the rural world.
- We go to an olive yard zone at harvest time (between November and January, it varies somewhat from year to year) and we look for some agrarian cooperative, there are usually some of them. At many of them they will let us take a walk at the mill zone and will show us how they are making the extraction. We can buy there the oil for all the year.
In Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Slovenia, the Protected Origin Denominations and the Protected Geographical Indicator identify products that cannot be produced with the same characteristics elsewhere than in the zone indicated by the DOP or IGP. Let us buy oil that offers us guarantees of quality and origin.
- We can identify the ecological oil by its European label or other certifying entities of different countries.
- The virgin olive oils have to indicate on their label where they come from and the origin denomination if it is established. In Italy, almost a half of the products with Origin Denomination are oils.
Waste is ever-increasing all over the world and few of it is recyclable. It is necessary to reduce as much as we can the use of packaging, mainly of materials more difficult to recycle.
- Let us take packaging as big as possible. Glass and can are better than plastic (besides it is less recyclable, it is permeable to odours), and plastic better than “tetrabric”.
- In the ecological production “tetrabric” is forbidden and plastic can only be used for packaging 5 litres or more.
On the contrary than wine, virgin oil loses quality with the passage of the time (it is optimum within a year). Let us keep it and use it so that it keeps its proprieties up to maximum
- Let us keep the oil in a dark, cold and dry place. On the labels of ecological oils will be shown the year when olives were picked up.
- When we fry, don’t let that it ever smokes because then toxic compounds are formed (even it endures more than other vegetable oils) It is said that it can be reused to fry 5 or 6 times.
Oil forms a film on the surface of wastewaters that does not permit that water gets oxygenated and therefore that it gets purified. Let us avoid such a contamination.
- Do not throw used oil to the drain; let us keep and take it later on to the dump. We can also make soap of it, or biodiesel.