The olive tree has been known since ancient times and was the symbol of the goddess Athena and was first grown in some east Mediterranean countries. According to the Greek tradition, the home town of the olive oil is Athens and the first olive tree was planted on the Acropolis by Athena herself.
Greeks were the first people to cultivate olive trees in Europe. Pliny states that around 580BC despite growing there, there was no olive tree cultivation in Spain or Tunisia.
Today, around 800 million olive trees exist and 95% of those are cultivated in the Mediterranean region because it has the perfect climatic conditions for the growth of olive trees. In Greece the olive tree is very popular within agriculture with vast swathes of land set aside to ensure the growth of olive groves.
Olive in diets
The olive is very important to the Mediterranean diet and is often consumed on its own as well as producing oil. Olives are rich in healthy fats, fiber, minerals and are also rich in Vitamin E, which is a natural antioxidant that helps the body to slow down the process of cell membrane fatigue and helps to combat osteoporosis.
The symbolism of olive
Due to the importance of the olive tree in Greece, over the centuries the olive, olive branch and olive oil have achieved a symbolic character and have been honored in the daily life of the Mediterranean peoples.
The olive and good health
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, believed in the curative effects of olive oil and referred to it as the “ideal cure”. Ancient Greeks used olive oil to heal wounds, cure insomnia, nausea and cholera. It was also used to hydrate and soften the skin as well as being used as a hair conditioner to make hair both shiny and healthy.
Today, scientists believe that olive oil can help brain functions and internal organs such as the heart because it replaces the trans-fat that can result in a heart attack.
The Olympic Games
For the Ancient Greeks, the olive tree was a symbol of the Olympic Ideals which are Peace, Wisdom and Victory. This is the reason why the only reward for an Olympic Champion was a wreath made from olive branches called a “Kotinos”. Inside the Temple of Hera at Ancient Olympia, there was an olive tree called “Kallistefanos Elea” from which the “Kotinos” came from.
Myth has it that this particular olive tree was planted by Hercules after the completion of his 12 labors.
Products and uses
The most known product of the olive tree is the oil. However, there are other products less well known such as the green soap that is made from the olive stones. Its other uses can be seen in preserving food, medicines and polish.
Olive oil or “the golden liquid” according to Homer was not just food but a symbol of health, power, medicine and a source of magic and admiration. Athletes in ancient Greece were rubbing themselves down with oil in the belief it would give them both power and good luck. Warriors anointed the heads of nobles and olive oil was sprinkled on the bones of the deceased in act of purification.
The exact date by which the knowledge of Olive cultivation began has been lost to time. Olive tree fossils have been found in Livorno, Italy which date to 20 million years ago. Cultivation in the Mediterranean basin dates to around 7,000 years ago. As it concerns Greece, archaeological research has shown that it started on Crete around 3,500 years ago.
Factors which influence olive oil:
Rich and aromatic olive oil is only produced by Green Olives.
The color, aroma and flavor of Olives depends on the following factors:
Different types of olive oil:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: the finest quality with an exquisite color, aroma and taste and with an acidity of less than 1%.
Virgin Olive Oil: high quality with a nice taste and acidity of less than 2%.
Minus Virgin Olive Oil: medium quality with acidity of more than 2%.
Mixed Olive Oil: pleasant aroma and taste with a light yellowy green color and it has acidity of less than 1%.
Refined Olive Oil: plain taste with acidity of no more than 0.3%.
Pomace Olive Oil: smooth taste that comes from a mix of Refined Olive Oil and Virgin Olive Oil.
Green Olive Oil: this is the first oil that comes out in limited quantities by the close of October depending upon the weather. The fresh, healthy, immature, green olives fall off the tree and are collected in order to have their juices analyzed for confirmation of the characteristic qualities of the oil. Not all first oils will be classed as Green. According to the International Board of Olive Oil, a Green classification requires 3 traits to give it a unique strong and aromatic taste – it needs to be fruity, sour and spicy.
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