The different producers of olive oil have different stories about its history but climactically only a percentage of these stories can be true. The olive tree and the olive itself has become a symbol of many things in the Middle East and Mediterranean and the oil of course is renowned for its health benefits. The history of the oil and the tree it comes from is both fascinating and interesting.
The olive tree belongs to the oleaceae genus and lives for as long as 400 years after planting. The precise origins of the olive tree is shrouded in mystery and there is no concrete theory. The valleys of the Nile, Persia and ancient Jordan all claim to be the original home of the olive tree but there is nothing to suggest any of them is 100% correct. Others also attest that the first olives were cultivated in around 5000 BC on Crete and the surrounding Greek islands.
There is no true answer so most experts concede that cultivation began around this time in the near East and spread west across the Mediterranean Sea.
For the Ancient Greeks the olive tree was a gift from their goddess of wisdom, Athena, and olive oil began to be used for sacrifices and other religious rituals. The Greek poet Homer described olive oil as liquid gold and the Greek Laws of Solon in the 6th and 7th century BC punished the cutting down of an olive tree with the death sentence.
Olive oil has been appreciated in many ways, not just food, since ancient times. It has been promoted for health and beauty as far back as the Roman period. The Romans are said to have used it as a moisturiser after time in the baths. From as earlier as this point olive oil has been used as a beauty product and it still can be used in the same way.
King David, the second King of Israel and Judah was also known for his olive groves. He also had personal olive oil warehouses which he had protected around the clock, valuing his olives and olive products very highly. As the Roman Empire grew the spread of olive oil turned it into a world trade commodity.
It wasn’t until the 15th and 16th centuries that olive oil reached the Western hemisphere. Spanish and Portuguese explorers and travellers discovered the Mediterranean groves and began to establish their own back at home. By the end of the 18th century Franciscan missionaries first took olives over to American and groves began to be grown in California.
The Mediterranean remains the home of the olive and its oil and though other areas have cultivated their own groves, most aficionados will testify that Mediterranean olive oil is by far the best. There are stunning olive oils produced in every country and they are all used for a wide range of different purposes. From soaps to salad dressings, olive oil has always been used for a wide range of purposes and this will continue to be so.
Maria Cumming Panadero is a Managing Director in El Olivo. She is committed to sharing her passion for delicious, high quality olive oils and fine food from her homeland Spain.