Olives and Olive Oil have long been linked to well-being and good health. Recently, researchers discovered yet another benefit of olive oil. They found that olive oil seems to protect against a certain type of cancer. The study involved information on food and cancer patterns in 28 countries including most of Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, Colombia, Canada, and China. Details of olive oil consumption were obtained from the International Olive Oil Council.

Olive trees are among the oldest fruit trees in existence. Some trees, still existing today, are believed to be over 2,000 years old. The olive tree has been mentioned in the Quran. In Surat At-Teen, God swears by the fig, the olive, the mount of Sinai and Makkah, the city of security:

By the Fig and the Olive,

And the Mount of Sinai,

And this City of security,

We have indeed created man in the best of moulds,

Then do We abase him (to be) the lowest of the low,

Except such as believe and do righteous deeds: for they shall have a reward unfailing.

Then what can, after this, contradict thee, as to the Judgment (to come)?

Is not God the wisest of Judges?

The olive tree originated in the countries along the Mediterranean Sea and thrives in climate with a wet and cool winter and a dry and warm summer. Winter temperatures below freezing can damage the trees. It is mainly grown for its fruit and oil.

Olives go through a number of growth stages. They start out as a green fruit, which turns yellowish, then reddish and finally black as they ripen. An olive contains 10-40% oil by weight. They also contain oleo-rubin, a very bitter substance, which is removed during processing so that olives are tasty, not bitter.

As the olive tree ages, it produces more fruit. Generally, olives produce a good harvest every other year, with a smaller harvest in between. Olive trees need lots of water to grow, but the fruit is best when the climate is dry, so they need to be irrigated. Better harvests are achieved if the trees are well pruned and the fruit is thinned out. In general it takes over 5 years for a new tree to bear fruit. Olive trees are planted from branches of existing trees.

The Spanish are said to have transplanted the olive tree to South America and today, we can find olive trees in most parts of the world. Most olive production comes from the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Algeria. Of course, olive trees have been grown in Palestine for many centuries. Over 50% of the world production of olives comes from Spain and Italy, with Greece and Tunisia accounting for another 30% of world production. Worldwide olive oil consumption has been rising at about 1.5% per year.

When olives are produced for oil, they can be harvested mechanically. However, for olive production, the olives must be harvested by hand and handled very gently. There are three common ways to process olives, the Spanish way, the American way and the Greek way. For Spanish olives, the fruit is harvested in the green to yellow stage, the oleo-rubin is removed by immersion in caustic solution, and then the olives are cleaned and placed in brine, carefully avoiding exposure to air. After a while they are removed and can be stuffed before final packing in brine.

For American style olives, the fruit is harvested in the yellowish stage, soaked in caustic solution, and then exposed to air. This removes the oleo-rubin. The olives turn brownish-black. They are then cleaned and pickled and stored above 240 degree F.

The Greek method of processing olives involves harvesting the olive in the black stage and soaking it in brine to remove the oleo-rubin. No caustic is used in the Greek method.


Knowing Your Oils

Olive oil is among the best vegetable oils available and many societies use it as a staple in their diets. When it comes to the breakdown of olive oils specifically, here is what you should know. Extra virgin is touted as the best of olive oils because it is the least processed. It comes from the first pressing of the olives. Extra virgin olive oil implies that the oil has been cold pressed and first pressed. These words don’t exist on labeling in Italy and in the US are little more than a marketing ploy. If oil is labeled “extra virgin” it can be as little as 10% extra virgin oil blended with light or pure! For the best extra virgin olive oil, look for ones made in Italy, Spain or Greece, which say 100% extra virgin olive oil.

Virgin olive oil adds a second pressing of the olives. A recent study comparing virgin olive oil, refined olive oil and the combination of both found that virgin olive oil appears to have greater heart-health benefits. Virgin and extra-virgin olive oils tend to be higher in polyphenols (a powerful antioxidant) than are the more-processed, refined olive oils. Antioxidants are considered beneficial because they help the body rid itself of unstable molecules called free radicals and minimize harmful cellular inflammation.

Pure olive oil is processed further still through filtering and refining. It is often the lowest quality available at retail stores. In the US, olive oil labels can be misleading. Pure or light oil is actually chemically refined to extract the last possible oil from the olives. Light refers only to flavor, and has the same number of calories as other olive oils, about 125 per tablespoon. Further, anything called light olive oil may contain other vegetable oils. Extra light olive oil is the most processed with only a mild olive flavor.


What Is Olive Pomace Oil?

Olive Pomace Oil is obtained by treating the olive residue, called pomace, with solvents. It may be classified as “refined olive-residue oil” or “refined olive-residue oil and olive oil”. Its subcategories are Crude Olive-Pomace Oil, Refined Olive-Pomace Oil or Olive-Pomace Oil.


Choosing Olive Oil

The way you want to use the oil determines the oil you should choose. Some olive oils are better for frying and sautéing, while others should be used exclusively for drizzling over a dish before serving. There is a myth that often circulates though: that olive oil has a low temperature threshold. It actually has a very high temperature threshold and is great for frying vegetables and meats. For frying, use virgin olive oil, which will impart less flavor, is less expensive and won’t burn as easily as extra-virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is great for when you need a stronger flavor in salad dressings and to drizzle on soups or pastas.

Olive oil needs to be stored in a cool dark place to maintain its freshness. The fresher the oil, the greater the antioxidant properties. Quality olive oils generally include a packaging date. Make sure it is no more than one year old. The flavor of many mild oils is fragile. They ought to be consumed within a year for optimal flavor. On the other hand, many full flavored olive oils may be kept 2 or 3 years with no ill effect. Remember, an open olive oil bottle or tin keeps for months if you keep it in a cool place out of direct light.