A native of the Mediterranean basin, the olive tree was known to people during the Neolithic Age, as early as the 8th Millennium BC. They were known to collect wild olives. The origin of the wild olive tree could either be in Asia Minor or in Ancient Greece. There are doubts and debates about the domestication of these trees, says Lily, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
Bottles with swanky Italian names with the newly popular baby massage oil are a faint memory that I have of olive oil. It is globally used in the culinary world now for its health benefits. Drizzled over salads as oil or munched in ponza toppings as halves, olives are a household name amongst those who want to be in the thick of things.
A native of the Mediterranean basin, the olive tree was known to people during the Neolithic Age, as early as the 8th Millennium BC. They were known to collect wild olives. The origin of the wild olive tree could either be in Asia Minor or in Ancient Greece. There are doubts and debates about the domestication of these trees. It might have been the Levant or in the Mesopotamia region of the Fertile Crescent.
Archaeological evidence says that olives were converted into oil by 6000 BC in Israel. The largest cultivation was in the eastern coastal Mediterranean. Crete also cultivated olives as early as 2500 BC. The most ancient surviving oil amphorae dates to 3500 BC. Ancient city-state Ebla archives mention it, as does the Tanaka.
Remains of olive oil were discovered in jugs over 4000 years old on the island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea.
The Minoans used olive in religious ceremonies. It was thought to represent wealth in the Minoan civilisations. Mycenaean Greece exported it. Traders helped spread it to Iberia, the Phoenicians, and Carthage. Celtic tribes later spread it to Gaul.
The Hebrew Bible refers to first recorded oil extraction during the Exodus from Egypt. During the 13th century BC, oil was extracted by hand squeezing the berries. Priests guarded it and special containers were used. Over 100o live presses were found in Ekron, one of the main areas of Biblical Philistines. The output of these presses was 1000 to 3000 tons per season. Some presses dating to Roman period are still in use today.
According to many sources, the city of Athens got its name because Athenians feeling olive oil is essential, preferred the offering of Goddess Athena, which was an olive tree over the offering of Poseidon.
Olive oil was interestingly popular as a form of birth control. Aristotle, in the History of Animals, advises applying olive oil combined with either oil of cedar, ointment of lead or ointment, not frankincense to the cervix to prevent pregnancy. Italy had fine olive oil at reasonable prices by the 1st century BC.
Olive oil is the main cooking oil in Mediterranean cuisine. Extra virgin olive oil is mostly used as a salad dressing or for sautéing. Heat compromises its flavour.
Choosing a cold pressed olive oil is like selecting a wine.
Less ripe olives give a bitter and spicier oil, while riper olives give a sweeter sensation.
Religious uses of olive oil are important in the Jewish observance. Only the first drop from a squeezed olive was consecrated for use in the temples. The anointing of kings of the Kingdom of Israel was done with olive oil.
Eastern Orthodox Christians still use oil lamps in churches.
As a home remedy and for skin care, olive oil has a long history. Ancient Egyptians used it as a cleanser, moisturiser, and anti-bacterial since the Pharaonic times. The ancient Greeks used it for massage, to prevent sports injuries. Japanese were top importers in 2000.
Olive oil is a safe lubricant for kitchen gadgets and a base for soaps and detergents as well.
Persia, valleys of Nile and Jordan all think Mir is theirs. Homer the immortal Greek poet called it liquid gold. During the 6th and 7thcenturies Greek laws of Solon gave death as punishment for cutting down olive trees. King David posted guards to protect his olive trees.
Spanish and Portuguese explorers introduced it to the West in 15th and 16th centuries. The groves in California were established by Franciscan missionaries from late 18th century.
I still swear by removing my eye make up with olive oil and babies born in my family benefit from a nice slathering of olive oil. Besides, I have been cooking with it for a number of years.
Enough of olives for one day? Oh no, how about a stroll through that olive salad bar for some yummy black olives! Perhaps you prefer green…
Photos from the Internet
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Lily Swarn won the Reuel International Prize for Poetry 2016, Global Poet of Peace and Universal Love, Global Icon of Peace from Nigeria, Virtuoso Award and Woman of Substance. A postgraduate in English from Panjab University, she taught at Sacred Heart College, Dalhousie. A gold medallist for Best All-round Student from GCG Chandigarh, she has University Colours for Dramatics. Widely published and interviewed, she authored, A Trellis of Ecstasy and Lilies of the Valley.