The Olive

 

The olive (olea europaea) is an evergreen tree native to the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean. Small, shrub-like and hardy, it bears silver-green leaves and has a distinctive gnarled and twisted trunk. Its fruit is a small oblong drupe that is harvested by shaking the branches or the whole tree. Olive trees have been cultivated since antiquity for their leaves, wood, fruit and, most importantly, the oil that is obtained from the fruit. Olive oil was long considered sacred in many cultures: In ancient Greece, athletes ritually anointed themselves with it, and Homer referred to it as “liquid gold”. Victors in the first Olympic Games were crowned with olive leaves. Extensively cultivated throughout the ancient world, the olive tree became not only important for its crop and medicinal properties, but also as a potent symbol of peace, wisdom, pureness and fertility. In the Bible, a dove carried an olive branch to Noah as a sign that the flood was over. The olive is praised as a precious fruit in the Koran. Green, purple and black olives are a popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. The oil is extracted in millstone or steel presses and has a wide range of uses, for instance in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

Olive oil is high in healthy monounsaturated fats. Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, the best and most expensive quality, has become a lifestyle product in recent years and is considered a healthy alternative to butter. Today, olive trees are grown on all five continents, but the main olive oil-producing countries are Italy, Spain and Greece. Together, they meet over 75 percent of global demand. The International Olive Oil Council guarantees provenance and quality standards and promotes olive oil worldwide.

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