The Spanish word for oil, aceite, comes from the Arabic ZAIT AL-ZAITUM, which means “juice of the olive”. As such, the only true oil is that from olives. Others would merely be edible vegetable fat.
Research into olive cultivation suggests its origin dates as far back as 6000 BC, with the first plantations in present-day Libya, Israel and Syria.
The oldest known document on olive oil is from 2500 BC. Written on earthenware tablets, it tells of the importance of olive oil for the economy of CRETE during the reign of King Minos. An historical document, it makes the first known reference to the connection between olive oil and good health and to its dietary properties.
Even in ancient times, olive oil was highly regarded and seen as a basic foodstuff. Its versatility even led it to be considered sacred.
The Bible contains 140 mentions of olive oil and around 100 of the olive tree. “and the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.” (Genesis, 8; 11)
“and thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always.” (Exodus, 27: 20)
The first references to olive oil in Spain date back to the Roman Empire. Hispania was the main supplier of olive oil to Rome, exporting it in sealed amphorae.
ln 1878, a German archaeologist in Rome discovered Mount Testaccio, a hillock measuring 30 metres in height, on the bank of the river Tiber. It was made up of fragments of oil amphorae which had been stored there periodically over a century.
The shape of these amphorae and the lettering on their seals, SAGUNTUN, ITALICA, ASTIGI and CORDUBA, made it clear that they were of Spanish origin.
The Arab conquest of Spain at the beginning of the 8th century gave new impetus to the cultivation of olive trees, and olive oil was highly appreciated by the Muslims. It was a sign of identity for the Jews, who used it to trade and would buy all the oil produced in the special oil presses known as almazaras.
Together with the other two staple foods of the Mediterranean trilogy, bread and wine, olive oil required a special treatment process. The importance of these basic foodstuffs led to the development of complex techniques for extraction, pressing, decanting, filtering and storage.
These techniques have, of course, advanced over the years, improving production and quality. We can now buy olive oils of exceptional quality which are becoming ever more available on the market.
Olive oil is still obtained by means of a physical process which fully respects the ancestral principles which have always been followed in the production of olive oil.
The olives must first mature, a slow process, during which the oil and other minor products are formed inside the olive, giving it that unmistakable aroma and taste. Once the olives have reached their optimum maturity, they are then harvested by the traditional method of beating the branches with long poles, though in modern plantations mechanical vibrating machines are now used to loosen the olives from the branches.
With the utmost care so as not to damage the olives, they are then transferred to the presses, where they are processed immediately in order to avoid being stored in large piles for any length of time. They are only washed or winnowed to eliminate any earth or leaves.
The mass of pressed olives is placed into horizontal centrifuges or decanters, where the virgin olive oil is separated from the water and the leftover refuse of the fruit, known in Spanish as orujo graso. This orujo, or refuse, which is particularly rich in antioxidants, proteins, sugars and mineral salts, is transferred to centres where it is recovered for later use.
We are thus left with the virgin olive oil, which must be treated and stored with great care to maintain its renowned natural organoleptic qualities. It is stored in stainless steel vats in air-conditioned cellars to maintain a constant temperature.
It is important to understand how olive oil is categorised, as there are many factors which can affect its quality, such as weather, plagues, early/late harvesting, faulty processing, incorrect storage, etc. European Union regulations now include the categorisation of virgin olive oils according to their organoleptic characteristics, which are defined by a panel of experts.
The method they use, known as the “organoleptic assessment of virgin olive oil”, aims to establish the necessary criteria for assessing the different characteristics of the flavour of virgin olive oils and to develop the necessary principles of classification. The method employed is more or less as follows:
The panel of experts, who are able to identify the four main tastes (sweet, salty, acid and bitter), study the oils produced in the European Union countries and select a set of positive and negative attributes which are common to all oils. The positive attributes include fruitiness, sweet, bitter, spicy, leafy, grassy, etc. Negative aspects are those such as acid, mould, humidity, etc.
The tasters note down the intensity of the attribute or defect they have perceived in the oil. The panel chief assesses the data and finally classifies the quality of the oil being scrutinised.
The are three types of virgin olive oil:
• Extra virgin olive oil, which has impeccable aroma and taste, without defects of any
kind. It should have an acidity of less than 1°.
• Virgin olive oil. Similar to extra virgin, though more understated, with possible defects
that are undetectable by the consumer. Acidity should be below 2°.
• Normal virgin olive oil, which has good taste and acceptable aroma, with an acidity
of around 3.3°.
Acidity has commonly been used to assess oils, though it can sometimes be misunderstood. Bearing in mind that biologically synthesised matter is neutral, the existence of free fatty acids is the result of an anomaly in the molecules. The acidity of an oil expresses the quantity of these free fatty acids. Many years’ harvests have taught that oils with a very low degree of acidity may have defects which disqualify them as ‘extra’. However, low acidity is a sign of quality.
Virgin olive oil is most appreciated for its nutritional value. Research and international conferences on the biological value of olive oil have proved the important role olive oil plays in our health. Its composition of fatty acids is ideal for the human body, and large amounts of money are invested to research seed mutations with a similar composition to these acids.
Olive oil contains monounsaturated oleic acid, which increases the production of high density lipoproteins (HDL) that make cholesterol flow to the liver to be eliminated, rather than remaining as a deposit on the artery walls.
Olive oil also contains Iinoleic acid, which our body does not produce and which it takes from the vegetables we eat. Olive oil contains this particular fatty acid in a similar proportion to a mother’s milk. Linoleic acid cannot be assimilated by our body without vitamin E, which is also present in olive oil.
Olive oil is the most digestible and the most easy to assimilate of all fats. It acts on the intestine to combat chronic constipation and is an essential nutrient for our cells.
The benefits of olive oil for bone development and the health of growing children are well-known. It is also important in old age.
These properties are ample justification for the consumption of a product such as olive oil, renowned the world over for its exceptional qualities.
If you require a high quality printout of this article, just click on the printer symbol next to ’Share and enjoy’, and we will do the rest.
Get the best website builder available anywhere –SBI! Lick here for more information
Return from olive oil to Home Page
If you want to increase your site popularity and gain thousands of visitors – check out these sites THEY ARE FREE. Spanishchef more than doubled its ‘New Visitors’ last month simply by signing up to these sites:
Follow spanishchef.net on TWITTER