Have you ever stopped to think about the history of the olive oil you cook with?
The ancient origins of olive oil and the stories of how it has been used throughout history are truly fascinating.
According to research published by the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, DNA tracing shows us that the olive tree was initially cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean region between 8,000 and 6,000 years ago. From there, knowledge of this tree's remarkable fruit quickly spread throughout the world.
The earliest surviving olive oil amphorae that we have today dates back at least to 3500 BC; however, production of this valuable oil is believed to have started even earlier - around 4000 BC.
And by 3000 BC in Crete, the cultivation of olives had become a highly prized commodity.
Fast forward to today, olive oil is one of the world’s most popular cooking ingredients. Not only does it give a unique and delicious flavor to any dish, but its health benefits (something the Mediterranean ancestors knew full well) are also widely documented.
In this blog post, we’ll track down the elusive origins of olive oil, look at its health benefits and provide you with some amazing recipes that use extra virgin olive oil to really bring out the flavor in your dishes.
What is extra virgin olive oil and where did it come from originally?
According to the California Olive Oil Council, the term extra virgin represents "the highest grade of quality an oil may be awarded." Unlike other olive oils, extra virgin oil is not subjected to any industrial processing or additives; instead, it is made with an extraction process called cold-pressing. This natural process results in extra virgin olive oil that has a beautiful golden-green hue as well as a more intense flavor and aroma. As this highest-quality olive oil does not need treatment before bottling, it retains all its original beneficial properties, which makes it a popular choice among health-conscious consumers.
Whilst there is a school of thought that olive oil production began with the ancient Egyptians, archaeological evidence suggests that it was the Greeks who perfected the process and were responsible for its spread throughout the ancient world. Several specialized olive press machines were devised by the ancient Greeks and the Romans who followed them, and these have been found scattered throughout the Mediterranean at sites in Tunisia, Turkey, and Libya.
An important export for Mycenaean Greece (c. 1450–1150 BC) pure olive oil was produced by placing olives in woven mats and squeezing them until the oil collected in vats.
Since the age of the Ancient Greeks, olive oil has been used for many purposes - from fuel to cooking to skin lotion, hair care, and even perfume.
What are the health benefits of using extra virgin olive oil?
If you’re someone who values your health, you should know the difference between virgin olive oil and generic “olive oil”. EVOO is a pure product with beneficial properties for your body; unfortunately, generic “olive oil” doesn’t follow the same rule. In fact, it usually is a blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil, which has gone through chemical processes that eliminate most of the beneficial nutrients and antioxidants.
Let's look at the host of benefits extra virgin olive oil offers:
Numerous studies continue to demonstrate that consuming extra virgin olive oil is beneficial for maintaining a healthy heart. Not only does EVOO decrease total cholesterol and triglycerides but it also increases high-density lipoproteins (HDLs). Furthermore, its omega-3 content helps reduce blood pressure whilst preventing coronary artery disease (CAD) - all of which contribute towards a healthier lifestyle.
Loaded with beneficial antioxidants and polyphenols, EVOO is a powerhouse for improving brain health, as studies have clearly shown that it can reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Not only does extra virgin olive oil contain high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids, which can help protect against age-related cognitive decline, but its consumption has also been linked to improved memory, enhanced learning ability, and lowered brain inflammation.
Extra virgin olive oil is rich in oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory compound that helps combat inflammation and joint pain. Inflammation occurs as the body's natural defense mechanism. Though it helps to defend against infection, too much inflammation can cause chronic diseases like arthritis and heart disease. Research has shown that the polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil can help reduce inflammation and its associated symptoms.
Promotes Weight Loss
Not only is EVOO low in calories, but its high monounsaturated fatty acid content helps to satiate hunger, increase metabolism, and improve insulin sensitivity. It's also recognized for the role it plays in reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome, a common disorder that carries other risks of developing diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Delicious recipes that feature extra virgin olive oil as a key ingredient
Now that you know the many health benefits of extra virgin olive oil, it’s time to put it to good use in the kitchen! Take a look at the following delicious recipes featuring extra virgin olive oil:
Warm up to a bowl of this creamy and comforting leek soup! Packed with vitamins A, C and K, this vegan dish also makes an excellent choice for a light and healthy dinner.
Check out the recipe here.
This simple dish features succulent chicken thighs cooked in extra virgin olive oil, rosemary, and lemon, with olives added for a flavorsome balance.
Check out the recipe here.
Homemade Ice cream (Dessert)
Surprise your loved ones with a unique, delicious treat - olive oil-infused ice cream! This homemade vanilla ice cream recipe is fast, simple to make, and uses only items that you likely already have in the kitchen. With its creamy texture and light flavor of extra virgin olive oil, this delightful dessert will leave everyone wanting more.
Check out the recipe here.
How to store extra virgin olive oil properly
If you're planning on cooking with extra virgin olive oil, you should take a few precautions when it comes to storing this high-quality ingredient. Since extra virgin olive oil is so delicate and subtle in taste, it's important not to store it in direct sunlight or near heat. Keeping your bottle in the pantry or cupboard is best, as it will keep the flavor of the oil intact. Additionally, try to purchase oils sealed in dark glass bottles with tight lids - this will protect against air and light if stored away from excessive heat. This way you can rest assured that your extra virgin olive oil will retain its flavor and quality until you are ready to use it!
Tips for using extra virgin olive oil in your cooking
Extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoking point than other cooking oil, so sautéing should be done at medium to low heat. Its rich flavor also makes it ideal for finishing dishes—try adding a splash to cooked vegetables, dips, soups, and sauces to really bring out their flavor. Plus, adding EVOO after food has finished cooking helps protect its nutritional properties.
Replacing butter and other oils with extra virgin olive oil is an excellent way to make your meals healthier, too. It's a great source of essential fatty acids and adds a delicious, earthy flavor to your dishes. Plus, it's also very versatile - you can use it for baking, roasting, and sautéing vegetables, and even drizzle it over salads and pasta.
So, go ahead and get creative in the kitchen - you won't regret it!
Now that you know all there is to know about the history, benefits, and uses of extra virgin olive oil, you can confidently incorporate it into your cooking. Try out the recipes above or create some of your own - but whatever you do, make sure to enjoy the amazing flavors and health benefits that EVOO has to offer!
At Terra Delyssa, we are passionate about bringing the best in quality extra virgin olive oil to you. Our premium extra virgin olive oil is made with olives that are grown in our orchards located in Tunisia. We take great pride in the fact that absolutely no chemicals or pesticides are used in the process, ensuring that only the best ingredients go into every bottle of our premium extra virgin olive oil. Cold-pressed within four hours of being picked from our trees, our olive oil is carefully crafted to preserve its natural flavor, aroma, and health benefits.
So don't wait. Experience the freshness and flavor of our extra virgin olive oil today!