What is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is a natural oil that is extracted from mature fresh olives.  It has been around for thousands of years and was revered by ancient Mediterranean civilizations that made it an integral part of their social, economic and spiritual lives.  It had so many uses that Homer, the ancient Greek poet, called it “liquid gold”.

In today’s world of fast food and industrial agriculture, olive oil is mother-nature’s “super-food”.  Besides tasting so good, modern scientific research is confirming the miraculous health benefits of olive oil that have been known for generations by those countries that eat  the healthy Mediterranean diet, a diet in which olive oil is the primary source of fat.

Most common oils we use come from the seeds of grasses, but olive oil is unique in that it comes from the fruit of a tree. The olive tree is an evergreen tree with narrow leathery leaves that flowers in the spring and bears small olive fruits which are harvested in the late fall.  All commercial olive trees came from only one species, olea europaea, but there are many different cultivars, or varieties, each producing olives with their own unique characteristics and uses.  For instance, some olives are grown for their oil and others for making eating olives.

It is believed that the modern day olive tree was adapted from a small spiny olive shrub which grows wild around the Mediterranean Sea.  It was domesticated and cultivated over thousands of years by ancient civilizations in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, where today it continues to be a major agricultural crop in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and others.

Olive trees like a temperate climate with dry, hot summers and mild, wet winters.  Prolonged freezing temperatures or excessive moisture can damage or even kill olive trees.  Otherwise, olive trees are very hardy and do not require a lot of water, often able to survive without any irrigation.    Since they can grow in poor rocky soil and are not known to have many natural diseases or pests, it is no wonder that they can live for hundreds of years.  These special characteristics made the olive tree well adapted to ancient cultures around the Mediterranean when farming techniques where simple and water irrigation was rarely available.

Not all olive oils are alike.  Their taste, health benefits, cost and other factors are effected by such things as the type of olive variety used, climate and soil conditions, how and when they were harvested, how the oil is extracted from the olives, and the reputation and honesty of the producer.

The information in this website will help you know how to select a good quality olive oil for your particular needs.