Olive Oil: The Best Oil for Healthy Cooking, Weight Loss and Reduction of Inflammation
Olive oil is a vegetable oil obtained from the olive (Olea europaea), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. It is used in cooking, cosmetics, soaps, and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps. Olive oil is regarded as a healthy dietary oil because of its high content of monounsaturated fat (mainly oleic acid) and polyphenols.
Olive Oil Market
Over 750 million olive trees are cultivated worldwide, with about 95 percent in the Mediterranean region. About three-quarters of global olive oil production comes from European Union states; of the European production, 97 percent comes from Spain, Italy, and Greece; Spain alone accounts for more than 40 percent of world production. Much of the Spanish crop is exported to Italy, where it is both consumed and repackaged for sale abroad as olive oil "imported from Italy".
The province of Jaen, Spain in general, and the city of Martos in particular claims to be the "World Capital of olive oil" as the largest producer of olive oil in the world.
In olive oil-producing countries, the local production is generally considered the finest. In North America, Italian olive oil is the best-known, but top-quality extra-virgin oils from Spain, Greece, and France (Provence) are sold at high prices, often in 'prestige' packaging.
Greece devotes 60 percent of its cultivated land to olive-growing. It is the world's top producer of black olives and boasts more varieties of olives than any other country. Greece holds third place in world olive production with more than 132 million trees, which produce approximately 350,000 tons of olive oil annually, of which 75 percent is extra-virgin (see below for an explanation of terms). This makes Greece the world's biggest producer of extra-virgin olive oil, topping Italy (where 40-45 percent of olive oil produced is extra virgin) or Spain (where 25-30 percent of olive oil produced is extra virgin). About half of the annual Greek olive oil production is exported, while only some 5 percent of this quantity reflects the origin of the bottled product. Greek exports primarily target European Union countries, the main recipient being Italy, which receives about three-quarters of total exports. Olives are grown for oil in mainland Greece as well as in Crete, the Aegean Islands and Ionian Islands, and the Peloponnese, the latter being the source of 65 percent of Greek production..
The Italian government regulates the use of different protected designation of origin labels for olive oils in accordance with EU law. Olive oils grown in the following regions are given the Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Denomination of Protected Origin) status: Aprutino Pescarese, Brisighella, Bruzzio, Chianti, Colline di Brindisi, Colline Di Salernitane, Penisola Sorrentina, Riviera Ligure, and Sabina. Olive oil from the Chianti region has the special quality assurance label of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Controlled Origin; DOC) as well as the DOP.
Among the many different olive varieties used in Italy are Frantoio, Leccino Pendolino, and Moraiolo. Extra virgin olive oil is exported everywhereï¿½and often mixed to produce pure. The oil, specifically from Bitonto, is held in highest regard. Demand for Italian olive oil has soared in the United States. In 1994, exports to the U.S. totaled 28.95 million gallons, a 215 percent increase from 1984. The United States is Italy's biggest customer, absorbing 22 percent of total Italian production of 131.6 million gallons in 1994. A 45 percent increase in 1995-1996 is blamed for a drop of 10 percent in sales in Italy, and a 10 percent decline in exports to the United States. Despite shrinkage in production, Italian exports of olive oil rose by 19.2 percent from 1994 to 1995. A large share of the exports went to the European Union, especially Spain.
Olive Oil Regulation
The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) is an intergovernmental organization based in Madrid, Spain, with 23 member states. It promotes olive oil around the world by tracking production, defining quality standards, and monitoring authenticity. More than 85 percent of the world's olives are grown in IOOC member nations. The United States is not a member of the IOOC, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not legally recognize its classifications (such as extra-virgin olive oil). The USDA uses a different system, which it defined in 1948 before the IOOC existed. The California Olive Oil Council, a private trade group, is petitioning the USDA to adopt IOOC rules.
The IOOC officially governs 95 percent of international production, and holds great influence over the rest. IOOC terminology is precise, but it can lead to confusion between the words that describe production and the words used on retail labels. Olive oil is classified by how it was produced, by its chemistry, and by its flavor. All production begins by transforming the olive fruit into olive paste. This paste is then malaxed to allow the microscopic oil droplets to concentrate. The oil is extracted by means of pressure (traditional method) or centrifugation (modern method). After extraction the remnant solid substance, called pomace, still contains a small quantity of oil.
Olive Oil Industrial grades
The several oils extracted from the olive fruit can be classified as:
- Virgin means the oil was produced by the use of physical means and no chemical treatment. The term virgin oil referring to production is different from Virgin Oil on a retail label (see next section).
- Refined means that the oil has been chemically treated to neutralize strong tastes (characterized as defects) and neutralize the acid content (free fatty acids). Refined oil is commonly regarded as lower quality than virgin oil; the retail labels extra-virgin olive oil and virgin olive oil cannot contain any refined oil.
- Pomace olive oil means oil extracted from the pomace using chemical solventsï¿½mostly hexaneï¿½and by heat.
Quantitative analysis can determine the oil's acidity, defined as the percent, measured by weight, of free oleic acid in it. This is a measure of the oil's chemical degradation; as the oil degrades, more fatty acids get free from the glycerides, increasing the level of free acidity. Another measure of the oil's chemical degradation is the peroxide level, which measures the degree to which the oil is oxidized (rancid).
In order to classify olive oil by taste, it is subjectively judged by a panel of professional tasters in a blind taste test. This is also called its organoleptic quality.
Olive Oil Retail grades in IOOC member nations
Since IOOC standards are complex, the labels in stores (except in the U.S.) clearly show an oil's grade:
- Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. There can be no refined oil in extra-virgin olive oil.
- Virgin olive oil has an acidity less than 2%, and judged to have a good taste. There can be no refined oil in virgin olive oil.
- Olive oil is a blend of virgin oil and refined virgin oil, containing at most 1% acidity. It commonly lacks a strong flavor.
- Olive-pomace oil is a blend of refined pomace olive oil and possibly some virgin oil. It is fit for consumption, but it may not be called olive oil. Olive-pomace oil is rarely found in a grocery store; it is often used for certain kinds of cooking in restaurants.
- Lampante oil is olive oil not used for consumption; lampante comes from olive oil's ancient use as fuel in oil-burning lamps. Lampante oil is mostly used in the industrial market.
Olive Oil Label wording
Olive oil vendors choose the wording on their labels very carefully.
- "Imported from Italy" produces an impression that the olives were grown in Italy, although in fact it only means that the oil was bottled there. A corner of the same label may note that the oil was packed in Italy with olives grown in Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Tunisia instead of Italy.
- "100% Pure Olive Oil" is often the lowest quality available in a retail store: better grades would have "virgin" on the label.
- "Made from refined olive oils" suggests that the essence was captured, but in fact means that the taste and acidity were chemically produced.
- "Light olive oil" refers to a lighter color, not a lower fat content. All olive oilï¿½which is, after all, fatï¿½has 120 calories per tablespoon (33 kJ/mL).
- "From hand-picked olives" may indicate that the oil is of better quality, since producers harvesting olives by mechanical methods are inclined to leave olives to over-ripen in order to increase yield.
- "First cold press" means that the oil in bottles with this label is the first oil that came from the first press of the olives. The word "cold" is important because if heat is used, the olive oil's chemistry is changed.
- "D.O.P." when applied to Italian olive oil, denotes that the oil is made from olives that are typical of the region from which the oil derives, therefore may have a more characteristic taste than blended oils.
Where to Buy High Quality Extra Virgin Olive OilThese olive oil products are today's "Best Sellers", usually imported varieties from Italy, Greece and Spain, these products are the most popular as of the moment. Tomorrow things may change, but as you can see, Italy seems to lead the way in olive oil production (and bottling or canning of course). Expect to pay from $8 to $10 per liter for high quality extra virgin olive oil. Some of the major high quality olive oil producing countries include: Italy, Greece, Crete, Spain and Portugal, as well as some other countries with mild, temperate climates similar to the Mediteranean.
U.S.A. American-Grown Brands of High Quality Extra Virgin Olive OilThese best selling American brands of Extra Virgin Olive Oil products usually show California as the growing region on their labels, and are provided through Amazon.com. Interestingly, even though they are domestically grown, their gourmet quality or merely fancy packaging may sometimes make these products much more expensive than the Italian or Greek products you see above.
Retail grades in the United States
Most of the governments in the world are members of the International Olive Oil Council, which requires member governments to promulgate laws making olive oil labels conform to the IOOC standards.
The United States is the only major oil-producing or oil-consuming country which is not a member of the IOOC, and therefore the retail grades listed above have no legal meaning in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which controls this aspect of labeling, currently lists four grades of olive oil: "Fancy," "Choice," "Standard," "Substandard." These were established in 1948.  The grades are based on acidity, absence of defects, odor and flavor. While the USDA is considering adopting labeling rules that parallel the international standards, until they do so terms such as "extra virgin" may be applied to any grade of oil, making the term of dubious usefulness.
Therefore, U.S. consumers should be wary of labels, especially ones that say "extra virgin."
World olive oil consumption
Greece has by far the heaviest per capita consumption of olive oil worldwide, over 26 liters per year; Spain and Italy, around 14 l; Tunisia, Portugal, and Syria, around 8 l. Northern Europe and North America consume far less, around 0.7 l, but the consumption of olive oil outside its home territory has been rising steadily.
Price in an important factor on olive oil consumption in the world commodity market. In 1997, global production rose by 47%, which replenished low stocks, lowered prices, and increased consumption by 27%. Overall, world consumption trends are up by 2.5%. Production trends are also up due to expanded plantings of olives in Europe, Latin America, USA, and Australia. Olive tree in Portugal Olive tree in Portugal
Global olive oil market
The main producing countries in 2003 were:
Spain: 44% - 23% - 13.62(kg) Italy: 20% - 28% - 12.35(kg) Greece: 13% - 11% - 23.7(kg) Turkey: 7% - 2% Syria: 7% - 4% - 6(kg) North Africa (mainly Tunisia and Morocco): 4% - 4% - 10.9(kg) Portugal: 1.6% - 3% - 7.1(kg) United States (mainly California): nil - 8% - 0.56(kg) France: nil - 4% - 1.34(kg) All Other Countries: 5% - 16%
Olive oil extraction
The Manufacture of Oil, drawn and engraved by J. Amman in the Sixteenth Century. The Manufacture of Oil, drawn and engraved by J. Amman in the Sixteenth Century.
Traditionally, olive oil was produced by beating the trees with sticks to knock the olives off and crushing them in stone or wooden mortars or beam presses. Nowadays, olives are ground to tiny bits, obtaining a paste that is mixed with water and processed by a centrifuge, which extracts the oil from the paste, leaving behind pomace.
Olive Oil Relation to human health
In the United States, producers of olive oil may place the following health claim on product labels:
Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about two tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.
This decision was announced November 1, 2004 by the Food and Drug Administration after application was made to the FDA by producers. Similar labels are permitted for omega-3 fatty acids and walnuts which also contain monounsaturated oil.
A health study in 2005 compared the effects of different types of olive oil on arterial elasticity. Test subjects were given a serving of 60 grams of white bread and 40 milliliters of olive oil each morning for two consecutive days. The study was conducted in two stages. During the first stage, the subjects received polyphenol-rich oil ("extra virgin" oil contains the highest amount of polyphenol antioxidants). During the second phase, they received oil with only one fifth the phenolic content. The elasticity of the arterial walls of each subject was measured using a pressure sleeve and a Doppler laser. It was discovered that after the subjects had consumed olive oil high in polyphenol antioxidants, they exhibited increased arterial elasticity, while after the consumption of olive oil containing fewer polyphenols, they displayed no significant change in arterial elasticity. It is theorized that, in the long term, increased elasticity of arterial walls reduces vascular stress and consequentially the risk of two common causes of death - heart attacks and stroke. This could, at least in part, explain the lower incidence of both ailments in regions where olive oil and olives are consumed on a daily basis.
In addition to the internal health benefits of olive oil, topical application is quite popular with fans of natural health remedies. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the preferred grade for moisturizing the skin, especially when used in the Oil Cleansing Method (OCM). OCM is a method of cleansing and moisturizing the face with a mixture of EVOO, castor oil (or another suitable carrier oil) and a select blend of essential oils.
Olive Oil History
Besides food, olive oil has been used for medicines, as a fuel in oil lamps, to make soap, as bodily decoration and as a sexual lubricant. The importance and antiquity of olive oil can be seen in the fact that the word "oil" actually derives from the same root as "olive".
The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean basin; wild olives were collected by Neolithic peoples as early as the 8th millennium BC and made into oil by 4500 BC in present-day Israel.
It is not clear when and where the olive tree was first domesticated: in Asia Minor in the 6th millennium; in Israel or Syria in the 4th; or somewhere in the Fertile Crescent in the 3rd. Recent genetic studies suggest that modern cultivars descend from multiple wild ancestors, but the detailed history of domestication is not yet understood.
Olive Oil from Greece
Olive trees were certainly cultivated by the Late Minoan period (1500 BC) in Crete, and perhaps as early as the Early Minoan period. The cultivation of the olive tree in Crete became particularly intense in the post-palatial period, and played an important role in the island's economy. From Crete started the first export of the olive oil not only to mainland Greece but to Northern Africa and Asia Minor as well. The Minoans used olive oil in religious ceremonies. The oil became a principal product of the Minoan civilization, where it is thought to have represented wealth. The Minoans put the pulp into settling tanks and, when the oil had risen to the top, drained the water from the bottom.
Olive oil was thus very common in Greco-Roman cuisine. According to legend, the city of Athens obtained its name because Athenians considered olive oil essential, preferring the offering of the goddess Athena (an olive tree) over the offering of Poseidon (a spring of salt water gushing out of a cliff).
The Spartans were the first Greeks to use the oil to anoint themselves while taking exercise in the gymnasia. The practice was intended to eroticise and highlight the beauty of the male body. From its beginnings early in the seventh century BC the decorative use of olive oil quickly spread to all of Greece, together with naked athletics, and lasted close to a thousand years despite its great expense.
Olive Oil Middle East
Over 5,000 years ago oil was being extracted from olives in Israel. In the centuries that followed, olive presses became a common sight from Crete to Egypt. Sinuhe , the Egyptian exile who lived in northern Israel about 1960 B.C., wrote of abundant olive trees. Actual remains of olive oil have been found in jugs over 4,000 years old in a tomb on the island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea. Before 2,000 B.C. the Egyptians imported olive oil from Crete, Syria and Israel so it was obviously an important item of commerce and wealth.
Until 1500 BC, Greece - particularly Mycenae - was the area most heavily cultivated. With the expansion of the Greek colonies, olive culture reached Southern Italy and Northern Africa in the eighth century B.C., then spread into Southern France. Olive trees were planted in the entire Mediterranean basin under Roman rule. According to the historian Pliny, Italy had "excellent olive oil at reasonable prices" by the first century A.C, "the best in the Mediterranean," he maintained.
The first recorded oil extraction mill was in what is current day Israel in 1000 B.C. Over 100 olive presses have been found in Tel Mique Akron, where the Philistines first produced oil. These 100 presses managed to produce between 1,000 and 3,000 tons of olive oil per year.
Olive trees and oil production in the Middle East can be traced in the archives of the ancient city-state Ebla, around a dozen documents, dated 2400 BC, describing lands in the property of the king and the queen. These belonged to a library of clay tablets perfectly preserved by having been baked in the fire that destroyed the palace. Many of the tablets dealt with administrative and commercial affairs. The tablets that have been consolidated by fire included the first known bilingual dictionary. These tablets use cuneiform script and are written in many languages. The kingdom of Ebla (2600-2240 BC) was located on the outskirts of the Syrian city Aleppo.
Olive oil in contemporary religious use
Used as a medicinal agent in ancient times, and as a cleanser for athletes (athletes in the ancient world were slathered in olive oil, then scraped to remove dirt), it also has religious symbolism related to healing and strength and to "consecration" -- God's setting a person or place apart for special work. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches use olive oil for the Oil of Catechumens (used to bless and strengthen those preparing for Baptism), Oil of the Sick (used to confer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick), and olive oil mixed with a perfuming agent like balsam is consecrated by bishops as Sacred Chrism, which is used to confer the sacrament of Confirmation (as a symbol of the strengthening of the Holy Spirit), in the rites of Baptism and the ordination of priests and bishops, in the consecration of altars and churches, and, traditionally, in the anointing of monarchs at their coronation. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and a number of other religions use olive oil when they need to consecrate an oil for anointings.
To this day, Eastern Orthodox Christians use oil lamps in their churches and home prayer corners. To make a vigil lamp a votive glass with a half-inch of water on the bottom is filled the rest of the way with olive oil. The votive glass is placed in a metal holder; different kinds of metal holders may hang from a bracket on the wall, or one that sits on a table. A cork float with a wick is placed in the glass and floats on top of the oil. The wick is then lit. When it comes time to douse the flame, the float can be carefully pressed downward into the oil, and the oil douses the flame.
Olive oil is also recommended by Muhammad the Prophet of Islam. "Consume olive oil and anoint it upon your bodies since it is of the blessed tree." He also stated that it cures seventy diseases. Olives are also mentioned in the Qur'an as a sacred plant "By the fig and the olive, and the Mount of Sinai, and this secure city." .
While other fuels are allowed, Jews prefer to use olive oil to fuel the 9-branched candelabrum (called a menorah or a hannukiah) used to celebrate Judaism's holiday of Hanukkah.
Olive oil Physical properties
Olive oil has a specific gravity of 0.915-0.919 (15.5 ï¿½C); a refractive index of 1.4657-1.4667 (15.5 ï¿½C); and a viscosity of 466.81 millipoise (27 ï¿½C).
Olive oil Bibliography
- Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, Oxford, 1999. ISBN 0-19-211579-0.
- Jean Pagnol, L'Olivier, Aubanel, 1975. ISBN 2-7006-0064-9.
- Mort Rosenblum, Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit, North Point Press, 1996. ISBN 0-86547-503-2.
Olive oil References
1. Napoleon-co 
2. International Olive Oil Council membership list
3. United States Department of Agriculture Site
4. United States Department of Agriculture "Standards for Grades of Olive Oil"" PDF
5. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Site
6. "California and World Olive Oil Statistics"" PDF at UC Davis.
7. United States Food and Drug Administration Site
8. New York Times, November 2, 2004, "Olive Oil Makers Win Approval to Make Health Claim on Label"
9. Random House Unabridged Dictionary, s.v. "olive" and "oil"
10. Davidson, s.v. Olives
11. Ehud Galili et al., "Evidence for Earliest Olive-Oil Production in Submerged Settlements off the Carmel Coast, Israel", Journal of Archaeological Science 24:1141ï¿½1150 (1997); Pagnol, p. 19, says the 6th millennium in Jericho, but cites no source.
12. Rosenblum, p. 10
13. Davidson, s.v. Olives
14. Pagnol, p. 19
15. Guillaume Besnarda, Andrï¿½ Bervillï¿½, "Multiple origins for Mediterranean olive (Olea europaea L. ssp. europaea) based upon mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms", Comptes Rendus de l'Acadï¿½mie des Sciencesï¿½Series IIIï¿½Sciences de la Vie 323:2:173ï¿½181 (February 2000); Catherine Breton, Michel Tersac and Andrï¿½ Bervillï¿½, "Genetic diversity and gene flow between the wild olive (oleaster, Olea europaea L.) and the olive: several Plio-Pleistocene refuge zones in the Mediterranean basin suggested by simple sequence repeats analysis", Journal of Biogeography 33:11:1916 (November 2006)
16. F.R. Riley, "Olive Oil Production on Bronze Age Crete: Nutritional properties, Processing methods, and Storage life of Minoan olive oil", Oxford Journal of Archaeology 21:1:63-75 (2002)
17. Thomas F. Scanlon, "The Dispersion of Pederasty and the Athletic Revolution in Sixth-Century BC Greece," in Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West, ed. B. C. Verstraete and V. Provencal, Harrington Park Press, 2005
18. Nigel M. Kennell, "Most Necessary for the Bodies of Men: Olive Oil and its By-products in the Later Greek Gymnasium" in Mark Joyal (ed.), In Altum: Seventy-Five Years of Classical Studies in Newfoundland, 2001; pp119-33
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