is full of olive groves. The Olive Tree, "the
tree that feeds the children" according to Sophocles,
is the protagonist of the Greek nature and history as olive
oil is the protagonist of the Greek diet.
The indigenous olive tree (wild olive tree)
first appeared in the eastern Mediterranean but it was in Greece
that it was first cultivated. Since then, the presence of the
olive tree in the Greek region has been uninterrupted and closely
connected with the traditions and the culture of the Greek
oil, as it is testified by the fossilized olive trees
which are 50,000-60,000 thousand years old and
were found in the volcanic rocks of Santorini, has always been
a distinctive element of the country. Its systematic cultivation
started in the pre-historic times - the Stone and Bronze Age.
oil production held a prominent position in the Cretan
Minoan and the Mycenaean society and economy as it shown by
excavations and findings (earthenware jars, recordings
on tablets, remains
of oil mills). During the Minoan Period, olives were treated
and oil was produced which in turn was stored in earthenware
jars and amphorae. Quite often it was exported to the Aegean
islands and mainland Greece. Apart from the financial gains,
though, the olive tree was worshipped as sacred and its oil,
besides being offered to the Gods and the dead, was also used
in the production of perfumes, medicine and in daily life as
a basic product in diet, lighting and heating.
undoubted native of Syria and the maritime parts of Asia
Minor, its abundance in Greece and the islands of the
Archipelago, and the frequent allusions to it by the earliest
poets, seem to indicate that the olive tree was there also
indigenous; but in localities remote from the Levant it may
cultivation, reverting more or less to its primitive type.
It shows a marked preference for calcareous soils and a partiality
for the sea breeze, flourishing with especial luxuriance on
limestone slopes and crags that often form the shores of the
Greek peninsula and adjacent islands.
The olive tree, even when free increase is unchecked
by pruning, is of very slow growth; but, where allowed for ages
its natural development, the trunk sometimes attains a considerable
diameter. The olives in the East often receive little attention,
the branches being allowed to grow freely and without curtailment
by the pruning-knife; water, however,
must be supplied in long droughts to ensure a crop; with this
neglectful culture the trees bear abundantly only at intervals
of three or four years; thus, although wild growth is favorable
to the picturesque aspect of the plantation, it is not to be
recommended on economic grounds. Where the olive is carefully
cultivated, as in Crete, it is planted in rows
at regular intervals, the distance between the trees varying
in different olivettes, according to the variety grown. Careful
pruning is practiced, the object being to preserve the flower-bearing
shoots of the preceding year, while keeping the head of the tree
low, so as to allow the easy gathering of the fruit; a dome or
rounded form is generally the aim of the pruner. The spaces between
the trees are occasionally manured with rotten dung or other
The fruit when ripe is, by the careful grower,
picked by hand and deposited in cloths or baskets for conveyance
to the mill; but in many parts of Spain and Greece, and generally
in Asia, the olives are beaten down by poles or by shaking the
boughs, or even allowed to drop naturally. In Crete the olives
are collected in nets, lying on the ground. In southern Europe
the olive harvest is in the winter months, continuing for several
Steps to olive oil making once you've grown and
picked the olives:
the olives: Stems, twigs and leaves are removed and the olives
may or may not be cleaned with water to remove pesticides,
2. Grinding the olives to paste: Stone rollers
or wheels roll in circles on a slab of granite to grind the olives
into a paste, or an electric motor attached to a toothed
grinder pulverizes the olives as they are flung away from the
3. Mixing to increase olive oil yield: Mixing or Malaxation
for 20 to 40 minutes allows small oil droplets to combine into
bigger ones which can be removed in the next step. It is an absolutely
necessary step. The paste is often heated to 28 degrees centigrade
during this process.
4. Separating the oil and water from the fruit (pomace): using
5. Separating the oil from the water: the liquid
is spun by a centrifuge.
6. Processing the oil, further extraction: refining,
bleeching and deodorising, to reduce acidity and improve flavor.
7. Storage and Bottling considerations: Olive Oil can be stored
in containers as mundane as plastic or as indestructible as stainless
steel. Oil deteriorates through the action of lipase and other
enzymes in the oil and the action of oxygen. Oxidation or rancidity
speeds up with light and heat exposure.
8. Tasting and rating the oil: Olive oil is graded by its acidity
and also by its flavor as judged by experts.
international legislation divides the various classes of olive
(a) virgin olive oils (i.e. those which
have not been refined) and
(b) the chemically refined oils (called “olive
oil” or “pure olive oil”).
Virgin olive oil
fit for consumption as is (i.e. “natural”) includes:
virgin olive oil: virgin olive oil which has a free
acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 1 gram per
olive oil: (the qualifier “fine” may
be used at the production and wholesale stage): virgin olive
oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not
more than 2 grams per 100 grams
virgin olive oil: virgin olive oil which has a
free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 3,3 grams
per 100 grams
Crete nowadays modern equipment is being used to produce olive
oil. Here you find some pictures of the machinery.
© Alexander from Latvia
the Cretan kitchen olive oil plays a dominating role. There
is practically no dish, which is not served with olive oil. Even today in daily life
Cretans prefer a vegetarian diet with beans and other pulses,
greens, vegetables and grains,
pasta and potatoes. Meat dishes are reserved for special events, when they host
guests or go out for dinner together with friends and family.
Salads are drowned in olive oil, so are fresh feta cheese and
vegetables. Dipping bread into the juicy mixture of oil and
tomato juice at the bottom of the salad bowl is a delicacy
no one should
miss when visiting Crete.
There is increasing scientific evidence that there
are positive health effects from diets which are high in fruits,
vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and which include fish,
nuts and low-fat dairy products. Such diets need not be restricted
in total fat as long as there is not an excess of calories, and
emphasize predominantly vegetable oils that are low in saturated
fats and partially-hydrogenated oils. The traditional Mediterranean
Diet, whose principal source of fat is olive oil, encompasses
these dietary characteristics.
term traditional “Mediterranean diet” has
a specific meaning. It reflects food patterns typical of some
Mediterranean regions in the early 1960’s, such as Crete,
parts of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy.
abundance of plant food (fruit, vegetables, breads, other forms
of cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds);
processed, seasonally fresh, and locally grown foods;
fruit as the typical daily dessert, with sweets containing
concentrated sugars or honey consumed a few time per
oil as the principal source of fat;
products (principally cheese and yogurt) consumed daily in
low to moderate amounts;
and poultry consumed in low to moderate amounts;
to four eggs consumed weekly;
meat consumed in low amounts; and
consumed in low to moderate amounts, normally with meals.
As much as can be determined, this diet was low in saturated
fat (less than or equal to 7-8% of energy), with total fat ranging
from less than 25% to more than 35% of energy from one area to
another. Data also indicate that work in the field or kitchen
resulted in a lifestyle that included regular physical activity
and was associated with far less obesity than was observed in
the United States.