The Olive tree and Olive Oil in Crete and Greece
The Olive Tree (Olea Europea)
Nothing is more characteristic of Crete than the millions of olive trees
that grow in valleys and mountainous areas. Cretans have been cultivating
the olive tree and have been using olive oil since 3500 BC during the
early Minoan period, as archaeological findings have proved.
The olive tree (Olea Europea) is one of the few trees that
can still produce fruits even in rocky and unproductive land. Oleas
main characteristic is its longevity and the preservation of its productivity.
olive tree has been the symbol of wisdom and peace. The olive tree was
the sacred tree of goddess Athena and Athens, the capital of Greece, took
its name from the goddess. Zeus had decreed that the city should be given
to the god who offered the most useful gift to the people. Poseidon gave
them the horse. Athena struck the bare soil with her spear and caused
an olive tree to spring up. The people were so delighted with the olive
that Zeus gave the city to Athena and named it after her. Athena is often
shown with an olive branch, a symbol of peace and plenty.
At the Ancient Olympic Games, winners were presented with a simple olive
tree branch which was cut with a gold-handled knife from a wild olive
tree. The Greeks believed that the vitality of the sacred tree was transmitted
to the recipient through the branch.
The olive oil is still being used for medical purposes and religious
purposes and it has been proved to be an essential ingredient of a healthy
diet. As a monosaturated fatty acid, olive oil does not have the
same cholesterol-raising effect of saturated fats. Olive oil is also a
good source of antioxidants. Olive oil, unlike seed oils, remains stable
in its chemical structure at relatively high temperatures because of its
antioxidant and high oleic acid content.
Grades (Types) of Olive Oil
These grades or types of olive oil were developed by the International Olive Oil
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.
The A+ of oils. This is the oil that results from the first pressing of
olives. To qualify as extra virgin, the oil must be cold pressed, with
no chemicals or hot water added during the process. Also, acidity levels
must be lower than one percent, and the oil must have an excellent flavor
- Virgin Olive Oil.
This results from the first pressing, but the fruit can be of slightly
- Pure Olive Oil.
The most common oil used, it is chemically refined to strip away undesirable
taste and aroma. It is usually a combination of virgin olive oil mixed
with refined olive oil.
To make things somewhat simple for those of you that do not know much
about olive oil, we would advise you to stay away from the following types
of olive oils:
Pomace Oil, Extra Light Olive Oil, Light or Lite Olive Oil, Pure
Olive Oil, Refined Olive Oil, Olive Oil Cake Refined and Olive Oil.
The influence of the Olive tree and Olive oil to the
Greek and the World Culture:
First olive press in the world was found on the island of Crete around
- Homer in the "Odyssey" refers to olive oil as "liquid
- Solon's Olive protection Law during the Athenian democracy (600 B.C.),
in the first written legislation of the world, prohibited the cutting
down of olive trees
- Olympic games winners in ancient Greece were crowned with olive branches
- Greek Orthodox rituals such as christenings & blessings use olive
- In Genesis, a dove released from the Ark by Noah, returned with an
olive branch to show that the flood had receded.
- Hercules was protected by wearing a wreath of olive leaves upon his
- For bravery in battle, Roman soldiers were rewarded with crowns of
- Nobel prize winner Greek poet Odysseas Elytis wrote "Greece is
a vine, an olive tree and a boat"
- Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The olive tree is surely the richest
gift of Heaven"
- Aldous Huxley wrote: "
I like them all, but especially the
olive. For what it symbolizes, first of all, peace with its leaves and
joy with its golden oil."
- Federico Garcia Lorca wrote: "Angels with long braids and hearts
of olive oil."
- Lawrence Durrell wrote in Prospero's Cell, "The entire Mediterranean
seems to rise out of the sour, pungent taste of black olives between the
teeth. A taste older than meat or wine, a taste as old as cold water.
Only the sea itself seems as ancient a part of the region as the olive
and its oil, that like no other products of nature, have shaped civilizations
from remotest antiquity to the present."
An easy recipe for a delicious Olive Spread
12 oz jar (350 gr) pitted green salad olives -- drained
1 shallot -- finely chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
In a food processor or small mixer, combine olives, shallot, lemon juice,
pepper and half of the olive oil.
Pulse until mixture is a course paste consistency. Use more oil if necessary.