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. Olea’s main characteristic is its longevity and the preservation of its productivity.
The 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 monounsaturated 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 Council:
- 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 and aroma.
- Virgin Olive Oil. This results from the first pressing, but the fruit can be of slightly lower quality.
- 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
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 1600 B.C.
- Homer in the “Odyssey” refers to olive oil as “liquid gold.”
- 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 oil.
- 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 head.
- For bravery in battle, Roman soldiers were rewarded with crowns of olive.
- 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.
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