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Sunday 15 December 2019
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The History of Olive Oil by Lisa Richards

According to the Abrahamic religions, Noah sent out three doves at seven-day intervals after the Flood to see whether the water had receded yet. When the third dove didn’t return, he knew that there was dry land and they wouldn’t have to stay on the Ark for much longer. It’s significant however that the second dove came back with a branch, indicating that there were some treetops poking out above the surface of the water and that the water level was definitely dropping. The branch that the bird brought back to the Ark was from an olive tree.

The ancient Greeks told the story of a rivalry between the deities Athena and Poseidon. There was a beautiful city that they both wanted to be named after them. Zeus told them to each give the city a gift and then the local king would decide who would be the city’s patron and give it its name. Poseidon used his trident to strike a rock and a fountain appeared, which would have been a wonderful gift to a city that faced sporadic droughts. Unfortunately the god of the sea didn’t pay attention to the smaller details and the water that came from the fountain was salty, like seawater. Naturally the citizens of the city were underwhelmed with Poseidon’s gift to them. Then Athena came and planted a seed, which grew into an olive tree. The people loved this gift, because it would give them food, firewood, medicine from the leaves and oil. Athena won the competition and the city became known as Athens.

While it’s not clear when and where olive trees were first domesticated, these two stories show that they’ve been around for a long, long time. Neolithic peoples in the Mediterranean region collected wild olives as far back as 8000 BCE. The most likely candidates for the first domestication of olive trees are Asia Minor in around 6000 BCE, the Levantine in around 4000 BCE and the Mesopotamian region in around 3000 BCE.

The Canaanites, who lived in what is now Israel, were already making olive oil in around 4500 BCE. The oldest oil amphorae that archaeologists have found to date were used in around 3500 BCE by the early Minoan civilization, which lived in modern-day Crete. In fact, much of the Minoans’ wealth came from the export of olive oil. They would harvest the olives and mash them into a pulp. This pulp was then placed in a settling tank filled with water. When the oil had risen to the top, the water was drained from the bottom of the tank.

In Greek and Roman times, olive oil was stored in jars known as amphorae

The Greek poet Homer mentioned in his epic poems that Greece was the biggest producer of olive oil in 1500 BCE. The Greeks and the seafaring Phoenicians exported olive trees to their colonies in the western Mediterranean and the oil was used for trade. In around 1300 BCE, when the Israelites left Egypt for the land of Canaan, they would squeeze olives by hand to extract the oil. Later, oil presses were made. Archaeologists discovered an oil-production centre with more than 100 oil presses dating from around 700 BCE at the Philistines’ city of Ekron, today known as Tel Miqne, which lies about 35 km to the west of Jerusalem.

Back in the day, olive oil was highly valued. Homer actually called it ‘liquid gold’. Only olive oil could be used in the Menorah in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrews didn’t crown their kings but instead anointed them with a specially mixed oil that consisted of myrrh, cinnamon, cassia and a mysterious substance called kaneh bosem, all in a base of olive oil. The prizes at the Panathenaic Games in ancient Greece were large, decorated ceramic vases known as Panathenaic amphorae, which contained around 40 liters of olive oil. If you won the chariot race, you received 140 of these amphorae, which would make you very wealthy indeed.

The Spartans would rub olive oil into their bodies as a moisturizer and to emphasize the physique while Greek athletes would receive olive-oil massages. Early Roman emperors would give olive oil as gifts during celebrations. It was the Romans too who developed the screw press to extract the oil, a technology that is still used today in some parts.

When the Spanish and Portuguese explorers sailed to the New World in the 16th century CE, they brought back foods like tomatoes, potatoes, maize and cocoa. However, they also introduced some marvels of their own to the New World, such as horses and olive trees. In the mid 17th century, the Dutch East India Company established a halfway station for its ships at the Cape of Good Hope and this is where the first olives in Southern Africa were planted, in 1661. Olive trees reached Australia in around 1805. Today, major producers of olive oil outside of the Mediterranean region include Chile, Argentina, the Southwestern USA, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

The full article can be found at www.thecandidadiet.com/olive-oil/

Thank you Lisa for letting us share your article.