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The History of Olive Oil

Olive oil is one of the great timeless foods in the world. It has been highly valued from the earliest recorded civilizations through the modern day. And why not? It’s delicious, healthy, and useful in many areas of life.


Earliest Cultivation and Pressing

There is evidence that people collected wild olives as early as the 8th millennium B.C., in Asia Minor and Greece. But the earliest records of cultivated olive groves hail from the hot dry regions of Syria and Iraq.

Olive oil was being expressed by about 6,000 B.C. in places like Jericho and Galilee. Rapid expansion of pressing and trading soon ensured that olive oil was one of the most important products in the world. It was used for skin care, cleaning, fuel, food, the base for scents and ointments, in tanning leather, and as medicine. Hippocrates himself, the “father of modern medicine,” listed 60 different medical ailments that he said could be treated with olive oil. It’s no wonder Homer referred to it as “liquid gold.”

Even Pliny the Elder, a naval and army commander for the early Roman Empire who lived from 23-79 A.D., got opinionated about agriculture techniques when it came to olives. “Do not shake and beat your [olive] trees,” he recommended repeatedly. “Gathering by hand each year ensures a good harvest.”


The Naming of Athens

Cecrops, the half-man, half-snake who founded the city of Athens, had named the young city after himself—Cecropia. The Olympian gods saw how beautiful the land was and several of them wanted to become its patron and have it named after themselves instead. A dispute arose, and the two most vocal gods in the debate were Poseidon, the sea god, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

To settle the rivalry, Zeus declared that each god should give a gift to the city and that king Cecrops would decide which gift was better. Whoever gave the best gift would be the patron god of the city and it would be named after them.

Poseidon struck a rock with his trident and out gushed a stream of water. The excited people all rushed forward to drink, but found that the water was salt water, not fresh. Athena then gave her gift; she planted a seed that grew up to become an olive tree. The people loved this gift, since this one tree gave them oil, fruit, and wood. Athena was declared the winner!


Storage Then and Now

In ancient times, olive oil was stored in amphorae—jars with two handles for safe and easy carrying. One clay jar estimated to be about 8,000 years old was found in Israel still containing traces of olive oil! Those thick jars would have helped protect the oil from light and heat.

Nowadays, we still have the same goals when we store our olive oil: protect it from light and heat. Most olive oil bottles are colored glass and drip-stop tops fit tightly into the bottles and keep it from exposure to the open air.

Some things never change. Olive oil and its awesomeness is a constant in the world of good food and good health. Come by Old Town Olive and taste a few of our oils and experience this “liquid gold” for yourself.

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