Sunday, May 7, 2023

The Truly Ancient Origins Of Olive Oil

 From Daily Meal:

Ubiquitously available all across Europe, the Maghreb, and the Middle East, olive oil is an essential component of cuisines originating from around the Mediterranean Sea, from Spain to Palestine. It's so widely enjoyed that over 3 million tons of olive oil are produced every year, with most being produced by countries like Greece, Morocco, Italy, and Turkey — although Spain is by far the world's largest olive oil producer. As with many of the most widely eaten food ingredients, the reason why olive oil is consumed so widely and in such large amounts is that humans have been using it for an exceptionally long time.

The history of olives and their oil is long and storied. Thousands of years ago, in the classical world, growing olives and pressing them for oil was a booming industry. The oil was traded extensively between city-states and nations, and spread by cultures like the Greeks and the Phoenicians. After the Roman Empire arose, they cultivated olives in places like Libya and Syria. But olive oil was already old long before the Greeks and Romans appeared.

Where exactly olives trees first evolved and grew is lost to time. The trees are old enough that their leaves have been discovered in fossils dating back to the Pliocene period, over 2.6 million years ago. In other words, olive trees are older than humanity; the earliest humans appeared "only" around 2 million years ago. Some believe that olives originally came from Anatolia, the peninsula now home to modern Turkey, and the westernmost tip of Asia. Even today, Turkey is home to dense forests where wild olive trees still grow. However, this is little more than an educated guess. Other possibilities for the origin of olives include places in Africa like Egypt, the Atlas Mountains, and Ethiopia. (Read more.)


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