Olive oil finds its way into salads, risottos, sauces, soups, among a whole host of other everyday foods across the spectrum. It’s ubiquitous on tables from Spain to Syria and beyond. Yet, lesser-known details behind its allure reveal a rich and even mystical history filled with fun facts.
Early Christians were veritably baptised in olive oil, resulting in the Hebrew word messiah, or ‘the anointed one,’ referring to the practice of anointing the person with olive oil.
‘Anointed ones’ as such were considered to be specially chosen by God to fulfil some specific task.
Meanwhile, such prolific figures as Homer, called olive oil ‘liquid gold.’
In Babylonia, the local doctor was referred to as asu, or literally, ‘the oil expert.’
Olive oil has likewise been applied to mothers’ breasts to help stimulate milk flow and for diverse purposes in the Middle Ages as elixir for the ‘possessed’ and medicine for a wide range of illnesses.
In all of this rich, even bedrock history of medicine, mystery, and magic, Spain and the overall Spanish contribution to olive oil history looms very large. Although it was the Greeks who essentially popularised and solidified the tradition, the making of olive oil quickly spread to Hispania back in 2500 BC and today. Spain stands as the world’s largest producer of olive oils and arguably the most important producer in today’s market.
While the vast majority of the olive oil production stems from the region of Andalusia, every part of Spain nevertheless boasts its own olive oil cultivation, each one contributing to a unique flavour, aroma, and quality of oil.
Chief among the Spanish offerings is extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil basically refers to a natural kind of extraction process, involving no added chemicals. It yields a light, fruity taste and imparts the maximum amount of nutrients and beneficial properties compared to refined or basic oils. Yet, determining which olive oils truly meet the test of extra virgin standard is an art form and science all on its own.
The Spanish climate and various unique factors of Andalusia, among other regions, makes for ideal conditions for producing top quality extra virgin olive oil. Moreover, Spanish efforts in research and technological development also position them at the cutting edge of all matters olive oil-related.
Located at the locus of Spanish olive oil production in the Andalusian province of Jaén , the University of Jaén even offers a course of studies specifically in ‘virgin olive oil tasting’ as well as a Master’s degree in Olive Grove and Olive Oil.
It comes thus as no surprise that Spain is also home to the International Olive Council (IOC), an intergovernmental organisation with its headquarters in Madrid. The IOC is the world’s only international intergovernmental organisation dedicated to olive oil.
Spain is likewise home to one of a handful of organisations worldwide that issues certifications of people’s olive oil taste-testing skills. The certificate is called the International Olive Oil Savantes.
In economic terms, Spain likewise stands as the world’s largest exporter of olive oil. In the past 10 years, moreover, sales have exploded, amounting to 96% growth compared to the previous ten years (2000-2010). With this kind of volume, their reputation for excellence and specialisation in all things olive oil-related, Spain will remain a giant player and leader in olive oil production for the foreseeable future.
This all stands to show that the value behind the ‘liquid gold’ is as much today as it was 2500 years ago, seeing as studies now confirm much of what people of antiquity knew, that olive oil definitively and singularly contributes long-term health benefits to its regular consumers. The Mediterranean diet overall—prominently featuring profuse use of olive oil, moreover, has been pronounced by the World Health Organization to be an effective and strategic dietary means of preventing and controlling non-communicable diseases. Thus, perhaps we all become ‘anointed ones’ thus, with the embrace of this liquid magic.