oil is a liquid fat obtained from olives (the fruit of Olea
europaea; family Oleaceae), a traditional tree crop of the
Mediterranean Basin. The oil is produced by pressing whole olives. It
is commonly used in cooking, whether for frying or as a salad
dressing. It is also used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps,
and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps, and has additional uses in
some religions. There is limited evidence of its possible health
benefits. The olive is one of three core food plants in Mediterranean
cuisine; the other two are wheat and grapes.
trees have been grown around the Mediterranean since the 8th
is the largest producer of olive oil, followed by
and Greece. However, per capita consumption is highest in
Greece, followed by Spain, Italy, and Morocco. Consumption in North
America and northern Europe is far less, but rising steadily.
The composition of olive oil varies with the cultivar, altitude, time
of harvest and extraction process. It consists mainly of oleic acid
(up to 83%), with smaller amounts of other fatty acids including
linoleic acid (up to 21%) and palmitic acid (up to 20%). Extra virgin
olive oil is required to have no more than 0.8% free acidity and is
considered to have favorable flavor characteristics.
1.1 Early cultivation
1.2 History and trade
4.1 Culinary use
4.2 Religious use
4.3 Skin care
5.1 Commercial grades
5.1.2 United States
5.2 Label wording
6 Global consumption
6.1 Global market
8.1 Phenolic composition
9.1 Potential health effects
10 See also
13 Further reading
Ancient Greek olive oil production workshop in Klazomenai, Ionia
The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean basin; wild olives were
Neolithic peoples as early as the 8th millennium BC.
The wild olive tree originated in Asia Minor or in ancient
Greece.[n 1] It is not clear when and where olive trees were first
domesticated: in Asia Minor, in the Levant, or somewhere in the
Mesopotamian part of the Fertile Crescent.
Archaeological evidence shows that olives were turned into olive oil
by 6000 BC and 4500 BC in Israel. Until 1500 BC, eastern coastal
areas of the Mediterranean were most heavily cultivated. Evidence also
suggests that olives were being grown in Crete as long ago as 2,500
BC. The earliest surviving olive oil amphorae date to 3500 BC (Early
Minoan times), though the production of olive oil is assumed to have
started before 4000 BC.
Olive trees were certainly cultivated by the
Late Minoan period (1500 BC) in Crete, and perhaps as early as the
Early Minoan. The cultivation of olive trees in Crete became
particularly intense in the post-palatial period and played an
important role in the island's economy, as it did across the
Recent genetic studies suggest that species used by modern cultivators
descend from multiple wild populations, but a detailed history of
domestication is not yet forthcoming.
History and trade
Ancient oil press (Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, Bodrum,
Olive trees and oil production in the Eastern Mediterranean can be
traced to archives of the ancient city-state
Ebla (2600–2240 BC),
which were located on the outskirts of the Syrian city Aleppo. Here
some dozen documents dated 2400 BC describe lands of the king and the
queen. These belonged to a library of clay tablets perfectly preserved
by having been baked in the fire that destroyed the palace. A later
source is the frequent mentions of oil in the Tanakh. Dynastic
Egyptians before 2000 BC imported olive oil from Crete,
Canaan and oil was an important item of commerce and wealth. Remains
of olive oil have been found in jugs over 4,000 years old in a tomb on
the island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea. Sinuhe, the Egyptian exile who
lived in northern
Canaan about 1960 BC, wrote of abundant olive
Besides food, olive oil has been used for religious rituals,
medicines, as a fuel in oil lamps, soap-making, and skin care
application. The Minoans used olive oil in religious ceremonies. The
oil became a principal product of the Minoan civilization, where it is
thought to have represented wealth.
Olive oil, a multi-purpose product
Mycenaean Greece (c. 1600–1100 BC) at that time, was a chief
Olive tree growing reached Iberia and Etruscan cities well
before the 8th century BC through trade with the Phoenicians and
Carthage, then was spread into Southern
Gaul by the Celtic tribes
during the 7th century BC.
The first recorded oil extraction is known from the Hebrew Bible and
took place during the Exodus from Egypt, allegedly during the 13th
century BC. During this time, the oil was derived through
hand-squeezing the berries and stored in special containers under
guard of the priests. A commercial mill for non-sacramental use of oil
was in use in the tribal confederation and later in 1000 BC, in the
Levant, an area consisting of present-day Lebanon,
Palestine. Over 100 olive presses have been found in Tel Miqne
(Ekron), one of the five main cities of the Biblical Philistines.
These presses are estimated to have had output of between 1,000 and
3,000 tons of olive oil per season.
Many ancient presses still exist in the Eastern Mediterranean region,
and some dating to the Roman period are still in use today.
Olive crusher (trapetum) in Pompeii (79 AD)
Olive oil was common in ancient Greek and Roman cuisine. According to
Herodotus, Apollodorus, Plutarch, Pausanias,
Ovid and other sources,
the city of
Athens obtained its name because Athenians considered
olive oil essential, preferring the offering of the goddess
olive tree) over the offering of
Poseidon (a spring of salt water
gushing out of a cliff). The Spartans and other Greeks used oil to rub
themselves while exercising in the gymnasia. From its beginnings early
in the 7th century BC, the cosmetic use of olive oil quickly spread to
all of the Hellenic city states, together with athletes training in
the nude, and lasted close to a thousand years despite its great
Olive oil was also popular as a form of birth
Aristotle in his
History of Animals
History of Animals recommends applying a
mixture of olive oil combined with either oil of cedar, ointment of
lead, or ointment of frankincense to the cervix to prevent
Olive trees were planted throughout the entire
Mediterranean basin during evolution of the
Roman Republic and Empire.
According to the historian Pliny the Elder,
Italy had "excellent olive
oil at reasonable prices" by the 1st century AD—"the best in the
Mediterranean", he maintained.
The Manufacture of Oil, 16th century engraving by Jost Amman
The importance and antiquity of olive oil can be seen in the fact that
the English word oil derives from c. 1175, olive oil, from Anglo-Fr.
and O.N.Fr. olie, from O.Fr. oile (12c., Mod.Fr. huile), from L. oleum
"oil, olive oil" (cf. It. olio), from Gk. elaion "olive tree",
which may have been borrowed through trade networks from the Semitic
Phoenician use of el'yon meaning "superior", probably in recognized
comparison to other vegetable or animal fats available at the time.
Robin Lane Fox
Robin Lane Fox suggests that the Latin borrowing of Greek elaion
for oil (Latin oleum) is itself a marker for improved Greek varieties
of oil-producing olive, already present in
Italy as Latin was forming,
brought by Euboean traders, whose presence in Latium is signaled by
remains of their characteristic pottery, from the mid-8th century.
Main article: List of olive cultivars
There are many different olive cultivars, each with a particular
flavor, texture, and shelf life that make them more or less suitable
for different applications, such as direct human consumption on bread
or in salads, indirect consumption in domestic cooking or catering, or
industrial uses such as animal feed or engineering applications.
During the stages of maturity, olive fruit changes color from green to
violet, and then black.
Olive oil taste characteristics depend on
which stage of ripeness olive fruits are collected.
Virgin olive oil production – 2014
FAOSTAT of the United Nations
Potential natural distribution of the olive across the Mediterranean
In 2014, world production of virgin olive oil was 3.05 million tonnes
(table), a 9% increase over 2013 global production.
1.7 million tonnes or 56% of world production. The next four largest
producers – Italy, Greece, Tunisia, and
Morocco – collectively
produced less than half of Spain's annual total (table).
Some 75% of Spain's production derives from the region of Andalucía,
particularly within Jaén province which produces 70% of olive oil in
Spain. The world’s largest olive oil mill (almazara, in
Spanish), capable of processing 2,500 tonnes of olives per day, is in
the town of Villacarrillo, Jaén.
Italy produced 294,914 tonnes in 2014 or 10% of the world's production
(table). Major Italian producers are known as "Città dell'Olio"
("oil cities"), including Lucca,
Florence and Siena.
about 65% of Spanish olive oil exports. Some Italian companies are
known to mix the imported olive oil with alternate oils (such as soy)
and falsely market the blend as authentic olive oil "Made in
Italy", creating a fraud that the
European Commission has
attempted to overcome by offering a 5 million Euro reward to stimulate
better methods of authentication.
Tunisia is the largest producer outside the EU (table), with 242,000
tons produced in 2014 to 2015, among which 73% was exported to
Europe. Because of the arid climate, pesticides and herbicides are
largely unnecessary in Tunisia.
Australia now produces a substantial amount of olive oil. Many
Australian producers only make premium oils, while a number of
corporate growers operate groves of a million trees or more and
produce oils for the general market. Australian olive oil is exported
to Asia, Europe and the United States.
In North America, Italian and Spanish olive oils are the best-known,
and top-quality extra virgin olive oil from Italy, Spain,
Greece are sold at high prices, often in prestige packaging. A large
part of U.S. olive oil imports come from Italy, Spain, and Turkey.
The United States produces olive oil in California, Hawaii, Texas,
Georgia, and Oregon.
Vinegar and olive oil
Olives in olive oil
Olive oil is an important cooking oil in countries surrounding the
Mediterranean, and it forms one of the three staple food plants of
Mediterranean cuisine, the other two being wheat (as in pasta, bread,
and couscous) and the grape, used as a dessert fruit and for wine.
Extra virgin olive oil is mostly used as a salad dressing and as an
ingredient in salad dressings. It is also used with foods to be eaten
cold. If uncompromised by heat, the flavor is stronger. It also can be
used for sautéing.
When extra virgin olive oil is heated above 210–216 °C
(410–421 °F), depending on its free fatty acid content, the
unrefined particles within the oil are burned. This leads to
deteriorated taste. Also, most consumers do not like the pronounced
taste of extra virgin olive oil for deep fried foods. Refined olive
oils are suited for deep frying.
Choosing a cold-pressed olive oil can be similar to selecting a wine.
The flavor of these oils varies considerably and a particular oil may
be more suited for a particular dish.
Fresh oil, as available in an oil producing region, tastes noticeably
different from the older oils available elsewhere. In time, oils
deteriorate and become stale. One-year-old oil may be still pleasant
to the taste, but it is less fragrant than fresh oil. After the first
year, olive oil is more suitable cooking than serving raw.
The taste of the olive oil is influenced by the varietals used to
produce the oil and by the moment when the olives are harvested and
ground (less ripe olives give more bitter and spicy flavors – riper
olives give a sweeter sensation in the oil).
Olive tree in Portugal
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The Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches use olive oil for
Oil of Catechumens
Oil of Catechumens (used to bless and strengthen those preparing
for Baptism) and
Oil of the Sick (used to confer the Sacrament of
Anointing of the Sick
Anointing of the Sick or Unction).
Olive oil mixed with a perfuming
agent such as balsam is consecrated by bishops as Sacred Chrism, which
is used to confer the sacrament of Confirmation (as a symbol of the
strengthening of the Holy Spirit), in the rites of
Baptism and the
ordination of priests and bishops, in the consecration of altars and
churches, and, traditionally, in the anointing of monarchs at their
Eastern Orthodox Christians still use oil lamps in their churches,
home prayer corners and in the cemeteries. A vigil lamp consists of a
votive glass containing a half-inch of water and filled the rest with
olive oil. The glass has a metal holder that hangs from a bracket on
the wall or sits on a table. A cork float with a lit wick floats on
the oil. To douse the flame, the float is carefully pressed down into
the oil. Makeshift oil lamps can easily be made by soaking a ball of
cotton in olive oil and forming it into a peak. The peak is lit and
then burns until all the oil is consumed, whereupon the rest of the
cotton burns out.
Olive oil is a usual offering to churches and
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints uses virgin olive oil
that has been blessed by the priesthood. This consecrated oil is used
for anointing the sick.
Jewish observance, olive oil was the only fuel allowed to be used
in the seven-branched Menorah in the
Mishkan service during the Exodus
of the tribes of
Israel from Egypt, and later in the permanent Temple
in Jerusalem. It was obtained by using only the first drop from a
squeezed olive and was consecrated for use only in the Temple by the
priests and stored in special containers. Although candles can be used
to light the hanukkiah, oil containers are preferred, to imitate the
original Menorah. Another use of oil in
Jewish religion was for
anointing the kings of the Kingdom of Israel, originating from King
Tzidkiyahu was the last anointed King of Israel.
Olive oil has a long history of being used as a home remedy for
skincare. Egyptians used it alongside beeswax as a cleanser,
moisturizer, and antibacterial agent since pharaonic times. In
ancient Greece, olive oil was used during massage, to prevent sports
injuries and relieve muscle fatigue. In 2000, Japan was the top
importer of olive oil in Asia (13,000 tons annually) because consumers
there believe both the ingestion and topical application of olive oil
to be good for skin and health.
Olive oil is popular for use in massaging infants and toddlers, but
scientific evidence of its efficacy is mixed. One analysis of olive
oil versus mineral oil found that, when used for infant massage, olive
oil can be considered a safe alternative to sunflower, grapeseed and
fractionated coconut oils. This stands true particularly when it is
mixed with a lighter oil like sunflower, which "would have the further
effect of reducing the already low levels of free fatty acids present
in olive oil". Another trial stated that olive oil lowered the
risk of dermatitis for infants in all gestational stages when compared
with emollient cream. However, yet another study on adults found
that topical treatment with olive oil "significantly damages the skin
barrier" when compared to sunflower oil, and that it may make existing
atopic dermatitis worse. The researchers concluded that due to the
negative outcome in adults, they do not recommend the use of olive oil
for the treatment of dry skin and infant massage.
Applying olive oil to the skin does not help prevent or reduce stretch
Olive oil is also a natural and safe lubricant, and can be used to
lubricate kitchen machinery (grinders, blenders, cookware, etc.). It
can also be used for illumination (oil lamps) or as the base for soaps
and detergents. Some cosmetics also use olive oil as their
Olive oil may be used in soap making, as lamp oil, a
lubricant, or as a substitute for machine oil.
has also been used as both solvent and ligand in the synthesis of
cadmium selenide quantum dots.
Olive oil regulation and adulteration
Olive Council building
Olive Council (IOC) is an intergovernmental
organisation of states that produce olives or products derived from
olives, such as olive oil. The IOC officially governs 95% of
international production and holds great influence over the rest. The
EU regulates the use of different protected designation of origin
labels for olive oils.
The United States is not a member of the IOC and is not subject to its
authority, but on October 25, 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
adopted new voluntary olive oil grading standards that closely
parallel those of the IOC, with some adjustments for the
characteristics of olives grown in the U.S. Additionally, U.S.
Customs regulations on "country of origin" state that if a non-origin
nation is shown on the label, then the real origin must be shown on
the same side of the label and in comparable size letters so as not to
mislead the consumer. Yet most major U.S. brands continue to
put "imported from Italy" on the front label in large letters and
other origins on the back in very small print. "In fact, olive oil
labeled 'Italian' often comes from Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Spain,
and Greece." This makes it unclear what percentage of the olive
oil is really of Italian origin.
A bottle of Italian olive oil.
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All production begins by transforming the olive fruit into olive paste
by crushing or pressing. This paste is then malaxed (slowly churned or
mixed) to allow the microscopic oil droplets to agglomerate. The oil
is then separated from the watery matter and fruit pulp with the use
of a press (traditional method) or centrifugation (modern method).
After extraction the remnant solid substance, called pomace, still
contains a small quantity of oil.
To classify its organoleptic qualities, olive oil is judged by a panel
of trained tasters in a blind taste test.
One parameter used to characterise an oil is its acidity. In this
context, "acidity" is not chemical acidity in the sense of pH, but the
percent (measured by weight) of free oleic acid. Measured by
quantitative analysis, acidity is a measure of the hydrolysis of the
oil's triglycerides: as the oil degrades, more fatty acids are freed
from the glycerides, increasing the level of free acidity and thereby
increasing hydrolytic rancidity. Another measure of
the oil's chemical degradation is the peroxide value, which
measures the degree to which the oil is oxidized damaged by free
radicals, leading to oxidative rancidity. Phenolic acids present in
olive oil also add acidic sensory properties to aroma and flavor.
The grades of oil extracted from the olive fruit can be classified as:
Virgin means the oil was produced by the use of mechanical means only,
with no chemical treatment. The term virgin oil with reference to
production method includes all grades of virgin olive oil, including
Extra virgin, Virgin, Ordinary virgin and Lampante virgin olive oil
products, depending on quality (see below).
Lampante virgin oil is olive oil extracted by virgin (mechanical)
methods but not suitable for human consumption without further
refining; lampante is Italian for "glaring", referring to the earlier
use of such oil for burning in lamps. Lampante virgin oil can be used
for industrial purposes, or refined (see below) to make it edible.
Oil is the olive oil obtained from any grade of virgin
olive oil by refining methods which do not lead to alterations in the
initial glyceridic structure. The refining process removes colour,
odour and flavour from the olive oil, and leaves behind a very pure
form of olive oil that is tasteless, colourless and odourless and
extremely low in free fatty acids.
Olive oils sold as the grades extra
virgin olive oil and virgin olive oil therefore cannot contain any
Oil is the oil obtained by treating olive pomace
(the leftover paste after the pressing of olives for virgin olive
oils) with solvents or other physical treatments, to the exclusion of
oils obtained by re-esterification processes and of any mixture with
oils of other kinds. It is then further refined into Refined Olive
Oil and once re-blended with virgin olive oils for taste, is
then known as
Olive Pomace Oil.
Italian label for "extra vergine" oil
In countries that adhere to the standards of the International Olive
Council, as well as in Australia, and under the voluntary United
States Department of Agriculture labeling standards in the United
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade of virgin oil derived by
cold mechanical extraction without use of solvents or refining
methods. It contains no more than 0.8% free acidity, and is
judged to have a superior taste, having some fruitiness and no defined
sensory defects. Extra virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10%
of oil in many producing countries; the percentage is far higher in
the Mediterranean countries (Greece: 80%, Italy: 65%,
Virgin olive oil is a lesser grade of virgin oil, with free acidity of
up to 1.5%, and is judged to have a good taste, but may include some
Refined olive oil is virgin oil that has been refined using charcoal
and other chemical and physical filters, methods which do not alter
the glyceridic structure. It has a free acidity, expressed as oleic
acid, of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams (0.3%) and
its other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category
in this standard. It is obtained by refining virgin oils to eliminate
high acidity or organoleptic defects. Oils labeled as Pure olive oil
Olive oil are primarily refined olive oil, with a small addition of
virgin for taste.
Olive pomace oil is refined pomace olive oil, often blended with some
virgin oil. It is fit for consumption, but may not be described simply
as olive oil. It has a more neutral flavor than pure or virgin olive
oil, making it unfashionable among connoisseurs; however, it has the
same fat composition as regular olive oil, giving it the same health
benefits. It also has a high smoke point, and thus is widely used in
restaurants as well as home cooking in some countries.
As the United States is not a member, the IOC retail grades have no
legal meaning there, but on October 25, 2010, the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) established Standards for Grades of
Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil, which closely parallel the IOC
U.S. Extra Virgin
Oil for oil with excellent flavor and odor and
free fatty acid content of not more than 0.8 g per 100 g
Oil for oil with reasonably good flavor and odor and
free fatty acid content of not more than 2 g per 100 g (2%);
Oil Not Fit For Human Consumption Without Further
Processing is a virgin (mechanically-extracted) olive oil of poor
flavor and odor, equivalent to the IOC's lampante oil;
Oil is a mixture of virgin and refined oils;
Oil is an oil made from refined oils with some
restrictions on the processing.
These grades are voluntary. Certification is available, for a fee,
from the USDA.
Different names for olive oil indicate the degree of processing the
oil has undergone as well as the quality of the oil. Extra virgin
olive oil is the highest grade available, followed by virgin olive
oil. The word "virgin" indicates that the olives have been pressed to
extract the oil; no heat or chemicals have been used during the
extraction process, and the oil is pure and unrefined. Virgin olive
oils contain the highest levels of polyphenols, antioxidants that have
been linked with better health.
Olive Oil, which is sometimes denoted as being "Made from refined and
virgin olive oils" is a blend of refined olive oil with a virgin grade
of olive oil. Pure, Classic, Light and Extra-Light are terms
introduced by manufacturers in countries that are non-traditional
consumers of olive oil for these products to indicate both their
composition of being only 100% olive oil, and also the varying
strength of taste to consumers. Contrary to a common consumer belief,
they do not have fewer calories than extra virgin oil as implied by
Cold pressed or Cold extraction means "that the oil was not heated
over a certain temperature (usually 27 °C (80 °F)) during
processing, thus retaining more nutrients and undergoing less
degradation". The difference between Cold Extraction and Cold
Pressed is regulated in Europe, where the use of a centrifuge, the
modern method of extraction for large quantities, must be labelled as
Cold Extracted, while only a physically pressed olive oil may be
labelled as Cold Pressed. In many parts of the world, such as
Australia, producers using centrifugal extraction still label their
products as Cold Pressed.
First cold pressed means "that the fruit of the olive was crushed
exactly one time-i.e., the first press. The cold refers to the
temperature range of the fruit at the time it is crushed". In
Calabria (Italy) the olives are collected in October. In regions like
Tuscany or Liguria, the olives collected in November and ground, often
at night, are too cold to be processed efficiently without heating.
The paste is regularly heated above the environmental temperatures,
which may be as low as 10–15 °C, to extract the oil
efficiently with only physical means. Olives pressed in warm regions
Italy or Northern Africa may be pressed at significantly
higher temperatures although not heated. While it is important that
the pressing temperatures be as low as possible (generally below
25 °C) there is no international reliable definition of "cold
Furthermore, there is no "second" press of virgin oil, so the term
"first press" means only that the oil was produced in a press vs.
other possible methods.
Protected designation of origin
Protected designation of origin (PDO) and protected designation of
origin (PGI) refer to olive oils with "exceptional properties and
quality derived from their place of origin as well as from the way of
The label may indicate that the oil was bottled or packed in a stated
country. This does not necessarily mean that the oil was produced
there. The origin of the oil may sometimes be marked elsewhere on the
label; it may be a mixture of oils from more than one country.
Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration permitted a claim on olive oil
labels stating: "Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence
suggests that eating about two tablespoons (23 g) of olive oil
daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."
There have been allegations, particularly in
Italy and Spain, that
regulation can be sometimes lax and corrupt. Major shippers are
claimed to routinely adulterate olive oil so that only about 40% of
olive oil sold as "extra virgin" in
Italy actually meets the
specification. In some cases, colza oil (extracted from rapeseed)
with added color and flavor has been labeled and sold as olive
oil. This extensive fraud prompted the Italian government to
mandate a new labeling law in 2007 for companies selling olive oil,
under which every bottle of Italian olive oil would have to declare
the farm and press on which it was produced, as well as display a
precise breakdown of the oils used, for blended oils. In February
2008, however, EU officials took issue with the new law, stating that
under EU rules such labeling should be voluntary rather than
compulsory. Under EU rules, olive oil may be sold as Italian even
if it only contains a small amount of Italian oil.
Extra virgin olive oil has strict requirements and is checked for
"sensory defects" that include: rancid, fusty, musty, winey (vinegary)
and muddy sediment. These defects can occur for different reasons. The
most common are:
Raw material (olives) infected or battered
Inadequate harvest, with contact between the olives and soil
In March 2008, 400 Italian police officers conducted "Operation Golden
Oil", arresting 23 people and confiscating 85 farms after an
investigation revealed a large-scale scheme to relabel oils from other
Mediterranean nations as Italian. In April 2008, another operation
impounded seven olive oil plants and arrested 40 people in nine
provinces of northern and southern
Italy for adding chlorophyll to
sunflower and soybean oil, and selling it as extra virgin olive oil,
Italy and abroad; 25,000 liters of the fake oil were seized
and prevented from being exported.
On March 15, 2011, the prosecutor's office in Florence, Italy, working
in conjunction with the forestry department, indicted two managers and
an officer of Carapelli, one of the brands of the Spanish company
Grupo SOS (which recently changed its name to Deoleo). The charges
involved falsified documents and food fraud. Carapelli lawyer Neri
Pinucci said the company was not worried about the charges and that
"the case is based on an irregularity in the documents."
In February 2012, an international olive oil scam was alleged by
Spanish police to have taken place, in which palm, avocado, sunflower
and other cheaper oils were passed off as Italian olive oil. Police
said the oils were blended in an industrial biodiesel plant and
adulterated in a way to hide markers that would have revealed their
true nature. The oils were not toxic and posed no health risk,
according to a statement by the Guardia Civil. Nineteen people were
arrested following the year-long joint probe by the police and Spanish
tax authorities, part of what they call Operation Lucerna.
Using tiny print to state the origin of blended oil is used as a legal
loophole by manufacturers of adulterated and mixed olive oil.
Journalist Tom Mueller has investigated crime and adulteration in the
olive oil business, publishing the article "Slippery Business" in New
Yorker magazine, followed by the 2011 book Extra Virginity. On 3
January 2016 Bill Whitaker presented a program on CBS News including
interviews with Mueller and with Italian authorities. It was
reported that in the previous month 5,000 tons of adulterated olive
oil had been sold in Italy, and that organised crime was heavily
involved—the term "Agrimafia" was used. The point was made by
Mueller that the profit margin on adulterated olive oil was three
times that on the illegal narcotic drug cocaine. He said that over 50%
of olive oil sold in
Italy was adulterated, as was 75-80% of that sold
in the US. Whitaker reported that 3 samples of "extra virgin olive
oil" had been bought in a US supermarket and tested; two of the three
samples did not meet the required standard, and one of them—with a
top-selling US brand—was exceptionally poor.
Greece has by far the largest per capita consumption of olive oil
worldwide, over 24 liters (5.3 imp gal;
6.3 U.S. gal) per person per year;
Spain and Italy,
around 14 l; Tunisia, Portugal, Syria,
Jordan and Lebanon, around
8 l. Northern Europe and North America consume far less, around
0.7 l, but the consumption of olive oil outside its home
territory has been rising steadily.
The main producing and consuming countries are:
Production in tons (2010)
Production % (2010)
Annual per capita consumption (kg)
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A cold press olive oil machine in Israel.
Olive oil mill
Olive oil extraction
Olive oil is produced by grinding olives and extracting the oil by
mechanical or chemical means. Green olives usually produce more bitter
oil, and overripe olives can produce oil that is rancid, so for good
extra virgin olive oil care is taken to make sure the olives are
perfectly ripened. The process is generally as follows:
The olives are ground into paste using large millstones (traditional
method) or steel drums (modern method).
If ground with mill stones, the olive paste generally stays under the
stones for 30 to 40 minutes. A shorter grinding process may result in
a more raw paste that produces less oil and has a less ripe taste, a
longer process may increase oxidation of the paste and reduce the
flavor. After grinding, the olive paste is spread on fiber disks,
which are stacked on top of each other in a column, then placed into
the press. Pressure is then applied onto the column to separate the
vegetal liquid from the paste. This liquid still contains a
significant amount of water. Traditionally the oil was shed from the
water by gravity (oil is less dense than water). This very slow
separation process has been replaced by centrifugation, which is much
faster and more thorough. The centrifuges have one exit for the
(heavier) watery part and one for the oil.
Olive oil should not
contain significant traces of vegetal water as this accelerates the
process of organic degeneration by microorganisms. The separation in
smaller oil mills is not always perfect, thus sometimes a small watery
deposit containing organic particles can be found at the bottom of oil
In modern steel drum mills the grinding process takes about 20
minutes. After grinding, the paste is stirred slowly for another 20 to
30 minutes in a particular container (malaxation), where the
microscopic oil drops unite into bigger drops, which facilitates the
mechanical extraction. The paste is then pressed by centrifugation/
the water is thereafter separated from the oil in a second
centrifugation as described before.
The oil produced by only physical (mechanical) means as described
above is called virgin oil. Extra virgin olive oil is virgin olive oil
that satisfies specific high chemical and organoleptic criteria (low
free acidity, no or very little organoleptic defects). A higher grade
extra virgin olive oil is mostly dependent on favourable weather
conditions; a drought during the flowering phase, for example, can
result in a lower quality (virgin) oil. It is worth noting that olive
trees produce well every couple of years so greater harvests occur in
alternate years (the year in-between is when the tree yields less).
However the quality is still dependent on the weather.
Sometimes the produced oil will be filtered to eliminate remaining
solid particles that may reduce the shelf life of the product. Labels
may indicate the fact that the oil has not been filtered, suggesting a
different taste. Fresh unfiltered olive oil usually has a slightly
cloudy appearance, and is therefore sometimes called cloudy olive oil.
This form of olive oil used to be popular only among olive oil small
scale producers but is now becoming "trendy", in line with consumer's
demand for products that are perceived to be less processed.
The remaining paste (pomace) still contains a small quantity (about
5–10%) of oil that cannot be extracted by further pressing, but only
with chemical solvents. This is done in specialised chemical plants,
not in the oil mills. The resulting oil is not "virgin" but "pomace
oil". Handling of olive waste is an environmental challenge
because the wastewater, which amounts to more than 30 million cubic
meters annually in the Mediterranean region, is not biodegradable and
cannot be processed through conventional water treatment systems.
The label term "cold-extraction" on extra virgin olive oils indicates
that the olive grinding and stirring was done at a temperature of
maximum 25 °C (77 °F), as treatment in higher temperatures
risks decreasing the olive oils' quality (texture, taste and
General chemical structure of olive oil (triglyceride). R1, R2 and R3
are alkyl groups (approx. 20%) or alkenyl groups (approx. 80%).
Olive oil is composed mainly of the mixed triglyceride esters of oleic
acid and palmitic acid and of other fatty acids, along with traces of
squalene (up to 0.7%) and sterols (about 0.2% phytosterol and
tocosterols). The composition varies by cultivar, region, altitude,
time of harvest, and extraction process.
55 to 83%
3.5 to 21%
7.5 to 20%
0.5 to 5%
0 to 1.5%
Olive oil contains phenolics, such as esters of tyrosol,
hydroxytyrosol, oleocanthal and oleuropein, give extra virgin
olive oil its bitter, pungent taste, and are also implicated in its
Olive oil is a source of at least 30 phenolic compounds,
among which is elenolic acid, a marker for maturation of
olives. Oleuropein, together with other closely related
compounds such as 10-hydroxyoleuropein, ligstroside and
10-hydroxyligstroside, are tyrosol esters of elenolic acid.
Other phenolic constituents include flavonoids, lignans and
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
3,699 kJ (884 kcal)
Link to USDA Database entry
μg = micrograms • mg = milligrams
IU = International units
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
One tablespoon of olive oil (13.5 g) contains the following
nutritional information according to the USDA:
Fat: 13.50 g (21% of the Daily Value, DV)
Saturated fat: 2 g (9% of DV)
Vitamin E: 1.9 mg (10% of DV)
Vitamin K: 8.1 µg (10% of DV)
Potential health effects
Olive oil consumption is thought to affect cardiovascular health.
Epidemiological studies indicate that a higher proportion of
monounsaturated fats in the diet may be linked with a reduction in the
risk of coronary heart disease. There is preliminary evidence that
regular consumption of olive oil may lower risk of all-cause mortality
and several chronic diseases.
In a comprehensive scientific review by the European Food Safety
Authority (EFSA) in 2011, health claims on olive oil were approved for
protection by its polyphenols against oxidation of blood lipids,
and for the contribution to the maintenance of normal blood
LDL-cholesterol levels by replacing saturated fats in the diet with
oleic acid (Commission Regulation (EU) 432/2012 of 16 May
2012). A cause-and-effect relationship has not been adequately
established for consumption of olive oil and maintaining normal
(fasting) blood concentrations of triglycerides, normal blood
HDL-cholesterol concentrations, and normal blood glucose
A 2011 meta-analysis concluded that olive oil consumption may play a
protective role against the development of any type of cancer, but
could not clarify whether the beneficial effect is due to olive oil
monounsaturated fatty acid content or its polyphenol components.
A 2014 meta-analysis concluded that an elevated consumption of olive
oil is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality,
cardiovascular events and stroke, while monounsaturated fatty acids of
mixed animal and plant origin showed no significant effects.
In the United States, producers of olive oil may place the following
restricted health claim on product labels:
Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating
about 2 tbsp. (23 g) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk
of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil.
To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar
amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories
you eat in a day.
This decision was announced November 1, 2004 after application to the
FDA by producers.
List of ancient dishes
List of ancient dishes and foods
List of cuisines
List of dips
^ The Greek word for olive oil or for oil in general, ἔλαιον
(elaion), is first attested in the
Mycenaean Greek forms
𐀁𐀨𐀺, e-ra-wo and 𐀁𐁉𐀺, e-rai-wo, written in the
Linear B syllabic script. In
Linear B there was also 𐂕, an
ideogram standing for olive oil or oil in general.
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Caruso, Tiziano / Magnano di San Lio, Eugenio (eds.). La Sicilia
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Extra Virginity – The Sublime and Scandalous
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Pagnol, Jean. L'Olivier, Aubanel, 1975. ISBN 2-7006-0064-9.
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