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The Magic of Olive Oil

Updated on August 20, 2010
Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin Olive Oil

From cooking to massages, olive oil has made its way into our lives in every possible way. However, does this oil really have the magical qualities that people around the world boast about? Is it just marketing gimmicks that we tend to fall for? Let us find out!

Olive oil has been used in Mediterranean kitchens for centuries now. Homer, of Iliad & Odyssey, called it “liquid gold” while Greek athletes have rubbed it all over their bodies. It was fed to the bones of saints and martyrs, dead over time, through holes in their tombs.

For centuries now, the oil from olives has been considered to have medicinal properties, so much so that many civilizations sought to harness it for almost “magical” abilities. It has been associated with wealth and power, youth and fertility and has also been the sign of dominance in many wars and bloody battles. From Europe to Egypt to, now, the Americas and Asia, olive oil is one of the most sought after commodities amongst people of all social classes.

An Olive World

From over 20 million years ago, according to historical fossils found, ancestors of the olive tree were found in parts of Italy. It wasn’t until 5th century B.C. that there were signs of actual efforts to cultivate the olive tree. By 1500 B.C. olive oil had spread its roots, from Crete, to Syria, Palestine, Israel, Southern Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, Southern Italy and Northern Africa.

Throughout Greece, Egypt and Rome there was a firm belief that olive oil was associated with youthfulness and strength. Olive oil was used in the preparation of ointments and the cure of diseases, primarily because ancient civilizations believed in its healing properties.

Today, Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, contributing almost 35% of the total production in the world, followed by Italy (25%) and Greece (18%). In terms of consumption, Italy holds the top spot with 30% of the produced olive oil going into the country. Spain comes second with 20% while Greece is third with 9%, also due to their considerably smaller population.

Modern cooking, around the world, is slowly shifting to olive oil and the reasons are mostly because of what has been stated before. There is still a wide belief, and rightly so, that olive oil is extremely effective as compared to regular cooking oil.

Benefits

Of this? there are many! Olive oil has been widely considered to be a major factor in the reduction of heart disease. Studies have shown that people who consume about 25 ml, or 2 tablespoons, of olive oil daily, reduce the antioxidant & LDL cholesterol levels in their blood. It has also been known to increase the HDL cholesterol, or good cholesterol, levels in the body.

Extra virgin olive oil is known to have more antioxidants (Vitamin E and Phenols) as compared to regular versions. The added ability to not shake the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio in the human body also makes it extremely feasible for everybody to use it.

The Health Benefits of Olive Oil - 96 Year Old Proves it!

Research in Spain has indicated that olive oil has also been effective in the battle against colon cancer. Tests have shown that subjects fed with olive oil reduced their colon cancer risk drastically, almost to the levels created by long term fish oil consumption.

Olive oil is widely used in skin care treatments, especially for moisturising the skin. It is also used for the reduction of ear-wax build-up, the use of olive oil in shaving creams has also been found to be beneficial to users. Olive oil has been used on hair and face with great results, also showing significant reduction in the formation of tumours and skin cancers due to exposure to UV-B rays.

Due to almost no cases of allergic reactions to the oil, it is widely used in medication as well. Its demulcent and laxative properties are widely used as well as for stopping intestinal contractions.

The Types

Olive oil has its own segregation that is independent of the country or region it is from. These classifications are made solely on the basis of the crop which has been used to produce the oil. The classifications are:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: When the first crop of olives is harvested, the oil produced from it is known as extra virgin olive oil. The oil is said to have extremely strong taste and has less than 0.8% acidity. Used primarily in salads and as toppings on stews and soups, extra virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of the total olive oil produced by countries.
  • Virgin Olive Oil: Traditionally produced from the second batch of olives cultivated in farms, virgin olive oils have less than 2% acidity. With a decent taste, a batch of olive oil is only said to be virgin if it hasn’t undergone any man-made processing. Both Extra virgin and virgin olive oils are said to be natural products.
  • Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil: At 3.3% acidity, this form of virgin olive oil has defects and is considered inferior to the previous two categories. While the category has already been eliminated from the European Union, it is still used in parts of the world that are being introduced to the oil.
  • Pure Olive Oil: A blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil, Pure olive oil is produced after the oil undergoes processing. Over 50% of the olive oil produced in the Mediterranean is of such poor quality that it needs to undergo processing. While no solvents are used to extract the oil, tasteless, odourless and colourless refined oil is added to bring the quality up to acceptable standards.

  • Olive Oil: This is the lowest category of olive oil that is available for consumption. At 1% acidity, the olive oil comprises of a mixture of refined oil and virgin olive oil. Most of the olive oil sold around the world falls under this category. There are different blends or ratios of refined and virgin olive oil, giving it a classification of “more” or “less” olive oil. Usually, oils in this category are defined as Light Olive Oil (more) or Extra Light Olive Oil (less).

Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil for Health, Cooking, Heart and Cardiovascular Health

Adulteration

Whenever something gets popular, there is always a chance that manufacturers try to take advantage of the popularity and save that extra penny. Due to lax regulations on producers in Italy and some other European countries, the quality of olive oil being produced isn’t quite what is mentioned on the label.

Studies showed that only 40% of olive oil sold as Extra Virgin actually belonged to that category. There was massive adulteration, especially using colza oil, in batches that were sold as olive oil.

This has led to almost all governments creating an organization, the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC), which regulates the production and purity of olive oil being sold in markets today. Based in Madrid, Spain, the IOOC has 23 member states, excluding the United States of America which insists on using its own techniques to determine purity of the oil.

The IOOC presides over 95% of the olive oil production in the world, holding a large influence over the remaining 5%.

In March 2008, a massive raid held under the name, “Operation Golden Oil”, was conducted by the Italian police. 23 people and 85 farms were locked down after investigations led them to plants that were labelling olive oil, manufactured in other countries, as Italian. A month later, seven more production facilities were shut down in Italy. These were found guilty of adding chlorophyll to sunflower or soybean oil to make it appear like olive oil.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

25,000 litres of fake oil was confiscated while more arrests ensued!

There is a constant search, by the IOOC in collaboration with policing agencies around the world in order to minimize the fraudulent cases of providing fake or inferior brand of olive oil. While labels are monitored significantly, there is a stern process in place that allows consumers to go out there and pick a bottle off of the shelf without worrying of its authenticity.

Olive oil is truly one of the most fascinating contributions to cooking that the Mediterranean region has supplied. A fantastic taste that is accompanied by some excellent health benefits make olive oil one of the most popular oils being used in homes and restaurants around the world.

While there is always the chance of getting inferior quality at exorbitant rates, firm regulations are aiming to ensure a minimum quality standard for all. While there is still a lot of room for improvement in the olive oil industry, you can rest assured that soon, you too will be able to enjoy the benefits of olive oil in your own home, i.e. if you don’t have it already.

So the next time you prepare a shopping list, make sure you add olive oil to it and chart your way to a healthier and happier future.

Olive Oil and Health

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