The History of Olive Oil

In the last few years, the use of olive oil has been on a steady rise; this is because so many people have realized the benefits it offers to the human body. Olive oil does not only contain antioxidants, but it also has anti-inflammation properties; it prevents strokes and protects the body against heart diseases.

Where does olive oil originate from?

Although it isn’t clear where the first olive tree was first cultivated, research shows that the modern olive tree originated in ancient Persia, Mesopotamia and spread towards Israel and the Mediterranean. Olive trees were later introduced in America in the 16th century AD when cultivation began in Chile, California and Argentina.

However, the Mediterranean remains the historic home of olive oil. Here, olive oil was used as a symbol of peace, fame and wealth. Trees which produced olive at that time were known as “olea europea.” They were cultivated around the Mediterranean about 6000 years ago.

In fact, stone tablets that were found in 2500 CB in the court of King Minos of Crete also made reference to the olive plant and suggested that its cultivation originated from Greece.

Olive oil also played an important role in the arts, trade, technology and culture of the people. It was a major part of their diets and used in both cooked and uncooked foods. History records that a lot of Roman cakes contain flour, honey and olive oil, while the ancient Greek salad was made of olive oil, vinegar, salt and honey. 

Apart from foods, olive oil was also used as light and fuel for religious ceremonies. Due to its healing properties, the Hippocrates used it to treat wounds and trauma. In addition, as part of the beauty regiment, the affluent Greeks poured olive oil on their body and even had their bath with it, while athletes participating in Greek games, used olive oil on the body. Olive oil was also used as perfumes and cosmetic at this time.

Middle ages

The healing properties of olive oil were better discovered in the middle ages. At that time, it was used in treating illness like sore throat, bruises and cuts.  Countries like Spain and France used olive oil in making soap. It was also used as fuel and light and beauty treatment in many homes. 

Olive oil industrialization

The Romans were responsible for the industrialization of olive oil production between 200BCE and 200BC. Due to the increased use of olive oil, the Mediterranean Romans and Greeks devised several ways of mechanizing the pressing process and increase productivity.  These machines used a counterweight to increase pressure on the basket wheel extracting oil.

During the Roman Era, an estimate of olive oil production rose to over 30 million litres per year in Tripolitania and 40 million in Byzacena.  The Romans made Olive oil what it is today and improved the techniques for cultivation and transportation.  They valued and consumed olive oil in large quantity.

It is even estimated that during this time, Hispania exported more than 30 million vessels of Olive oil with thousands been sent to the Empire capital Rome.


In modern time

In modern time, a lot of people have realized the immense benefit that olive oil has to offer and that is why it is used in so many ways that include:

  • Cooking: Olive oil is an important cooking oil used in various parts of the world. It has distinct flavours and taste different from other types of oil available.

·      Religious use: Churches like Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox also use olive oil for the sick and during baptism. Usually, olive oil is mixed with perfuming agents and used during the sacrament of confirmation and consecration of altars.

·      Judaism:  In the Jewish tradition, olive oil was used in the seventy breached menorahs during the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. At present, it is used as anointing oil for kings of Israel.

·      Skincare: Olive oil is used along with cleansers and moisturizers on the skin. It can be used for massage and preventing sports injuries.

·      Lubricants: Olive oil is also a natural lubricant, used for kitchen machineries such as grinder and blenders.

Finally, although the history of olive oil can be traced to the Mediterranean; its use is now common in various parts of the world due to the immense benefits it offers to the human body, religious organizations, the skin and its healing properties.