You can find references to olive oil dating back thousands of years. It is the backbone of the Mediterranean food culture and of the Mediterranean Diet itself that has become so popular. It has been a symbol of power – and of peace.  Olive oil has anointed many noble heads in historical times. People used it to reward winners in sporting activities and victorious war generals alike. As Homer called it – “Liquid Gold.” It has provided prosperity and health for millions of people over the years.  But most people don’t know the rich and prolific history of olive oil and olives!

Where Did Olive Oil Originate?

The olive tree, scientifically known as Olea Europaea, is part of the family Oleaceae. There are approximately 870 million olive trees in the world and 95% of them are in the Mediterranean region.  They are almost as common there as the sugar maple in America.  The olive tree originated in the Mediterranean basin, and has now spread to even Asia and North America.   

Today, Spain the largest grower and exporter of extra virgin olive oil in the world with the greatest variety, quality and quantity.  Almost 50% of the world’s production of olives are produced by Spain.  Italy is second largest at 20% Tunisia at third with 11% and then Greece, Turkey and other countries follow distantly behind these three “olive giants”.

Olive Branch With Ripe Olives and Farmland in the Background

Olive Oil at the Center of Commerce and Power

Olive oil origins can be traced back to Asia Minor as far as about 6000 years ago. This makes the olive tree one of the first trees to be cultivated in the world. Its cultivation predates even written language.

By 3000BC in Crete, olive trees had become a widely cultured and prized possession. People built ships to expand olive oil trade and transport this precious liquid to ports far away. This early, Bronze-age Minoan civilization may have been the first to make olive oil on a large scale, and they certainly built their great wealth upon it.

From 2000 to 1000BC the Romans, Phoenicians and Greeks played a large part in the history of olive oil. The Phoenicians had been cultivating olive trees in Andalusia (Spain) as early as 1000BC. Researchers in Spain recently produced the definitive history of olive oil in Andalusia in 2010. These cultures are largely responsible for introducing olive oil into areas like Marseilles, Corsica, Morocco and North Africa. The Romans also transported oil and trees from Portugal, Spain (Andalusia), and France to many other countries.

The Romans in 500-600BC, improved the cultivation techniques and its transportation. They not only mastered how olive oil is made , but they also consumed a lot of it. They obtained most of their olives and olive oil from Andalusia, known now as the Baetica region of Hispania in modern-day Spain. To them, this oil was the most prized because of its high quality. Historians estimate that Hispania (Spain) exported about 30 million oil vessels during this period, and a significant portion of them ended up in the empire’s capital, Rome.  Spain is still the largest grower and exporter of extra virgin olive oil in the world!

However, it was the Greeks in the 8th century who gave the olive tree and its oil much of the importance it holds today. In Greece the olive tree, its leaves, and oil all appear on tombs and coins as symbols of immortality.  And they wore the olive wreath as a symbol of peace.

In the 13th and 14th century, people used olive oil to make soaps in Spain and France. Others used it as an oil for fueling lights in their homes and as an ingredient for beauty treatments. However, throughout the ages, the main use of olive oil continues to be as a healthy food source. Where Americans may start a meal with butter, lard or vegetable oils to cook a meal, the Mediterranean people always start their meals with olive oil!

Olive Oil as Medicine

During sporting events, Greek olympians would massage their legs with olive oil as they prepared for competitions. Some athletes still do this today.  In the 4th century BC, Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine believed that olive oil was in fact “liquid gold”, had natural healing powers, and prescribed it for 60 different medical conditions including basic sore throats, cuts and bruises. Nowadays, olive oil is still used as abase for massages – and the health benefits from skin, to heart, bones, organs and even the brain are well documented by scientists who are still studying it

The Role of Olive Oil in Religion

Olive oil has been used in religious ceremonies since written history can describe.  It is well documented that the Israelites valued this oil for its versatility and holiness. Almost 8,000 years ago, God specified to Moses in Exodus that the Levites should “bring clear pressed olive oil for the lights; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense”!  It was also one of the eight trees and natural fruit listed as growing in the “Promised Land”.

It was used as early as 2,500 BC in the Mediterranean region for religious ceremonies, burials etc.  Later the Greeks believed that olive oil drove away evil spirits and was given to them by the “gods”. Greek funerals included olive oil in the embalming process for the deceased.   

Later the Prophet Muhammad was believed to teach, “Eat olive oil and massage it over your bodies since it is a holy (Mubarek) tree“.  He believed that it also would cure over 70 different diseases.

Olive Oil in the New World Expansion 

Olive oil continued to occupy a strong position in commerce, religion, and society as a whole until the discovery of America in 1492. During this period, the olive oil trade had already started spreading beyond the Mediterranean borders. By 1560, there was olive tree cultivation started in Mexico, Peru, Argentina, California, and Chile. Over the last seven centuries, this oil has managed to spread into almost every region. Even Australia, Japan, South America, and New Zealand are joining the olive oil bandwagon. 

Olive Oil Today

Today. many scientists, doctors and chefs have acknowledged and understand the various health benefits of olive oil. So at Oliventures, where we believe “the Science Matters”, we formulated all-natural, no solvents, non-GMO, polyphenol-enriched olive oils like CardiOlive® 25x with 25 times the hydroxytyrosol levels of standard olive oils, and our line of olive polyphenol-rich supplements and pills in the OliPura® family of products.  We provide both the opportunity to consume more olive oil deliciously and conveniently – and with the highest quality raw materials possible.  And taking these products can boost your consumption of the active olive polyphenol levels to a person using 2-4 liters of standard olive oil each week!    

Check us out here!

* Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.