LIQUID GOLD – GREEK OLIVE OIL
You may not know it, but if you are an olive oil lover, you have tasted Greek olive oil at least once. Here's how:
Greek olive oil production is in excess of 300,000 tons annually. Greece, even though quite small, holds 3rd place among olive oil producers. As much as 70% of all production, is Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Per capita consumption on the other hand is also the highest in the world - almost 16 kilos (32 pounds) annually!
Still, there is enough left for over 1/3 of the annual production (135,000 tons) to be exported. In fact Greece is the world's largest exporter of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. All those involved in the production and marketing of olive oil know the superior quality and the excellent organoleptic properties of Greek olive oil, which exported in bulk, quietly sneaks into bottles and cans to silently grant its unparalleled taste and aroma to olive oil packaged and sold elsewhere. So a regular olive oil consumer has tasted Greek Olive Oil at least once.
Greek Olive Oil is mainly exported to the EU 90% of total olive oil exports (80% in bulk plus 10% Greek brand name olive oil). There is a rise though in other countries as well, such as Canada, Australia, Japan and the US.
The presence of Greek brand-name olive oil on the international market has for many years been minimal. It was not easy for the average consumer to get to Greek olive oil. In the recent years though there has been a steady change. Greek exports have increased greatly. This increase to a certain extent reflects the upward swing in overall olive oil consumption due to the shift towards healthy nutrition and the consequent proliferation of Mediterranean cuisine. And as the international consumer learns to recognize the value of olive oil, he will come to recognize what the experts already know: the incomparable virtues and personality of Greek olive oil.
Designations - Definitions
Extra virgin olive oil is obtained by pressing freshly picked olives. It is an entirely natural product with no added ingredients, just the oil from the fruit of the olive tree, and nothing else. It is amongst the purest foods you can eat. Today olive oil is treated like wine. There are experts who taste the olive oil to determine its qualities and how to use it for cooking. Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and the base of the Greek cuisine. It is considered to be the healthiest product that nature can offer.
Olive oil is classified into 3 main quality categories, according to the European Union legislation: virgin olive oils, which include extra virgin and virgin olive oil, olive oil consisting of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils, as well as olive-pomace oil. The classification is determined based on certain international standards such as the mode of production (physical, mechanical methods or chemical methods, such as for olive-pomace oil), acidity, and certain organoleptic properties (such as taste and aroma).
- VIRGIN OLIVE OILS
The olive oils characterized as virgin are those that come from pressing the olives by mechanical or by other natural means under conditions that do not lead to the alteration of the oil, and from olives that have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration. Virgin olive oils are classified into the following categories based on their degree of acidity:
- Extra virgin olive oil: Fine quality virgin olive oil with acidity not exceeding 0.8°.
- Virgin olive oil: The acidity of virgin olive oil may not exceed 2°.
- OLIVE OIL CONSISTING OF REFINED OLIVE OILS AND VIRGIN OLIVE OILS
This category of olive oil is obtained by blending refined olive oils and virgin olive oils. The acidity may not exceed 1°.
- OLIVE POMACE OIL
Oil obtained by blending refined olive-pomace oil and virgin olive oils. Its acidity may not exceed 1°.
Olive trees are farmed in a number of countries in the region surrounding the Mediterranean sea, both in Europe, Asia (e.g. Turkey) and North Africa. However, 93% of olive production comes from Greece, Spain and Italy and is a highly important crop for these countries. For example 60% of the Greek land is used for olive tree cultivation. The latin term of the olive tree is Olea Europaea and there is a large number of olive tree cultivars, producing oils whose flavors differ, but only slightly.
Cultivation of the Olive Tree
Careful cultivation by olive producers enables the olive tree to yield the greatest and best possible amounts of olives and olive oil. The tree flowers in the spring, and in autumn the fruit ripens and the harvest begins. The olives are harvested with care, to avoid them being "injured" and the quality of their oil diminished, and they are taken straight to the press. In Greece and most other olive-producing countries, harvesting methods have remained unchanged throughout the centuries: beating the branches or harvesting the fruit by hand.
The Olive Harvest
In European Mediterranean countries the olive oil harvest begins in November and can last until December but sometimes may go on to January or even February. At the beginning of the season the olives are green and at their most ‘peppery’ flavor. They get darker in color as they ripen further and their flavor mellows. For most connoisseurs green olives make the best, most pungent oil with strong grassy, vegetable flavors but good oils made with black olives can be found too. To make the best extra virgin olive oil, the olives are harvested by hand. Large nets are spread under the tree, and then the farmers use sticks to shake the ripe olives from the trees. Sometimes you will see the workers up in the tree itself, removing every last one. The least damage to the olive during harvest, the better the oil. Bruising or heat will raise the acidity in the olive fruit, and spoil the flavor of the oil.
Collection and Transportation
The olives are collected in sacks. Hessian is used so the crop can ‘breathe’ and stay cool as it is transported to the olive press (the plant where the oil is made). Ideally, the press will be close to the olive grove because the best extra virgin olive oil is made within just a few hours of picking. The olives are finally taken to the mill where they may be stored for a while to allow them to heat up a little and helping release the oil from the crushed fruit. However, the storing should be no longer than a day or so. The olives are then washed to remove leaves, twigs or earth, and crushed to produce a homogenous mixture from which the liquid can be extracted. The paste obtained by crushing the olives is kneaded mechanically to help the amalgamation of the minute droplets of oil found in the pulp. This resulting mixture is a combination of liquid (oil and water) and solids (pulp and stones). Then the oil is extracted either by the traditional method (mechanical pressure) or by the continuous method where extraction is entirely by centrifuge. Here the paste is spun at high speed to separate the flesh from the oil. Both methods are equally good.
When the oil has been separated from the water, the first cold pressed virgin olive oil is left, which is a totally pure product because it is untreated. Cold pressed means that the temperature during the oil extraction process has been controlled not to exceed 27° C. No other vegetable oil is edible just by being pressed. All other oils have to be treated first because they contain toxins or are not suitable for human consumption in their natural state. The phase of collection and transportation is a very busy time for the producing countries. You will see the streets leading to a press lined with waiting sacks from neighbouring farms. Trucks pass busily back and forth to the groves. It is a time for ‘all hands to the pump;’ everyone is involved – men, women, school age children. Festivals follow the harvest to celebrate the safe gathering of this valuable asset.
The ripe olives are taken immediately to the press, where the fruit is turned into pulp by traditional methods or by using modern technology. Using only mechanical means, the natural juice of the olive is extracted from the pulp; the olive oil is then filtered and stored in suitable stainless steel tanks.
Packing process - Packaging
The olive oil is transferred from the olive press to packing plants, where olive oil destined for supermarket shelves and the end consumer is packaged under strict hygiene and safety procedures, as prescribed by European Union legislation. The Greek olive oil packing industry uses modern facilities and guarantees the quality and safety of the product through rigorous application of the specifications of European legislation and of the principles of HACCP. With continuous quality checks on the raw material as well as on the finished product, it supplies the market with a high-quality fresh product on a daily basis, thanks to small packing units, proper storage and rapid consumption. The majority of Greek packing plants have modern quality control laboratories at their disposal, with the additional capacity to analyse the 28 mandatory physicochemical parameters relating to the quality and authenticity of the raw material. At the same time, a growing number of companies are being certified according to ISO for their production processes, but also for other parameters (e.g. environmental protection, etc.).
Types of Olive Oil
Differences in olive tree varieties, cultivation methods and organoleptic properties result in the classification of Greek olive oils into various types, among which are the following: Organic olive oil. Produced by methods in which all problems of cultivation are addressed without the use of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers. Cold-pressed or unheated olive oil. Pressed from olives using low temperature malaxation (up to 27° C). Early harvest olive oil (agoureleo).
Cold-pressed from unripe green olives, which are gathered at the beginning of the harvest season. Olive oil of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Bears the name of the region whose olive oils has special organoleptic properties distinct from those of other olive oil producing regions and is due mainly or exclusively to a particular geographical environment.
Olive oil of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Bears the name of the region to which it owes its reputation, with production and processing carried out exclusively in this region.
Gastronomy and Olive Oil
Olive oil is the only edible oil that offers a variety of natural flavours. You can choose the taste that you like between mild, semi-fruity, fruity, bitter, pungent and sweet olive oils. Olive oil is the main fat in the Mediterranean diet. It can be used in cooking or pastries. Consumers can use it raw for salads and marinades. Use it for sautéing and baking, for baking in the oven or in the casserole. It gives the dishes an extra rich taste and it can also be used for frying. Olive oil has a high smoke point of 210 degrees Celsius and doesn't degrade as quickly as many other oils do with repeated high heating. More and more top quality restaurants, all over the world, embrace the basic elements of the Mediterranean Diet and serve bread with olive oil and olive paste instead of butter, a practice often followed in the past.
Olive oil in cooking and in the Mediterranean Diet
Olive oil is a culinary treasure, not only for Mediterranean, but also for international cuisine. It contains valuable nutrients such as monounsaturated fat, vitamins A, D, E and K, and antioxidants such as polyphenols, which are essential to the preservation of health. Olives are rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, squalene, phosphorus, potassium and selenium. The biological and nutritional value of olive oil surpasses that of all other vegetable oils, whereas its caloric value is the same.
The uses of olive oil in cooking are bounded only by the limits of our imagination. Used fresh, it shows off its beneficial properties in salads, raw or boiled, on bread, fish, feta cheese, in sauces and pastries. In cooking it may be used in any recipe, with all kinds of ingredients, and can play a leading role in all international cuisines. It has been shown to be the best choice for frying, as it stands up to high temperatures more than other fats and oils and does not oxidise.
Olive oil has starred in Greek cuisine since ancient times, as seen from references in the writings of Archestratus, a poet and philosopher of the 4th century BC who is considered to be the father of gastronomy and the first to approach cooking as an art. The large number of finds from excavations, including olive pits and amphoras for oil storage, confirm the writings.
During the Classical period the use of olive oil became widespread. Original recipes were invented, using olive oil and the basic raw foodstuffs of the era, such as fish, vegetables, and cheese. Olive oil was also consumed fresh on toasted bread or vegetables. Apart from cooking, olive oil was also used in many ancient traditional sweets, as described by the ancient biologist, gourmet, and rhetorician Athenaeus. Among these was the Cretan sweet ‘glycine’, which was prepared "from sweet wine and oil" and "egkrides" – a kind of pancake with honey.
Olive Oil and Health
Oils and fats are essential in a well balanced diet as they are rich source of energy. But which type of fat we consume has been shown to have a direct bearing on the incidence of cardiovascular illnesses.
Recent research has provide incontrovertible evidence that a Mediterranean-style diet rich in olive oil is not only generally healthy but that consuming olive oil can actually reduce cholesterol levels. Low fat diets have long been recommended to reduce cholesterol, with the emphasis on cutting back on animal fats (saturated fats) and using olive oil and other vegetable fasts (unsaturated fats).
Besides being a monounsaturated fat, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, because it is a completely natural untreated food, is rich in antioxidants and vitamins, which help prevent body cell ageing, as well as giving the oil itself its conservation properties.
The body van produce most of the fatty acids found in foods it cannot make either oleic acid or linolenic acid. These are termed essential fatty acids and as you van see from the above olive oil contains two of these making it an important valuable dietary ingredient.
Since olive oil also contains Vitamin E (one of the currently fashion-able vitamins) and oleic acid, which is also found in maternal milk, it aids normal bone growth and is particularly suitable for expectant and nursing mothers because it encourages the development of the infant’ s brain and nervous system before and after birth.
From all this evidence doctors and nutritionists recognize Extra Virgin Olive Oil as having the most balanced composition of fatty acids (saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) of all edible vegetable oils.
Twelve reasons to choose
Greek olive oil
- The roots of the olive tree are deeply embedded in the soil and the history of the country.
- The wisdom of experience in olive cultivation is combined with scientific research.
- The climatic conditions and ecosystem are favor able to the cultivation of the olive tree.
- The type of olive grove is a determining factor in the fruit-bearing cycle.
- Enthusiasm for the olive grove is linked to the knowledge and experience of Greek olive-growers.
- The most suitable varieties are always selected for any given bootie.
- The most appropriate harvesting techniques are used and the degree of ripeness of the fruit is always taken into account.
- Suitable measures are taken to clean the fruit before it is sent for processing.
- The length of time the fruit is stored before pressing ensures that the product has a long life.
- The correct methods of olive pressing are used.
- Standardization and storage are carried out in the right conditions to ensure consistent quality.
- Quality control is carried out on the final product, the olive oil, and it is checked for its wholesomeness
SEVITEL, a non-profit organization and the leading body representing private industry in the field of Olive Oil in Greece, can claim a forty-eight year old history. SEVITEL' s numerous members include the largest Greek processing and packaging industries as well as Olive Oil Exporters. With the purpose of aiding its members in the production and marketing of a quality product it is immediately involved in activities conducive to the overall amelioration of the sector.
Sevitel participates in part-financed Programs (European Union – Hellenic Ministry of Rural Development and Food - SEVITEL) for the briefing - information and promotion of olive oil in the internal market of the European Union and in non-EU countries since 2000.
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