"Oil and perfume make the heart glad," Proverbs 27:9 (RSV) tells us. As food, medicine, ointment and fuel for their lamps, olive oil was
essential to the people of Bible times.
Over 5,000 years ago oil was being extracted from olives in Palistine. In the centuries that followed, olive presses became a common sight
from Crete to Egypt. Sinhue, the Egyptian exile who lived in northern Palestine about 1960 B.C., wrote of abundant olive trees. Actual 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. Before 2,000 B.C. the Egyptians
imported olive oil from Crete, Syria and Palestine so it was obviously an important item of commerce and wealth.
In the hot Mediterranean lands olive oil was a blessing as an ointment applied as we do suntan lotions today. Isaiah 1:6 (RSV) indicates that olive oil
was used to soften wounds much as we turn to salves. But it was for food, of course, that olive oil was used in greatest abundance, as a spread on
bread and fat for cooking. Time after time in Exodus and Leviticus the LORD calls for olive oil in burnt offerings or as an annointing oil as well
as mixed with fine flour or put on unleavened bread.
One of the most touching stories about olive oil is that of the widow who fed Elijah with oil and meal from her scanty supply. For this she was blessed
by a miracle. From that time on "The jar of meal was not spent, neither did the cruse of oil fail...." (1 Kings 17:16 RSV)
Olive oil has taken on almost a sacred meaning to Christians because it is so closely associated with the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was betrayed
and arrested. Gethsemane means literally "oil press." It lies at the bottom of the Mount of Olives which was covered with olive trees in Bible days. The
olive presses at Gethsemane must have been one of Jesus' last memories of that garden where he had gone to pray.
To this day in Crete they prepare olive oil in the ancient manner. The olives are covered with hot water and then crushed. They are held in large vats
with a drain at the bottom. The oil floats to the surface. When the process is complete the water is drained from the bottom and only the pure oil is
left at the top.
The Roman, Cato (234 to 149 B.C.) gives careful attention to the making of olive oil. He recommended ripe olives which yielded a "green oil."
For the Greeks olive oil served a myriad uses. Athletes as well as others massaged it into their bodies before exercising. It was important as a preservative
for fabrics. When Alexander was in the capital of Persia, Susa, in 331 B.C. he was shown fabrics kept in this manner. The preservative was a mixture of
honey and olive oil.
Of course, cooking still remains the most important use. Roman chef Apicius called for olive oil in so many recipes it would take pages even to list them.
Like all oils, that of the olive is high in calories. One tablespoon of corn, cottonseed, soybean or olive oil contains 125 calories. Vitamins and minerals
are lacking. Obviously, oils are 100% fat. But there is a difference in the nature of the fat. Some are higher in saturated fats. Others come off better with
the unsaturated fats, oleic and linoleic.
Nutritionists and scientific investigators into heart desease have brought public attention to the importance in our diet of saturated virsus unsaturated
fatty acids. So, it is interesting to compare olive oil with some of the others. Most fats contains both types. But solid fats, like butter and lard or any
fat from meat, are primarily saturated. On the other hand, fats from vegetable sources, and fats from fish contain a higher percentage of unsaturated fats.
The United States still imports considerable amounts of olive oil although there is production from California grown olive oils which were introduced by the Spaniards
to the first missions here.
Today the finest or "virgin" olive oil is made from fruit gathered before it is fully ripe. It is peeled and gently pressed without heat. Olive oil used for
food may be a clear white, golden yellow or yellowish green. But it is all good eating.When heated, olive oil has a low smoking point compared with most of the
vegetable oils and hydrogenated shortenings. In this sense it is much like butter. It's also like butter in the after a can or jar is once opened it should
be refrigerated to prevent rancidity.
Use as a direct substitute for butter in cooking as well as for a salad oil.
Store olive oil in an airtight container away from the light in a cool place, such as in a cupboard.
If stored in the refrigerator, olive oil will become cloudy and eventually solidify. If this happens, let the olive oil come to room temperature and it will become clear and pourable again. The quality and flavor of the olive oil will not be affected.
Stored properly, olive oil can last years, but the sooner it is consumed after opening, the better the taste will be.
More information on Olive Oil can be found at:
Storing Olive Oil and Tips on how to use Olive Oil.