In ancient times, olive oil, a rich food, was the only resource available to use as fuel in lamps and, with it, the Greek would hydrate their bodies after bathing and kept their muscles flexible in the gymnasium.
OIive oil was the mostly used fuel for cremating bodies on funeral pyres, and then oil was also sprinkled over the ashes, to perfume them.
During the New Kingdom in Egypt (2nd millennium BC) olive oil was produced to light up the Holy Palace, the temple to the god Ra. Olive oil was also used to protect the skin from sunburns and cracks and often the skin was massaged with perfumed oil.
Egyptians were also the first people to “produce” beauty creams using clay powder mixed with olive oil. Regular scalp massages with a mixture of olive oil, egg yolk, beer, and lemon juice maintained healthy locks.
The Egyptians in the 9th century BC, the Greeks in the 7th century BC, and later the Carthaginians in the 3rd century BC. arrived at the Iberian Peninsula, coming in from the sea, and there they traded luxury products, olive oil and wine for the food they needed. This is how the domesticated olive tree made its way to Portugal, a tree the Greeks wisely cultivated, a practice that the Romans ingeniously and cleverly followed, also becoming champions of olive trees and olive oil.
This is how the olive oil reached the territory where we find Portugal today, which, with the Roman invasion of the year 218 BC, grew stronger and bigger. Olives and olive oil were used by the Romans to cook and also to make perfumes and bath oil.
In the 1st century BC, the capital of Betica (currently Andalusia) was already surrounded by olive groves, but it was the Romans who transformed such grooves into production areas, mimicking the Greeks’ farming systems. The Romans transplanted wild-olives, making them productive, as stated by Virgil, the author of the Georgics: “olive trees require great effort and preoccupation. All are transplanted, aligned and their maintenance entails great expenses”.
A great part of the olive oil produced on the territory today occupied by the Iberian Peninsula was exported to Italy. Mount Testaccio, near Rome, is proof of this export process, because it is almost exclusively composed of pieces of amphorae from Betica, dating back to the Roman imperial period.
The Temple where Jesus prayed, in agony, according to Matthew and Mark, was called “Gethsemane”, but Luke and John simply state that he went to the “Mount of Olives”. There is no contradiction, for Gethsemane is near the Mount of Olives, less than a kilometer away.
In Mediterranean countries, where the main dietary fat is olive oil, the incidence of chronic diseases and the cardiovascular mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world, while life expectancy is one of the highest.
The Mediterranean Diet, of which the extra virgin olive oil is a vital part, has been considered is Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
More recently, a study carried out by Professor Cristina Samaniego Sanchez of the University of Granada revealed that fried vegetables in extra virgin olive oil, when compared with the same vegetables cooked in water, had much higher levels of antioxidants, which would make them extremely important in the prevention of chronic degenerative diseases, including cancer, diabetes and age-related macular degeneration.
To produce one litre of olive oil, an average of 5 to 6 kilograms of olives is needed.
The colour of the olive oil is entirely caused by the maturation stage of the olives. These start out by being green, then yellowish green, greenish yellow, then purplish or violet, and finally start becoming darker from the outside in until they are completely black. This causes oils to appear green, yellowish green, greenish yellow and yellow.
There is at least, however, a variety of olive tree which produces olives that do not become black at the end of maturation, but rather white as canary eggs. It is the Leucocarpa cultivar, from Magna Graecia.
When choosing an olive oil, you should always opt for an Extra Virgin Olive Oil, based on the smell and taste and never based on its acidity. The acidity of olive oil has no influence on its smell and taste.
Choosing based on acidity may be misleading, because you may be choosing an olive oil with a refined olive oil blend, the acidity of which has been neutralized with a base (sodium hydroxide, for instance).
The olive tree has 46 chromosomes, sharing this number with human beings.
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