The Mediterranean diet is known as a way of eating naturally and inherently through seasons; a simple food-consuming style that has existed since the beginning of time. However, this diet did not gain popularity until the late 20th century. Overall, the Mediterranean approach comprises a list of some twenty countries, and while their inhabitants do not all eat alike, their diets are mainly plant-based rather than animal-based, thus, in general, these people mostly consume healthy fats.
So, as mentioned above, despite the fact that such a way of eating existed for centuries, the Mediterranean diet was not announced till 1975 by the works of two scientists: Ancel Keys, the biologist and chemist Margaret Keys. Keys had discovered that low-class Italian communities were living healthier lives than wealthy New Yorkers, and conducted a study regarding their diets and eating habits. He found that the difference in the two groups is based on products they were eating, and thus how diverse meals were affected their health.
And here we go. One of the Mediterranean food pillars is olive oil. This magic elixir is one of the healthiest oils in the world due to its high monounsaturated fat and relatively low saturated fat content. Nutrition researchers have shown that olive oil helps a heart remain strong. It also aids to maintain cholesterol levels. Olive oil does not contain gluten, carbs (sugar), fibre, or proteins. Moreover, it is rich in vitamin E and an exceptional source of vitamin K.
World-famous chef Gordon Ramsay’s olive oil "panacea" (we all remember his immortal "Just a touch of olive oil!" mantra) is made of pressed fresh olives. Beloved cooking oil is produced in olive-growing regions, most often in France, Italy, Spain and Greece, but today it has also found a place in other regions around the world.
Nowadays, Spain is the world-leading manufacturer of quality olive oil. It is estimated that there are more than 215 million olive trees in Spain, covering over 5.000.000 acres. This counts for over 27% of the world's olive production areas.
Geographical conditions and a huge number of olive species used to produce Spanish olive oils contribute to a far wider range of aromas and tastes than amongst those of any other oil-producing region. Some Spanish oils taste sweet and gentle, while others have a great full-body character with varying intensity of a pleasant bitterness or acidity.
Olive oil comes in various grades and its quality changes within given types. The first-rate oil is a combination of oil from a mixture of red-ripe (not green and not fully ripe) olives and a smaller proportion of oil from green olives of a different type. On a contrary, the cold-pressing process uses mechanical pressure only that, in turn, delivers higher quality with richer aroma and lower acidity. The level of oleic acid is also normally used to grade olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil
Cold-pressed, unrefined oil from the first extraction of olives. With only 1 percent acid, it is considered as exceptional and is the most expensive. Extra virgin ranges from a crystalline champagne colour to light-greenish to bright green. Generally, the deeper colour means a more intense flavour.
Virgin olive oil
Also, first-pressed oil, this variety retains a charming flavour but has a little higher acidity level of between 1 and 3 percent.
Fino olive oil
An intensive blend of extra virgin and virgin oils.
Light olive oil
A refined oil, this type is simpler in colour (contains no fat or calories) than virgin types but has far less aroma.
Pure olive oil
Sometimes classified as "olive oil" or even "regular", this is a blend of refined and virgin olive oils. It has a very blank, neutral flavour and an acidity of around 3 percent.
A drop of Spanish brand history
Today’s Spanish olive oil is still among the most brilliant types in the world. Spain has over 30 olive oil D.O. (designation of origin) exporting all varieties of products to all continents.
Olive oil is an essential part of Spanish cuisine and has been used since the Phoenicians and Greeks popularized olive trees to the Iberian Peninsula in ancient times. Valuable oil directly from the Peninsula, was on demand in Rome, as well as other provinces of the Empire. The Spanish word aceite, which originates from Arabic word al-zait, meaning just olive juice.
Olive trees as wild plants were slightly known on the Iberian Peninsula, however, they were not widely cultivated until Romans occupated this Spanish region in 212 B.C., led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. The locals settled new habits brought by Romans pretty fast and easy, without dramatical rejection. New technologies were imported and sat on the track, trades grew and prospered. Spain bloomed.
Generally, most agricultural properties were concentrated in Guadalquivir, Andalusia province. In order to supply Rome with wine, oil and seeds, the cultivation of olive trees became widespread throughout the whole region. Thus, the production of natural Spanish oil was taught by Romans, who had certain technologies and more or less strict ways to guarantee the quality. The earliest respectable references to olive trees cultivation in Spain may be found in the monograph by De Bello Hispanico, who observed a detailed landscape of the country during Julius Caesar's war campaigns.
Trees were planted along the left side of Beatis river (now Guadalquivir), as its soil is very rocky — according to Pliny the Elder, rocky and stony lands are perfect for this kind of trees. Important tip: the distance between olives should be no less than 17,60 meters, which actually helped the ranchers a lot in drought periods, as they had space to plant cereals as well between the trees. The harvest had to be milled on the same day of collection. The oil then must be purged and disinfected by transfusion the liquid from bottle to bottle and letting it rest for a while.
Spanish olive oil became so glorious and high-rated in the Roman empire that the Emperor of Sevilla, Hadrian, adopted the olive branch as the symbol and banner of Hispanic Rome. In 257 Spain ceased to be a Roman colony and became a part of the Frankish empire.
During Al-Andalus period in Spain (known as the Muslim occupation), technologies of oil-making were upgraded by using ditches and irrigation systems, along with new olive varieties cultivation. During the XI and XII centuries, the olive tree expansion and geographical distribution of oil production were more or less within today's figures. The largest density of olive trees is still located in Andalusia; mainly Jaen, Cordoba and Sevilla communities. However, not all olives and olive oil were produced in the South. Thus, In Aragon, the north-eastern region of Spain is also a number of outstanding plantations located. Farms, being handed down the generations and present-living great-great-grandsons are still enjoying the fruits of trees, planted hundreds of years ago. Olives were later shared to the New World by Spanish settlers during the XVI and XVII centuries, and are now established in many former colonial areas, most noticeably in California and South America.
Franco’s dictatorship caused huge confusion and downgrading to the industry. Propaganda was used to extol the virtues of soy oil as a modern alternative, encouraging farmers to rip out ancient olive groves to plant soya and sunflowers instead. After Franco’s death, oil production began to recover step by step, and Spain gently regained recognition for the quality.
D.O. system controlling the industry has led to a growing appreciation of top-quality olive oil and the diversity of its flavours and tastes in the rest of the world. Today, like in ancient times, most part of Spanish olive oil is exporting to Italy where demand exceeds supply. Traditions and history always go hand in hand.