Over time, olive oil has gradually acquired the relevance that it has nowadays. Although the applications of olive oil have changed through time, its use in food has always prevailed.
We’ll briefly review the history of olive oil to understand the way it turned one of the most important agricultural activities in our country.
Many of the authors who have studied the evolution of olive oil and its farming, establish its origins in the Middle East, around 4,000 BC. Thanks to pollen samples found in archaeological remains, it is estimated that intensive farming began in the 10th century BC. and in the city of Byblos, close to present-day Lebanon.
The first most reliable references on olive oil are found in Ancient Egypt. At that time, it was a sacred product that was used in the sarcophagi of the pharaohs to wish them peace in the afterlife. It was also used in pharmacopoeia and cosmetics.
Olive oil acquired importance already in Ancient Greece. Olive oil acquired such a dimension that it turned out to be an essential element in the Olympic Games, both for the participants and for the winners. The participants used olive oil to spread it on their bodies and avoid burns and falls; the winners, on the other hand, were presented with an olive branch and a crown from the same tree that proclaimed them the winners.
Although the consumption of olive oil depended on social class, its use as a lighting fuel, medicinal remedy or body oil had spread.
It is in the Roman Empire where the farming of olive groves expands and its production techniques are improved. Olive oil reaches its greatest splendor here, especially the olive oil obtained in Hispania, the name that present-day Spain received at that time. Also noteworthy is the great recognition that the olive oil of Bética (Andalusia) obtained and that, thanks to its strategic position on the map, could be marketed to different parts of the planet.
The liquid gold (thus nicknamed by Homer in the Odyssey) that was produced in Hispania was of very high quality and was exported to the capital of the Empire, in Rome. It is estimated that around 30 million vessels of olive oil were exported from Hispania.
Its culinary use expanded and it is even included in the provision of the Roman Empire’s Army. It is still used for lighting, body oil or medicinal remedy.
Olive oil came to be considered as cash. Its food use expanded among the clergy and, those who could, used it as a key ingredient in the production of soaps, textiles and beauty treatments.
With the arrival of the 19th century, and thanks to the production of the railway networks in Spain, the farming of the olive grove began its expansion. This way, Spain becomes the country with the largest olive grove on the planet. However, as new fuel methods are also introduced, the demand for olive oil falls and, as happened in the Middle Ages, its price increased.
The Technological Revolution marked a before and after in the farming and production of olive oils in Spain. So much so that, at present, Spanish olive oils triumph in the most prestigious international competitions in the sector.
In the 20th century, cooperatives and oil mills began to set up. In order to defray the cost of the application of these new technologies in the production of olive oil, there were partners who invested part of their money and thus obtained their own oil. Shortly after, the marketing of olive oil by oil mills expanded.
Olive oil in Spain
In Spain, the farming of the olive tree was introduced in the year 1,100 BC. by the Phoenicians. Thanks to the commercial and economic relations established with the island of Crete during the Roman Empire, the expansion of olive cultivation took place. Before expanding its use as a star ingredient in the kitchen, olive oil in Spain was used to care for hair and skin, heal wounds and as an analgesic for certain diseases.
Today, the olive tree has spread beyond the Mediterranean area. We find olive trees in any area of the planet: in South Africa, China, Oceania, America ... However, Spain is the first country with the largest olive area and the first producer of olive oil in the world.
Around 4.6 million hectares of olive trees cover the entire Spanish territory, making possible the sea of olive trees that characterizes the landscape of this area. Specifically, in Jaén it’s where almost 20% of the total olive oil consumed worldwide is produced and its entire province has more than 60 million olive trees.