History of olive oil
The roots of the olive tree and olive oil, also known as “the green gold of the Mediterranean”, stretch far back into antiquity and arise from a widespread legend. Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Poseidon, god of the sea, competed for the honor of becoming the patron deity and namesake of the city now known as Athens, which was the largest, most modern and influential city of that time. Given the city’s current name, it’s clear who won. But the story is just too picturesque to not narrate it here:
The rules of the contest were simple, because there weren’t really any rules. All that was needed was intelligence and foresight. Whoever presented the city’s residents with the most sensible and sustainable gift would be declared the winner by Zeus, father of the gods and the sole member of the jury. Poseidon struck his trident against a rock to create a water source, but only salt water flowed out. Meanwhile Athena planted the first olive tree. She thus gave the city a tree that would always produce sufficient food and wood, throwing a clear knockout punch in the first round.
As a consequence, the Greeks have always honored the olive as signifying a sacred gift from the gods. They anointed their kings exclusively with olive oil, athletes followed olive oil diets before the Olympic Games to strengthen and cleanse the body inside and out, and the Olympic victor was crowned with a wreath of olive branches. The dove of peace was also depicted with an olive branch in its mouth, further popularizing the olive as a symbol of peace.
Nutrition with olive oil
It’s impossible to imagine Greek cuisine without olive oil, which is valued for its precious nutritional content and year-round availability. In times of crisis, Greeks have always prudently used whatever is available. In the kitchen, that meant fish, olives, and olive oil. Thanks to the culinary tradition arising from this necessary pragmatism, the average Greek consumes 20 liters of olive oil a year (in comparison to just 0.5 liters for the average German).
Single-variety extra virgin olive oil contains naturally occurring vitamin E, together with sharp and bitter aromatic substances, known as phenols, which all have antioxidant properties. It also contains up to 85% monounsaturated fatty acids. Despite consuming immense quantities of olive oil (i.e. fat), Greeks and other Mediterranean residents enjoy better health than the average European. Statistical studies, for example, show that Mediterranean residents have lower cholesterol levels and are at lower risk for hypertension and heart disease.
This apparent paradox can be explained by the ratio of LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) to HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol) in a person’s total cholesterol level. Eating saturated fat (mostly animal fat) can increase LDL levels, while eating unsaturated fat (mostly plant fat) can increase HDL levels. Olive oil contains up to 85% monounsaturated fat, so it reduces the disease risks associated with excess LDL cholesterol. By eating more olive oil, you naturally increase your ‘good’ cholesterol levels.
Researchers have found a direct link between the development of colon, prostate, and breast cancers and the effect of saturated fat, mostly from animal sources, on the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio. Eating more saturated fat can increase your risk of disease and death. In contrast, olive oil is rich in unsaturated fat, so it exerts a protective effect, particularly in the gastrointestinal region.
Phenols are the sharp and bitter aromatic compounds found in abundance in olive oil. They are antioxidants, which prevent harmful oxidation processes in the body. The liver and gall bladder, in particular, benefit from their protective effect.
Olive oil’s naturally occurring vitamin E protects cells and tissue from destruction by so-called free radicals. Vitamin E also promotes fat metabolism, digestion, and helps prevent diseases such as atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Its antioxidant properties make it a valued ingredient in many skin care products. In combination with oleuropein, a phenol found only in olive oil, vitamin E effectively stimulates cell renewal.
We also produce our own soap, deploying olive oil’s unique properties in the field of personal care. In soap form, olive oil cleanses the skin deep down, stimulating cell renewal, and maintaining the skin’s natural lipid layer.