Olive oil is as old as human civilization. That’s some fruit for thought.
Native to the Mediterranean, olives have been cultivated for edible use for five to six thousand years. Prehistoric humans plucked grinded the fruit and used the oil in cooking and in lamps. Its leafy branches were offered to gods and were used to crown the winners of wars and games, symbolic of peace. Its ancient greek name elaia gave us the word oil.
Olives themselves are unpalatable due to their bitter phelonin content. They must be soaked in an alkaline solution that can break down the bitter substances and the waxy outer layer, making the fruit more permeable to a subsequent salt brine and fermentation process.
Ninety percent of olive production is intended for olive oil. When the fruits are mature, around six to eight months old, they begin to turn from green to purple. They are coarsely crushed and ground into a paste to free their oil. The paste is squeezed to extract both oil and water from the solids. Additional oil can be extracted by pressing repeatedly and by heating the paste. The first press, the cold press, is the most delicate and stable and most likely to produce extra virgin oil.
The most precious olive oil is unrefined and sold right after harvest, for delicate flavoring and less for cooking.
Olive oil quality is judged by flavor and content of free fatty acids – that should be bound up in intact oil molecules. Extra virgin must have less than 0.8% fatty free acids. In the united states, quality labeling is not regulated.
The oil is green gold from chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments, and it contains phenolic compounds and aromatics from volatile molecules generated from the grinding process. Green smelling fragments of fatty acids call to memory herbs, apples and artichokes.