Olives, especially the oil extracted from them, are at the heart of the Mediterranean diet. It is used as the main source of fat and, thanks to its properties, contributes significantly to the health benefits of this diet.
Olives and olive oil belong to the history and culture of the Mediterranean basin since ancient times. It symbolizes a form of conviviality and a quality of life justified by its undeniable healthy qualities.
The olive tree, a Mediterranean tree
The olive tree is considered par excellence the tree of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Its expansion is associated with the Mediterranean climate. In fact, growing an olive tree requires constant heat and maximum sunlight. It was domesticated between 3800 and 3200 BC. Around 1700 BC, the first printing presses appeared in what is now Syria. advertisement
Then olive tree cultivation spread to the island of Crete, Egypt, then Greece, and around 600 BC, it spread throughout the Mediterranean basin. It appeared in Marseille and gradually spread throughout Gaul at this time. The Romans also promoted this culture throughout their empire, and the trade in olives and their oil played an important role in their economy.
Olive oil was needed for food, of course, but also for finishing textiles, lighting, skin care, and the making of ointments and soaps such as those found in Aleppo and Marseille.
The development of olive trees is therefore closely linked to the history of the region, and even if the tree has since been exported to countries such as Brazil or Australia, the countries of the Mediterranean region, with 800 million olive trees, remain the largest producers. Of olives.
A symbol of power and wisdom in ancient Greece (winners of the Olympic Games were awarded a crown made of olive branches as well as jars filled with olive oil) or a symbol of peace in Christianity, the olive tree is deeply rooted in Mediterranean culture and so it is natural that its fruit is strongly present in the system. Mediterranean diet.
The types of olives, green or black, do not depend on the olive variety or olive tree. It's just a matter of maturity. Olive trees flower in late winter and spring.
Olives, their fruit, turn from green to pink, then to purple and finally to black when they are truly ripe. Black olives are usually picked from November to February or March, while green olives are picked as early as October. Trees do not produce fruit until they are 5 to 10 years old. Between 35 and 150 years, the olive tree reaches full maturity and its production becomes optimal.
There are about a hundred types of olives, which give different flavors. Some are used to produce olive oil, others are consumed as is (table olives), and others are suitable for both uses. To date, 90% of olives are used for oil production.
Preparing olives and olive oil
Table olives It is never eaten directly, as it is very bitter. In order to be consumed, they undergo preparations carried out in table olive desserts, which always include three stages:
- Debittering, or softening, which removes the intense, natural bitterness of the olives. This is done by soaking, either in water or in a potash or soda bath;
- Preservation by lactic fermentation, which is carried out in brine, that is, in artificially salted water, in proportions perfectly adapted to the variety, type of preparation and shelf life required. This process allows bacteria to develop that give it an acidic taste.
olive oilFor its part, its preparation tools have evolved over time, but it still follows three stages:
- Separate the olives, that is, break them and make a paste from them;
- Squeeze this paste to extract the oil.
- Finally, filter them, i.e. separate the oil from the water.
Traditional methods use stone mills and delamination occurs naturally (as oil is less dense than water, the two liquids separate). Industrial methods, on the other hand, use stainless steel presses and centrifuges to first extract the juice and then separate the water from the oil.
Two important points must be respected during the manufacturing process: the extraction temperature, on the one hand, because the aromas begin to change above 27°C; On the other hand, the speed of implementation (preferably within 24 hours of harvest), because the taste of olives changes with the fermentation process, which begins as soon as the harvest is finished. On the other hand, cold extracted oil retains its natural phenols (antioxidants), ensuring better preservation.
Commercially, oil quality is measured by its acidity level. The lower the acidity, the better the quality. We find, by quality: extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin or good olive oil, and regular olive oil.
There are also two notes regarding the extraction method: “first cold pressing” and “cold extraction”. According to European regulations, these two notes ensure that the extraction takes place at a temperature below 27°C. The term “first cold pressing” indicates that the oil was obtained via presses, in contrast to the term “cold extraction” which refers to extraction with continuous and centrifugal systems.
Olive oil spoils less quickly than other vegetable oils (peanut or sunflower oil, for example) because of its lower iodine index.(1). It is best preserved if stored in a cool place away from light.
Olive oil allows you to taste the finest aromas, which are influenced by many factors: soil, climate, ripeness of the fruit, variety, manufacturing techniques, storage or collection time.
Benefits of olives and olive oil
Olive It offers many health benefits: It is rich in minerals, most notably calcium and iron (100 grams of black olives provide 45.5% of the recommended daily amount of iron). They contain provitamin A, vitamin C and thiamine. They are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and low in calories.
These properties make olives a balanced food with high nutritional value. It also facilitates digestion, and its fat softens the colon and prevents constipation. In addition, its preparation gives it the characteristics of fermented foods rich in bacteria that nourish the intestinal flora.
olive oil It can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw, for salad dressing for example, it retains its vitamin A and E content (which are destroyed at temperatures above 40°C). However, it reacts well to cooking or frying. However, care must be taken not to exceed the smoke point (210 °C), beyond which it deteriorates (average frying temperature 180 °C).
The cardiovascular benefits of olive oil have been studied and are based on its high content of antioxidants and monounsaturated fatty acids (omega-9), which are beneficial for “good cholesterol.” As for the desired ratio of 1 Omega-3 to 3 Omega-6, olive oil is considered neutral from this point of view, because it provides neither.
Therefore, olives and olive oil are very good healthy foods, and they are even more beneficial when you live in a Mediterranean climate. Their use is well suited for healthy and natural cooking.
(Tags for translation) The olive tree
Everything you need to know about olives, the star of the Mediterranean diet