Olive The Facts: Five things you should know about the Arab worlds favorite little fruit

It’s on your pizza and salads. It’s in your martini. It may even be in your shampoo.

By Ayesha Ifteqar

Food 10 February 2019

Olives are a staple Mediterranean fruit and feature heavily in Arab dishes. Spanning across 26 varieties, this popular fruit can be green, purple or black depending on its degree of ripeness. Let’s take a look at the fruit that has divided the world’s opinion a tad more than pineapple on pizza.

Olive Seeds

Olives are ancient – and when we say ancient, we mean 8,000 years old. Evidence of olives being used dates back to 3000 BC, as seen in cave drawings and later, written tablets.

Said to have been cultivated before written language came into existence, olives originated in the Asia Minor region, also known as Anatolia. Iran, Syria and Palestine were among the first countries to make use of the olive, from where it spread to other Mediterranean lands.

Olives were also grown in the Greek island of Crete, from where they spread to Rome. The Roman Empire took the olive to other countries with its expansion. Olives were also found in Egyptian tombs as early as 2000 BC. While Americans have Christian missionaries to thank for bringing the olive to California in the 1700s.

The location of these olive plantations makes sense. Olives easily grow in dry weather with minimal precipitation, characteristic of Mediterranean climate. That’s right – we’re not the only one who love the sun and sea.

Olive Blessings

The olive tree is considered blessed across all monotheistic religions. The followers of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) were advised to use olive oil on their hair and skin. When Christians are baptized, they are anointed with olive oil. During the Christmas Mass ceremony, olive oil blessed by the bishop is used.

Olive oil gets the gold when it comes to the Olympics – ancient Greek athletes were also anointed with it.

Olive Stories

Van Gogh, The Olive Trees Saint Remy, 1889

The olive branch is widely recognized as a symbol of peace. It also stands for longevity, maturity and prosperity, and because of its slow growing nature, the olive tree is only grown during times of peace.

In Greek mythology, Poseidon, God of the sea, and Athena, Goddess of peace and wisdom, were competing over whose name should be used for the new city in the land of Attica by offering gifts of power.

Athena offered an olive tree and won since the olive tree not only lives for hundreds of years, but also produces fruits and oil. So the new city was named Athens in honor of her. Today, there is an olive tree that stands where the legend took place which is said to also be the tree from which all olive trees in Athens descended from.

Impressionist artists such as Van Gogh and Renoir featured Mediterranean landscapes and olives in their works. In fact, Van Gogh loved Olive trees so much that he painted 19 pictures of them.

Also, legendary writers such as Shakespeare, Milton and Lord Byron have referenced olive fruits in their writings. In his sonnet 107, Shakespeare writes “And peace proclaims olives of endless age,”reiterating the olive as a symbol of peace.

Olive Goodness

Tired all the time? You’re most likely low on iron. Not to worry – the delicious green olive contains a whopping 49mg of iron per 100g (approx value).

Some old wives tales refer to olive oil as an anti inflammatory antidote, and a painkiller. Massage some onto your joints for joint pain relief, into your scalp for commercial worthy hair, a couple of drops on your eyelashes to keep them long and thick and Splash onto your salads and do your hearts the much needed favour of keeping them healthy. Commercially, olive oil is also a major ingredient in most shampoo and skincare brands! Who knew?

Olive Virgin Seal

The International Olive Council of Madrid has set a test that all brands of olive oil have to pass to gain the prestigious title of being “extra virgin”. Manufacturing processes span across multiple countries, and more often than not, the oil is corrupted by the time it is bottled and sealed.

So how do you identify extra virgin olive oil?

Taste it. It should have the lovely fruity, peppery taste of… you guess it right, olives.

But if your local grocery story won’t let you do this (a highly likely scenario), look for the words ‘extra virgin,’ ‘pressed on’ and ‘harvest date’ on the label, and you’re good to go. Additionally, make sure you’re buying it in glass bottles, because the good stuff degrades in plastic ones.

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