An Overview of Extra Virgin Olive Oil History
Updated 28th July 2023
Have you ever wondered how far back the use of olive oil stretches? While it has been a staple in many Mediterranean diets for centuries, evidence suggests extra virgin olive oil was used as early as 2,000 years ago in Central Europe.
Even before Ancient Roman times, this monounsaturated fat was being consumed across countries. Today we are diving into what archaeological findings tell us about the original uses of this dietary component and how it found its way to our dinner table all those centuries ago!
- The Ancient Greeks Cultivated Olives – A Brief Look at the Early Usage and Cultivation
- How the Romans Used Olive Oil – Exploring Its Use in Cooking, Medicine and Other Purposes
- The Spread of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Across Europe – France, Spain and Italy’s Contributions
- Modern Uses for Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Health Benefits, Culinary Advantages, and More
The Ancient Greeks Cultivated Olives – A Brief Look at the Early Usage and Cultivation
The Ancient Greeks were among the first civilizations to recognize the tremendous value of olives and their oil. In fact, they considered the cultivation of olive trees to be an essential part of their society. It was used for everything from food and medicine to religious rituals and even lighting lamps.
Perhaps one of the most significant contributions the Greeks made to the world of olive oil was the concept of “extra virgin” – a term still used today to describe oil pressed without heat or chemicals. The Mediterranean Diet, which includes olive oil as a staple ingredient, has been lauded for its numerous health benefits. From ancient times to modern day, the Greeks have undoubtedly left a lasting legacy in the world of olive cultivation and its many uses.
How the Romans Used Olive Oil – Exploring Its Use in Cooking, Medicine and Other Purposes
When it comes to the ancient civilization of the Romans, there is one key commodity that played an essential role in their everyday lives: that being extra virgin olive oil. From cooking to medicine to religious ceremonies, the Romans found countless ways to incorporate this precious oil into their lives. In terms of cuisine, olive oil was used in frying, sautéing, and as a salad dressing. But the Italians weren’t the only ones to recognize the health benefits of this liquid gold, the Romans also utilized olive oil in medicinal practices to help cure ailments and soothe the skin.
Furthermore, they valued this commodity so much that it was also used as a luxury item in trade, making its way into various aspects of their society. It’s not hard to understand why the Romans were so enamored with this oil once you realize how versatile it truly is.
The Spread of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Across Europe – Including France, Spain, Greece and Italy
Archaeologists studying early Celtic remains in France have discovered traces of olive oil on pottery fragments dating from around 500 BCE, providing the earliest known evidence of olive oil use in Central Europe. Previously, the earliest evidence for olive oil use was from the Roman period, several centuries later.
The discovery was made while examining the remains of 99 ceramic vessels from the hill fortress of Mont Lassois in Burgundy, east-central France. Traces of organic substances were found on the vessels, including beeswax, beer, wine, millet, milk and olive oil.
The study was conducted by an international team of researchers, led by archaeologist Philipp Stockhammer from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.
As the sixth century BCE is the first time that Mediterranean pottery was brought to Central Europe in large amounts, I think that it is most probable that we found the earliest evidence.– Philipp Stockhammer, an archaeologist from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
The early Celts inhabited southern Germany, northern Switzerland and part of eastern France during the Early Iron Age. It has long been known that they traded with Mediterranean communities, adopting not only their goods but also some of their traditions, such as wine-feasting. What was not known until now was that olive oil was among the foreign imports.
While the researchers are confident that the oil was imported from the Mediterranean coast of France, they still do not know where it was produced.
According to the study, which was published in the scientific journal Plos One in June 2020, the Celts travelled south along the Rhone River to trade with Greek colonies on the French coast, particularly Marseille, bringing back a range of Mediterranean goods. These imports included Greek and Italian pottery, as well as grape wine and olive oil.
“The imports came via Marseille,” Stockhammer said. “But we have imported vessels from the southern Greek mainland, southern Italy and southern France, all of them possible origins of the olive oil, too.”
Of the 99 vessels examined, 16 were imports, while 83 were made locally by the Celts. According to Maxime Rageot from the University of Tübingen, who conducted the food residue analysis, olive oil was found on both the imports and locally-made vessels, suggesting the Celts actually used the olive oil.
Rageot used gas chromatography and GC-mass spectrometry analyses in his work. While such technology can identify organic substances with some accuracy, the job is often more difficult with older samples. “The issue of degradation, which particularly affects the lipids found in plant oils, means it is difficult to determine how widespread olive oil use was” he said.
“We have only rarely found evidence of olive oil in archaeological contexts based on organic residues, because the specific molecular markers of most plant oils are not very stable over time, and only in good contexts for lipid preservation,” he added.
“So, it is not yet possible to say if olive oil was commonly imported into central Europe during the Early Iron Age or if it was a rare and very prestigious good restricted to the Celtic elites,” he added.
Stockhammer said that the findings do not indicate how the oil was used, but it was likely for “body embalmment; most probably not for cooking.”
The study is an important addition to history of olive oil, showing how and when it spread north from the Mediterranean. Relatively speaking, the Celts were late in adopting the substance.
Modern Uses for Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Health Benefits, Culinary Advantages, and More
Extra virgin olive oil has taken its place as one of the most versatile ingredients in modern cuisine. With its unique flavour and countless benefits for both inner and outer health, it is no wonder that chefs and health experts alike swear by this liquid gold.
While traditionally used as a cooking oil, modern day uses of extra virgin olive oil extend far beyond the kitchen. Its health benefits are vast, ranging from anti-inflammatory properties to heart health promotion. Additionally, it has become a staple in beauty routines, helping to nourish skin and hair. Whether you are looking for a healthy oil for cooking or an ingredient to enhance your beauty routine, extra virgin olive oil has got you covered with its flavourful and wholesome presence.