Last updated on June 2nd, 2023
The holy grail of Italian products, also known as liquid gold, olive oil is by far Italy’s most famous and beloved ingredient (besides pasta, maybe, but it’s a tough battle!).
There is so much to know about olive oil than I bet you ever thought possible. I certainly didn’t know any of this before I lived here. I’ve now been harvesting olives on our property in Tuscany for 10 years, and and I still feel like I learn something new every year.
Read on and get the low-down on the most interesting and useful information about olive oil. After brushing up on these quick facts, you will never be fooled again or pick the wrong oil. Learn not only the fun facts but also all the technicalities about names, bottling, color and taste, and nutritional properties!
- Olive trees can live to be 2,000 years old! Generally, the average life cycle of a tree is between 300-600 depending on the variety, conditions, and treatment.
- Spain is the biggest olive oil producer in the world, supplying around 50% of the world’s olive oil.
- Around 95% of the world’s olive oil is produced in the Mediterranean.
- Olive oil is actually a juice because olives are part of the fruit family. The oil is squeezed out just as juice is from other fruits.
- The olive harvest takes place once a year when the olives are just ripe. Typically this means from October through November (and even into early December), depending on the area.
- Overly ripe olives produce more oil but of lesser quality.
- Olives must be handpicked. Many farmers use a small mechanical shaker machine that shakes the branches vigorously, making the olives fall. It is anyhow a very lengthy process.
- On average, each olive tree makes about 4 liters of oil annually. This is a very general estimate as it depends on the year, how the olives were harvested, how mature they were, the conditions of the climate and the variety of the olive itself.
- Extra virgin olive oil is considered the best quality olive oil made by cold-pressing the olives (meaning the olives are never heated above 27 C during the pressing).
- Cold-pressed olive oil contains more nutrients and has more health benefits than other techniques.
- Ideally, olives should be pressed within 24 hours of harvest to produce the best quality oil.
- Olive oil is used in many cosmetic products as it is said to improve hair, skin, and nail texture. It is full of polyphenols, an antioxidant proven to protect cells from deterioration and damage.
- Olive oil has been linked to low cholesterol and low blood pressure levels if consumed on a daily basis.
- The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean.
- Archeological evidence indicates that olive oil was made as early as 4000 BC.
- Throughout history, olive oil has been used as a remedy for many ailments, lamp fuel, soap, and cosmetics.
- Italy is the second largest producer of olive oil, followed by Greece.
- In the USA, olive oil is produced in California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Oregon and Hawaii.
- Olive oil can be produced from many varieties of olives. Some of the most popular are: Mission, Manzanillo, Sevillano, Arbequina, Koroneiki, Arbosana, Ascolano, Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino, Maurino, and Coratina.
- “Extra virgin” means that the oil was cold-pressed naturally without additional processing.
- The olive tree first showed up in Italy around 1000 BC.
- Records show that the first eye shadow used as makeup was made in Ancient Greece by mixing olive oil with ground charcoal. Today, the smokey eye lives on!
- Olive oil lasts longer when it is kept in a dark green glass or aluminum container where it is shielded from the light.
- Italy exports more olive oil to the USA than any other country.
- On average, olives are about 30% oil, but this depends on many things, including cultivation, care and climate.
- Olive oil is labeled “virgin olive oil” when the fatty acid content is above .8% to 2% during the first pressing.
- Olive oil labeled “extra virgin olive oil” comes from the first pressing and has no more than .8% of fatty acids.
- Olive oil has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.
- Olive oil is high in vitamin E and, thus, helps to preserve freshness in baked goods.
- Almost 70% of Italy’s olive oil is produced in Calabria and Puglia.
- Tuscany and Umbria only produce about 5% of Italy’s olive oil.
- Olive oil does not age well like wine. Its flavor is best within its first year of life and ideally within the first 6 months.
- Freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil should be consumed raw instead of in cooking because the heat changes the nutritional value and flavor of the oil.
- Olive oil that is 2+ months is best for cooking.
- Olive oil can be brought back from Europe to the USA.
- The US is the third largest consumer of olive oil in the world after Spain and Italy.
- Olives have been considered throughout history very precious foods. In Ancient Egypt, pharaohs were buried with olives to carry them through their journey to the afterlife. Olive wreaths were given to Olympic winners in Ancient Greece and in Ancient Rome, olive wreaths were symbols of general triumphs.
- Olive oil is commonly referred to as “liquid gold”, first made popular by the Ancient Greek poet Homer.
- Olive oil was once used as currency.
- Olive trees produce the most olives between their 35th-150th year of life.
- Olive trees have 46 chromosomes just as us humans do!
- Olive oil has many all-purpose uses such as for cleaning cast iron pans, shining shoes, to grease squeaky things and clean leather and jewelry.
- Olive oil has been shown to reduce inflammation. It is high in oleocanthal with natural anti-inflammatory properties.
- Olive trees are alternate-bearing, meaning they produce a very prolific crop one year and about half the amount the next year.
- Tuscan extra virgin olive oil has the highest concentration of polyphenols compared to others such as Spanish, French and Greek olive oils. Polyphenols are a chemical compound found in olive oil which in part makes it so beneficial to your health.
- Many olive varieties must be planted with a pollinator tree to produce fruit.
- The more flavorful the olive oil is, the more antioxidants it has.
- Olive oil changes in color as time passes. Freshly pressed oil is bright green and cloudy but within a month it is already a golden yellow color.
- Every single olive oil tastes different. Some are spicy, and others are sweeter. Some are floral, and others are grassy. The taste and body of the oil is affected by the olive variety, conditions, how the tree was kept, how much time passed between harvest and pressing, how it was pressed, how it was harvested, the climate and how ripe the olive was upon harvest.
- Every single batch of oil tastes different, even if it is from the same field because there might be more dirt, leaves or levels of oxidations among the batches, all of which affect the final outcome.
Learn More: Want to the know specifics about the most popular olives grown in Italy? Read Italian Olives – 14 Types & What to Do With Them.
You may also like Can You Eat Olives Straight From the Tree?
Olive Oil Facts Sources
Facts 1 – 13: Marbella in Style
Facts 14 – 20: IFT
Facts 21 – 24: Villa Campestri
Facts 25 – 28: Britannica
Fact 29: D’Olivo Tasting Bar
Facts 30 – 35: CIU Travel
Facts 36 – 42: Italica Olive Oil
Facts 43 – 47: Wine Country Table
Facts 48 – 50: based on my experience with our olive groves in Tuscany