Olive Oil

Nutrition Factoids:

Olive oil is a complex compound made up of fatty acids, vitamins, microscopic bits of olive and other water soluble components. Its primary fatty acids are oleic and linoleic acid. Oleic acid is monounsaturated and makes up approximately 55-85% of olive oil. Linoleic is polyunsaturated and makes up about 9% of olive oil. It also contains a small amount of saturated fat. Olive oil’s polyunsaturated fatty acids lower both LDL and HDL levels in the blood and may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors. Its monounsaturated fatty acids on the other hand control LDL levels while raising HDL levels which also help normalize blood clotting while benefiting insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes. No other naturally produced oil has as large an amount of monounsaturated fat as olive oil. And furthermore, the modest amount of well-balanced polyunsaturated fatty acids in olive oil is well protected by its own natural antioxidant substances.

The color of olive oil is dependent on the pigments in the fruit – green olives give a green oil because of the high chlorophyll content. Ripe olives give oil a yellow hue because of the carotenoid (yellow red) pigments. There are as much as 5 mg of antioxidant polyphenols in every 10 grams of olive oil. The dark green variety of olive oil contains the most antioxidants. Olive oil is the second best natural source of Vitamin K available. The greener the vegetable or oil the higher the content because Vitamin K is associated with chlorophyll.


Heat, light and air can affect the taste of olive oil and possibly its health-promoting nutrients. Store olive oil in a dark, room-temperature cupboard, or even in the refrigerator. The fats and healthy phytonutrients in olive oil — as well as the taste — can slowly degrade over time, so it’s probably best to use it within a year or within six months once opened.


The edible olive goes back 5000 – 6000 years (Bronze Age, 3150 – 1200 BCE). Its origins can be traced to what is now southern Turkey,

1500 year old olive tree

Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel based on written tablets, olive pits and wooden fragments found in ancient tombs. The spread of the olive tree probably coincided with trade of wine, date palms and figs which was mainly to the west. Olive trees moved into Italy, France, Spain and Portugal around 1000 BCE. Olive oil in these times had many uses, with little documentation of human consumption, but mainly for lamp fuel. Fragrant olive oils were used to make offerings to the gods, as medical ointments, and for treating the skin.

The greatest expansion of olive oil production came after the 1700’s, when large plantings of olives, largely relegated to the worst land, were made to supply the growing populations of cities. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the development of low-cost extraction techniques for seed oils and the use of other sources for light (gas and electricity) resulted in a drop in the demand for olive oil. Only 40 years ago, there was a glut of olive oil on the market until worldwide demand, especially in the US, started to climb.

The world has approximately 23 million acres of olive trees producing 1.5 million tons of table olives and 16 million tons of olives that are processed into 2.6 million tons of oil. Spain has a quarter of the world’s acreage, with 6 million acres of olive trees under cultivation and 36% of the olive oil production, which is about 800,000 tons of oil per year. Italy is ranked second with 3.5 million acres and 24% of the production (520,000 tons of oil/year), and Greece is third, with 17% (400,000 tons/year) and fourth in acreage with 2.5 million acres. Together the big three produce 77% of the world’s olive oil. Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, Syria and Portugal have major olive oil acreage, but low production and underdeveloped processing technology keep them out of the major world market

Among the first European settlers in California were the Spanish missionary priests who brought selected cuttings of their “Mission” olive variety. Around 1870, small orchards were planted for oil along the California coast from San Diego to Sonoma, and in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The first commercial olive oil in California came from Camulos Oil Mill in Ventura in 1871. Olive oil production increased but could not compete well against oils from Europe. The “California Style” black olive was invented in the northern Sacramento Valley in the early 1900’s, which ultimately grew to more than 35,000 acres.

During the past 15 years, there has been a resurgence of interest in olive oil. Olive oil sales in the US have increased by 100% and currently account for 8% of all fats and oils consumed. The US ranks as fourth in world consumption of olive oil with 0.7 liters per person/year, compared with 26 liters consumed by the Greeks, 15 liters in Spain, and 13.5 liters in Italy.

Processing of olives into oil varies from orchard and region. Some have mechanical harvesting, where trees are shaken and the olives are collected off of the ground and others have a more traditional method of harvesting by hand, picking olives at the perfect point of ripeness. The oil is then extracted by either pressing, centrifugal decanters, selective filtration, or through a combination of methods. Pressing is one of the oldest methods of extraction. After processing, most premium quality olive oils are stored in stainless steel and maintained at a constant temperature of 45 – 65 degrees.

Sun, stone, drought, silence and solitude: these are the five ingredients that, according to Italian folk traditions, create the ideal habitat for the olive tree.

Rosselli Del Turco Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP

We treasure extra-virgin olive oil for its nutritional and salutary virtues. La Cucina Italiana reports that extra-virgin olive oil is the most digestible of the edible fats: it helps to assimilate vitamins A, D and K; it contains so-called essential acids that cannot be produced by our own bodies; it slows down the aging process; and it helps bile, liver and intestinal functions. It is also valued for its culinary virtues and organoleptic properties as well: flavor (sapore), bouquet (aroma), and color (colore). (Organoleptic = relating to qualities of taste, color, smell and feel of a food that stimulates the sense organs.)

Climate, soil, variety of tree (cultivar) and time of harvest account for the different organoleptic properties of different oils. Certain extra-virgin olive oils are blends of varieties of olives; others are made from one cultivar.

The European Community gives the following parameters:

Extra-virgin olive oil with perfect taste is oil of the highest quality; it has a minimum organoleptic

  • rating of 6.5 out of 10, low acidity (1% or less), and is untreated.

  • Olive oil has a minimum organoleptic rating of 5.5, a maximum of 2% acidity and is untreated.

  • The production of all other olive oils involves treatments.

Extra-virgin olive oil is produced in all regions of Italy, except Piedmont and Val D’Aosta. The leading producers are Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, and Apulia. Tuscany produces such a great assortment of extra virgin oils that many do not resemble each other. In Umbria, it is so widely produced that it would be hard to imagine the landscape without the abundance of olive trees. Apulia is home to an impressive one-third of Italy’s olive trees.

The price of extra-virgin olive oil varies greatly. Two factors are influential: where the olives are grown and which harvesting methods are implemented. Certain locations yield more bountiful harvests; consequently their oil is sold for less. Olive trees planted near the sea can produce up to 20 times more fruit than those planted inland, in hilly areas like Tuscany. It is in these land-locked areas that the olive trees’ habitat is pushed to the extreme; if the conditions were just a little more severe, the trees would not survive. Extra-virgin oils produced from these trees have higher organoleptic scores.


Vossen, Paul. Olive Oil: History, Production, and Characteristics of the World’s Classic Oils. HortScience (2007):42(5);1093-1100.

Willet WC. The Mediterranean diet: science and practice. Public Health Nutr. 2006 Feb;9(1A):105-10.

The Natural Health Perspective