gastronomy / Olea Europa: The European olive tree
The sacred tree of Athena, the ancient Greek Goddess of peace, wisdom and prosperity. The tree of the Mediterranean basin. Ninety eight per cent of the world’s olive trees grow in the countries which border Mediterranean. Widely spread in Greece. It has been connected with worship, culture, history and mythology, arts, sports, cosmetics and nutrition. Olive oil is produced from its fruits. It was named in ancient times as the gold liquid by Homer, the pain killer according to Plato, the baby food by Sophocles. Its golden yellow color makes you wonder if Midas has touched it. The importance of olive trees was so high to the ancient Greeks, that the ruler of Athens, Solon implemented the first law in order to protect them. The penalty for cutting a tree was death. He forbade the export as well. It’s been said that the bow and arrow of Hercules and the bed of Ulysses where made from olive tree wood.

According to the ancient Greek mythology, Zeus the god of Olympus decided to name a new built city of Attica, after the god who would give the city the most useful and priceless gift. The challengers were Poseidon, the God of sea, and Athena, the Goddess of peace, wisdom and prosperity. First Poseidon hit his trident on the rock of acropolis and from the spot a fountain of salt water flowed. Then Athena hit her stick on the rock and an olive tree rich in fruits appeared. The salt water was not considered being useful since the city was surrounded by the sea. On the contrary the olive tree was highly appreciated. Its wood was burned slowly and released a pleasant aroma. In ancient times olive oil was used for medical reasons, especially for the treatment of skin conditions, and also for cosmetic reasons. It was poured in libation to the gods and it was used to anoint the dead before burial. Athena won the challenge and the city was named by her, Athens.

The olive oil’s beneficial properties couldn’t be kept in secret from the other cultures. Its trade started mainly from the Minoans before 2000 B.C. as well as the knowhow about cultivation was transferred. The trade of olive oil was of great importance for the economies of ancient Greeks since the exports included the whole known world at that time. The olive oil was widely used in cosmetics, for pharmaceutical and nutritive properties. Except for its high nutritive value it was known as a beautifier, too.

At the first Olympic Games a branch of olive tree and a wreath made from the special leaves of the sacred olive tree of Olympia was the prize for the winners as the highest symbol of honor. At the Panathenian games, which were organised every 4 years to honor Goddess Athena, the winners were rewarded with an amphora filled with olive oil, the Panathenaic amphora. The athletes were also anointed with oil before they took part in their competitions, in order to keep their skin elastic and also to recover from the wounds after the games.

In modern times the development of sciences and technology gave the opportunity to study and characterise the spectacular properties of olive oil. The energy content is approximately 900 calories / 100 grams of olive oil all of it from fatty acids. 73% of the fatty acids are monounsaturated, with elaic acid being the most abundant. According to the American dietary recommendations the biggest part of the fatty acid consumption should come from monounsaturated fatty acids, in order to keep the cardiovascular system healthy. Even the food and drug administration (FDA) of the US accepted the content of olive oil in the nutrition facts on the packaging. It was recognised for its valuable effect on cardiovascular diseases. It is also considered of being one of the 10 most beneficial super foods on the planet.

Since olive oil is an excellent preservative, it doesn’t need chemical preservatives to sustain its life. It is a 100% pure product pressed only in mechanical methods without the use of any chemicals, and thus it can keep its unaltered characteristics.

The richness of antioxidants and monounsaturated fatty acids makes olive oil the best oil for cooking. It is the most resistant of all vegetable oils to the high temperatures and can be used for frying, oven, but also raw in salads. It is the only oil that starts to degenerate at 220 o C. The frying temperature is 180 o C.
It can also be used as the oily base for aesthetic creams, ointments for burnings and hydration of the skin.
Olive oil. The golden yellow, dense and full of taste and aroma, with the exceptional physical properties, that can’t be missing at any table. The gift of nature to the Mediterranean basin and the whole planet.

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