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The olive tree is one of the oldest cultivated trees because of the nutritious olive and oil extracted from it. Even the word oil is derived from the Latin word olivas that originates from the Greek eliés (ελιές), olives.
Olives and olive oil are rich in monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid, offering protection against heart disease by controlling LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels while raising HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol) levels.
They provide a lot of vitamins and compounds, including polyphenols and flavonoids, which also have significant anti-inflammatory properties. Their high content of polyphenols and antioxidants such as vitamin E, carotenoids, and oleuropein, can provide additional anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive effects and can guard against carcinogenesis.
The harvest of olives starts in the late autumn (October, November) and the best olive oil is picked by hand. Olives that fall from the tree are too ripe for oil. On Thassos, for example, the throubes grow, an olive that shrinks when it is matured and falls from the tree. A delicacy as a table olive, but not suitable for olive oil.
After the harvest, the olives are washed and grounded into a kind of paste. Olive oil is made in 2 ways, by pressing or centrifuging the paste.
During pressing, the paste is kneaded and pressed, whereby in the first pressing approx. 10 to 20% oil is released. For a liter of olive oil from the first pressing, 5 to 10 kilos of olives are needed.
When centrifuging, the oil is separated from the paste by means of a centrifuge and is not referred to as 1st or 2nd pressing. The advantage of centrifuging is that the kernel remains intact (a crushed pit can cause a sour taste).
The purity of the olive oil is measured by the amount of free acid. If the oil does not contain more than 2% free acid, the oil may be called ‘virgin’ or ‘vierge’ olive oil. If this content is 0.8% or lower, then the olive oil may be called ‘extra virgin’ or ‘extra vierge’. Furthermore, in the formal Dutch quality indication ‘first cold pressing’ occurs. ‘Cold’ means in this case that the temperature during the manufacturing process may not exceed 28°C. In the past, the paste was mixed with hot water after the first pressing in order to be able to extract residual oil. ‘First pressing’ now has no meaning any more, because the powerful presses or centrifuges remove all the oil from the ground olives paste.
The olive tree (Olea europaea) has about 20 species and numerous subspecies. In Greece, the many species are usually named after the region of origin. The best-known types of olive oils from Greece come from the following types:
This species produces small olives and mainly occurs on Crete, the southwest of the Peloponnese and Zakynthos. Koroneiki’s olive oil is among the finest extra virgin olive oil in the world with large amounts of phenolic compounds and intensive fruit and herbal taste.
The olives are harvested when they are still green in order to ensure the title of ‘early picked’ or ‘green’ olive oils.What makes the Koroneiki special when referring to the seed and the olive oil is the unique method of farming. What it lacks in quantity makes it up for in quality. These olives yield approximately 6 to 7 liters of the best olive oil which is golden-green in color and is highly acclaimed for its fruity and fresh flavor.
This is the most popular variety in Lesvos island in the northern Aegean sea. It has a medium size and matures relatively from early November to January. This high productivity variety has large amounts of phenolic compounds and intensive fruit taste.
Athinola matures slowly and its collection starts September and last until the end of December, or even the beginning of January at a mountain grove in Sparta and some areas in Crete. Its fruit has medium size with an oval shape, with a weight of 2.2 to 2.9 grams. Olive oil from Athinolia is of excellent quality, with heavy aromatic characteristics with a rather low viscosity. Athninolia is the first massive collection of olives, opening each harvesting period.
When Athinolia and Koroneiki olives are mixed they produce a full-bodied extra virgin olive oil or a balanced and intricate fruity flavor.
This variety matures slowly and the best time for harvesting is from end of October till beginning of January. The fruit has average dimensions with an oval shape. The taste of olive oil that comes from this fruits is softer and its aroma reminds ripe fruits like apple, tomatoes and sometimes almonds. Extremely tasteful, it is the best choice for salads.
Greek people consume more olives and olive oil than any other population and their traditional diet is probably the reason why they were found to have the lowest percentage of cardiovascular disease and one of the longest life expectancies in the world!
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