Olive Oil, Olives
Greeks were the first to cultivate the olive tree for its precious products, the olives and the olive oil. A symbol of social and religious values, progress, peace, affluence, wisdom and fame.
The goddess of wisdom, Athena, dedicated the olive tree to the city bearing her name, as a proof of her bond with the city.
An olive branch was the golden medal awarded at the Ancient Olympic Games, since it was shaped in the form of a wreath and bestowed to the winners. Legend has it that the wreaths came from a tree planted by Hercules himself.
Olive oil was called "liquid gold" by Homer, and the "Great healer" by Hippocrates.
Today, in the shadow of great traditions and legends, Greece still relies on the olive tree. There are 120,000,000 olive trees in Greece or, to put things in perspective, 12 olive trees for every Greek citizen. Greece is the world's third largest producer of edible olives and olive oil.
The olive tree serves both as a universal symbol of peace as well as a symbol of Greece. More importantly, it fed, bred and gave shed to countless generations of Greeks and earned its place as an integral part of Greek culture.
Olive oil in Greece dates back 4000 years, but also has a significant present and promising future. It is globally acknowledged for its purity and exceptional taste and it is globally proposed as one of the feature quality Greek products. It is the basis of all Greek traditional recipes, thus proving its unique position within the Greek diet.
Even today Greek olives are treated with the same care and tenderness as 2500 years ago. As in the past, olive keeping is still predominantly a family business. And because it's a family business, each tree receives the same kind of personalized care and love that comes when people form an intimate bond with their object of work.
Production is scattered all over the country, even though the Peloponnese and Crete account for over 65% of total production. The average annual olive oil production is 350,000 tons.
Intensive cultivation, in combination with the climate and well-adjusted-to-the-Greek-soil varieties, contribute to the production of worldwide top quality olive oil.
80% of the Greek olive oil is extra virgin, which is the top-ranked classification category in the world. This constitutes Greece as the world's largest producer of extra virgin olive oil. Greek extra virgin olive oil's superior quality is appreciated by the international trade, which is the reason why 150-200 thousand tons of our best olive oil are exported to Italy and Spain and sold at a premium price, in comparison to olive oils of other origins.
Organic olive oils and olive oils of controlled origin are becoming a trend in the internal market, demonstrating a growth of more than 30% annually.
Research shows that olive oil is the healthiest choice among other vegetable oils and thus it's an integral part of a balanced diet. Olive oil contributes to the reduction of LDL cholesterol without affecting quantities of the HDL cholesterol. It protects from various diseases, and it reduces blood pressure. It reduces the chance of breast cancer by 45%, while it's believed it may play role in reducing intestinal cancer as well. It protects against cell aging and strengthens memory. Also, it contributes to the health of the central nervous system and brain cells.
Nowadays, Greece produces about 120.000 tons of table olives per year. The table olive oil is one of the country's most important agricultural exports.
The harvest begins in October for table olives and continues for about two months, depending on the type of olive and the place it is cultivated. Green olives-essentially less ripe than their darker counterparts-are harvested first; next come all the plump black olives that are among the country's best-known snacks: tight-skinned Kalamata olives with their pointy, nipple-like tip; juicy Amfissas in an array of browns, blacks and purples. Last to be plucked from the tree is the wrinkled black variety, which matures on the branch, can be harvested as late as March, and is cured in coarse salt not brine.
In salads, olives are a delicious match with all sorts of vegetables, such as fresh ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and more. They are wonderful with vegetables preserved in brine or olive oil, such as roasted red peppers, pickled cauliflower, etc. Greeks use olives in some sauces, namely tomato-based sauces that are served over pasta.
There are several breads and pies which call for olives. In some parts of the country, stews often include olives. One such dish comes from the Ionian island of Zakynthos, where potatoes are stewed with onions, tomatoes and black olives. On the mainland, olives are roasted and served as a meze, and in Crete, one of the most delicious preparations is for something called oftes elies-roasted olives. This process intensifies the flavor and aroma of the olive and makes for one of the best appetizers in all of Greek cooking.
In the last few years, the olive has caught the imagination of contemporary chefs, so that in today's Greek kitchen olives are everywhere: in the skillet and in the pan, in breads, pies, braised dishes, sauces, stuffings, dips and more.
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