Saturday, September 23

Olive trees and olive oil in Liguria and the Mediterranean

The olive tree is so tied to Mediterranean civilization that according to a Greek legend, when Zeus had to decide between two rivals Poseidon and Athena which goddess would appoint the city of Athens, he chose Athena because it gave humanity the most benefit. gift: olive tree. The holiness of this tree to the Jewish people is attested by the Bible: a white dove with an olive branch in its beak heralds the end of the Flood. The knotty and twisted olive tree, which can live up to 1,500 years, characterises the landscape of the warm coasts of Mediterranean countries and is a symbol of their culture.

The origin of the olive tree is as old

 as the Mediterranean civilization. Olives were cultivated in the Middle East region in 5000 BC. The Phoenicians were trading in olive oil and contributed to the spread of this “liquid gold” in other Mediterranean regions, particularly Greece. The Greeks probably exported it to the Romans, who transplanted olive trees in Spain and North Africa. Olive oil was an important commodity to the Romans, so much so that they established a kind of stock market, the Arca olearia, where lots of olive oil were exchanged and prices were fixed. In ancient times, olive oil was formerly a food item, but was also used as a medicine and cosmetic: Greek athletes were used to anoint the body with oil. In the XVIII and XIX centuries, olive oil becomes an important raw material for industry and also means energy for lighting. It is a fundamental asset in the economy of the time.

For centuries, olive oil has always occupied

 an important place in the cuisine of Mediterranean countries, often preferred over other vegetable seasonings such as butter and palm and corn oils, which are more commonly used in Northern countries. As is known, modern studies in nutrition have recognized important qualities for the Mediterranean diet and its essential component, olive oil.

Most studies support that olive oil,

 which consists of 98% oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat), has a positive effect in lowering the bad component cholesterol (LDL) and increasing the good component (HDL). The beneficial effect of olive oil in protecting the arteries can be attributed not only to the oleic acid component it contains, but also to the numerous and unknown substances that make up the residual 2% (the non-saponifiable component) that is currently being extensively researched. In addition, several studies conducted in the Mediterranean region indicate a possible positive effect of olive oil in protecting against some of the most common types of cancer (breast, colon, uterus and prostate). Again, the effect may also be due to mostly unknown components of the non-oleic part of olive oil.

Olive oils used for digestive purposes are basically divided into two types according to their acidity:

– extra virgin olive oil (most demanded) has an acidity of not more than 0.8%

– extra virgin olive oil (often simply called “olive oil”) has an acidity of not more than 2%.

Both types must be produced by a mechanical process called “cold pressing”. Besides their unique sweet and spicy flavors, these oils are considered the healthiest condiments available and can be eaten both cooked and raw. In fact, the high smoke point of extra virgin oil (210°C) makes it ideal for frying.

Liguria is one of the few regions 

in northern Italy where the olive tree is traditionally cultivated (others are near lakes such as Garda). Were the Benedectin monks to make a great improvement in olive cultivation in the Middle Ages? They introduced the well-known quality taggiasca (from the village of Taggia, where a monastery was founded) and the terracing technique. The Taggiasca Zaiton oil is mainly distributed in the province of Imperia and generally throughout Western Liguria. It can be considered the queen of Ligurian oil, as it accounts for most of the production, giving the appreciated smooth and soothing oils the characteristic final sour taste. Lavagnina, Razzola, Rossese, Lantesca, Olivastrone are attributes that spread in Eastern Liguria. They produce delicate oils, but have a more pronounced bitter taste.

Ligurian oils are protected by the PDO

 (DOP in Italian) brand Riviera Ligure and are protected by three additional geographical indications: Riviera dei Fiori, Riviera del Ponente Savonese and Rivieradi Levante. Of course, you can also find good Ligurian oils without a PDO indicator, but the presence of the logo is a clear sign of quality and a guarantee that the olives are grown and produced in Liguria. It is important to note, because many oils produced in Liguria are made generically from original olives from Italy: they are not PDO and cannot give the typicality of the aroma. There’s also a very simple way to determine which olive oil is best for you: Pour a spoonful of oil into a glass and taste.