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A brief history of olive oil


Olive oil has a fascinating history that has spanned the rise and fall of Empires and ancient civilisations. 

From the discovery of the first olive trees and the invention of the olive press to its presence on every supermarket shelf in the world, the production of olive oil has come a long way

Let’s jump in our time machine and go back to where it all started...

The discovery of olive oil 

Research has found that the earliest discovered olive oil remnants date back to 3500BC. But they actually believe the earliest production of olive oil was centuries before that. And historians know that olive trees, which olive oil is cultivated from, date back far longer than that. In fact, they are believed to be one of the oldest trees in the world. 

Historians believe that the olive tree was originally native to parts of the Middle East, and was spread by the Phoenicians to the southern Mediterranean and to parts of Africa. 

Ancient Mediterranean civilisations such as the Greeks and Romans were the first to learn to extract olive juice and to grow the trees themselves, and to use both in many ways. 

Ancient Greek athletes rubbed olive oil on their bodies during competition and even gifted olive branches as awards for competitors - hence the term “extending an olive branch”. 

They even anointed priests with olive oil as it was so revered.  

As the Roman Empire spread, they took the olive tree with them and planted it far and wide. 

Word is that even the ancient Queen Cleopatra used olive oil in her skincare routine. She still is considered a beauty icon, and olive oil played a role in that!

Olive oil through the ages 

By the time word of olive oil spread to Spain and other major regions of the Roman Empire, our favourite pantry staple was given the nickname “liquid gold” and was used in many more ways. 

It was used as lamp fuel, as a lubricant and massage oil, and even in the production of perfume. Roman soldiers consumed olive juice from Spanish olive trees and olives were conserved in brine to consume as fruit. Olive oil was even prescribed as a medicine for various ailments and Romans used it to clean themselves and to protect their skin. 

As olive oil became commonplace in cooking, the different grades of quality we know today were created. As is the case today, the Greeks and Romans figured out that the best quality olive oil comes from the first pressing. They crushed olives underfoot by wearing wooden sandals, and the first mechanical olive press dates back all the way back to the 6th century BC. Olive presses from Ancient Greece still exist today. 

As olive oil became popular in cooking, this formed a key ingredient in the Mediterranean Diet, still considered to be the most healthy today. 

Olive oil today  

Today, olive oil is not only a beloved ingredient in food preparation, but as in ancient times, it’s popularity as a beauty staple only continues to grow. 

Cleopatra herself attested to the power of olive oil, and today olive oil beauty products are endlessly available, including in skin and hair care items.  

In the kitchen, olive oil is a central cooking ingredient that is sold across the world, and here in Spain we continue the tradition of harvesting superior olives to press into the best olive oil in the world. Spain actually produces the most olive oil of any country in the world!

Founded in 1840, La Española is Spain’s oldest and most trusted olive oil brand. Our range of olive oil is exclusively stocked across Australia by Coles. Just look for our Spanish lady on the label!