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History of Spanish olive oil

Spain is the largest producer of olive oil, also widely referred to as "liquid gold". The history of olive oil is closely linked to the history of Spain. The cultivation of olive trees began in Greece and was introduced into Spain by the Phoenicians around 1050 BC. The Romans expanded and improved the cultivation of olive trees in Spain, which became the official supplier of olive oil in its empire, with the exportation of more than six trillion litres over a period of 250 years. It continued to cultivate and improve techniques for the production of oil, passing the million tonnes mark in terms of production in the last few years.

Production of olive oil

While olive groves are present in almost all regions of Spain, Andalusia is the most important centre of production of olive oil in Spain, covering more than eighty-five percent of the total production of Spain. The province of Jaén, Andalusia, is considered to be the "world capital of olive oil". Olive trees can be seen for miles throughout the landscape of this region of southern Spain. The majority of Spanish olive oil comes from the Picual variety , due to the fact that it represents approximately 50 per cent of the production of olive oil in Spain . Other popular Spanish varieties are Picuo , Hojiblanca , Arbequina, Lechin, Cornicabra , Verdial and Empeltre. Each variety tends to dominate a particular region of production in Spain.

Spain currently has more than 30 olive oil Designations of Origin in its extra virgin and virgin varieties . This designation ensures the quality of the olive oil, establishing production standards in certain regions, using certain varieties of olives.

Due to the wide variety of climates and micro-climates , along with the wide variety of olives used in the production of Spain, the olive oils offer a wide variety of flavours and aromas. Some Spanish olive oils are sweet and mild while others can be bitter and spicy. Many of the Spanish olive oils have a walnut and olive green fruity flavour.

Olive oil production process

Steps involved in the production of olive oil, following the collection of the olives are:

1. Cleaning the olives: Stems, branches and leaves are removed and the olives may or may not be cleaned with water to remove pesticides, dirt, etc.

2. Grinding the olives: Stone wheels or rollers roll in a circular motion over a slab of granite to grind the olives to a pulp, or an electric engine attached to a cogged mill pulverises the olives.

3. Mixing to increase the production of olive oil: Mixing or blending the pulp obtained between 20 - 40 minutes allows small droplets of oil to be obtained that will be later combined with larger ones that may be eliminated in the next step. The pulp is often heated to 28 °C during this process.

4. Separation of the oil and the water from the fruit (orujo): using a press.

5. Separation of the oil from the water: the liquid is turned in a centrifuge.

6. Processing of the oil, additional extraction: refine and deodorize, to reduce acidity and improve the flavour.

7. Bottling and storage considerations: Olive oil can be stored in plastic stainless steel, stainless steel containers. The oil deteriorates through the lipase and the oxygen actions. Oxidation or rancidity is accelerated when exposed to light and heat.

8. Tasting and classification of oil: Olive oil is classified according to its acidity and flavour, following tests carried out by experts.

Benefits of olive oil

Olive oil is one of the fundamental components of the Mediterranean diet, based on fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and nuts. Olive oil is hight in mono unsaturated fats that help to reduce "bad" cholesterol (LDL) while increasing the levels of HDL-cholesterol.

We know that mono unsaturated fats including in this diet greatly reduce the risk of heart disease.