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‘‘... the fruit of the olive tree is a great boon for everything needed in life...’’ SOLON Athenian lawgiver, 640 – 560 B.C. Since antiquity the olive tree has a permanent presence in the landscape of Greece, in the daily life and habits of its people. The culture of the olive tree and its products deeply influenced the civilization of ancient and modern Greeks, and has played an important role not only in the Greek economy, but in all the aspects of Greek civilization, historical, folkloric, traditional, medicinal and artistic. During older times had been by mistake claimed that its cultivation was transferred in Greece from Palestine. New elements from an analysis of pollen gives evidence for the olive trees presence on the Hellenic space since the Neolithic era. Systematic cultivation of olive trees has been certified during the Minoan period in different places in Greece. Furthermore, the small plates of Linear A and B from the palaces of Knossos, Pylos and Mycenae testify its economic importance during 14th & 13th centuries B.C. Ancient vessels from Crete with olives and olive-kernels, the depiction from 16th century B.C. of an olive grove at the Cretan Knossos Palace, the traces of oleaster and the fossilized leaves found on the island of Aegean, Santorini - dating back some 50,000 / 60,000 years, the golden glasses with the anaglyph olive-trees from the 16th B.C. Mycenean tomb of Vafi in Sparta-Laconia, the planted by the mythical hero Hercules olive tree in the holy location of Olympia, the mythological tradition of Athena’s and Poseidon’s conflict for the name of Athens city and the offer of olive tree / symbol of reconciliation and peace, against the horse / symbol of war, and the salty water/symbol of sea, the golden holy olive tree of Apollo in Delos, the crowned by olive-branch statue of Zeus in Olympia - a Feidias’ sculpture, the Panathenaic amphorae with the cultivation of olive trees, leave no doubt as to the role of the olive in ancient Greece, and that the present day perceptions of the olive are profoundly shaped by the ancient past.
Although the olive tree has been cultivated by many other Mediterranean civilizations which have also used its products in various ways, no other culture has regarded it as the Greeks, and nowhere else olive tree left its profoundest traces on the artistic, economic and social history of Greece. From the Greek olive trees came the olive oil awarded to the first and second winners of Panathenean Games in honor of goddess Athena, the plain olive branch for the Olympic winners, the provided oil for the worship of the gods and the needs of daily life, the ‘olive-oil of gladness’, the ‘holy myrrh’, and the ‘chrism’ of the Christian Orthodox Church, the olive-oil of the oil-lamps for heating and lighting, the olive oil of the important natural medicines for treatment or for cosmetics. Greeks are well aware that olive oil is a precious ingredient for their nutrition that has beneficial and miraculous qualities upon their health. The well known Greek Cretan diet, rich in olive oil, bread, fresh vegetables and fruits, and low in saturated fats, maintains a healthy heart, keeps the adherents trim in a good form, reduces arterial blood pressure, is anti-aging, increases longevity, and tastes great ! The role of olive oil and its products changes over history and place to place but it is always connected to the Mediterranean basin with a great importance in myth, history, tradition, art and life. The olive trees and its products from a cause of Peloponnesean wars become the bearer of knowledge, technology, everyday life and cultural life as well, a common theme in Greek Coinage from the first Athenian drachma up to the present Greek one-euro coin, poems and painter’s oils, so that finally it becomes a symbol of peace, virtue and reconciliation, a personified symbol of continuity, of our ancestors, of time and all its experience, which is translated in the nature as heavy vegetation, and, in conclusion, as fertility, life, love. In conclusion, the olive oil was and is still vital for Greek culture in all its aspects – history, mythology, diet, health and cultural developments, and I would like to wish to the Chinese people to share, to delight in the historic significance, the practical use and the symbolism of the olive tree as well, as much as Greeks do. Because, as Nobel laureate Greek poet Elytis says, “if there were no olive groves, I would dream up one”.
Christos G. Failadis Press & Communication Counsellor Embassy of Greece in Beijing
In the beginning is the olive tree
Έζησα τ’ όνομα το αγαπημένο Στον ίσκιο της γιαγιάς ελιάς Στον ρόχθο της ισόβιας θάλασσας Οδυσσέας Ελύτης, Ήλιος ο Πρώτος From divine Myth to human Reality Precious and unique, sacred and secret, powerful and shining, old and eternal, the olive tree, rooted in the Mediterranean soil and in the life of humankind, passes through the history of human societies loaded not only with the valuable weight of its fruits, but also with the charming lure of a symbol, and encompasses the major practical and intellectual aspects of Greek civilization, through its long journey. I lived the beloved name In the shade of the aged olive tree In the roaring of the lifelong sea Odysseus Elytis, Sun the First
French historian Fernand Braudel writes that “the Mediterranean begins where the first olive trees bloom, and finishes where the first palm tree forests line the African continent”. Indeed, the olive tree and its products can be considered as a genuine part of Mediterranean cultural heritage, as mythology, religion, cultural identity and the diet of the region are interwoven with the cultivation of the olive tree for more than 6,000 years. Artifacts and archaeological remains of the most ancient Mediterranean civilizations provide evidence that olive tree cultivation and olive oil production are among the most important activities in the agricultural Economy of Mediterranean countries and in their trade relations with neighboring people, being an integral part of life in the eastern Mediterranean Basin. In Greece, recent archaeological research on the Aegean island of Santorini, in the Cyclades complex, brought to light fossilized olive leaves, which are 50,000 – 60,000 years old, while similar findings in the south Aegean island of Nisyros, in the complex of Dodecanese, offers new evidence for the geographical expansion of the olive tree in the wider Aegean region, 50,000 years ago, and for its strong connection with the life and the civilization of the islands.
Next to the apparent practical importance of the olive tree cultivation for the Economy and trade of ancient Greek societies, the olive tree becomes the dominant element of ancient mythical and religious traditions, which attribute the appearance and cultivation of the tree – dating back already to the prehistoric period – to the benevolent attitude of gods and demigods.
More than any other deity, Athena is strongly connected to the olive tree, as, according to an ancient tradition, she offered the olive tree as gift to the city of Athens, during her contest with god Poseidon, over the patronage of Athens. The myth was that Poseidon came first, and, striking with his trident, created the salt well on the Acropolis, and then came Athena and planted an olive tree. The land was adjudged to Athena. According to historian Herodotus, olive trees were found in Attica only, while the philosopher Plato states: “Our country, Athens, is deserving of praise not only from us but from all men, on many grounds, but first and foremost, because she is god-beloved. The strife of the gods, who contended over her, Athena and Poseidon, and their judgement, testify to the truth of our statement”. Tradition says that this olive tree can still be seen outside the Erechtheus shrine, on the Acropolis hill, while the image of the goddess in the shrine was made of olive wood. Pausanias, the Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century A.D. reports that "legend also says that, when the Persians fired Athens, the olive was burnt down, but on the very same day it was burnt, it grew again to the height of two cubits". This miracle was interpreted as a sign of the indomitable power and will of the city of Athens, as this power was expressed through the holy symbol of the city, the gift of goddess Athena, the olive tree.
Thucydides, the Athenian historian, is thinking primarily of the olive tree as a sign of intensive organized cultivation. The olive orchards of Athens are the glory of the citystate and the cornerstone of its Economy. The importance of olive trees’ cultivation was so big for the Athenians that - according to Solon’s legislative proceedings – uprooting an olive tree led to the death sentence, and it was not permitted to the Athenians to plant any other kind of tree near an olive tree.
The moment of Athena’s triumph in the scene of the legendary fight finds its ideal depiction on the west pediment of the Parthenon, the one that visitors and worshippers faced, as they approached the monument. Parthenon, the pre-eminent monument, which inspires the idea of equality in the coexistence of gods, heroes and human beings in the same temple, is decorated with a unique comprehensive sculpture synthesis, which incorporates the grandeur of the city, and gives life to artistic expression. The architectural sculptures of Parthenon were made of Pentelic marble, and embellished with painting and metal attachments. The pediments, the triangular areas at the roof of the two temple fronts, carried sculptural compositions illustrating themes of the Athenian mythology. The west pediment is in a poor state of survival, but drawings made by French painter Jacques Carrey in 1674 show many of the figures now lost, including Athena and Poseidon who dominated the centre of the synthesis. Athena and Poseidon were shown on a colossal scale at the centre of the triangular composition, while other figures were ranged on either side. These included two chariot groups, one for each of the protagonists.
Both Athena and Poseidon were accompanied by divine messengers, Athena by Hermes, Poseidon by Iris. She is shown as if just alighting on the Acropolis. Her drapery is pressed flat against her body and flutters out at the edges. The torso of Iris is now exhibited in the British Museum, in London, while the head can be seen in Louvre Museum, in Paris.
In the New Acropolis Museum, in Athens, the visitor can admire in the Parthenon Gallery fragments of the wide narration, and should notice the perfect creation, since even the back side of the figures, which could not be seen, as the figures were attached to the marble of the pediment, was perfectly shaped, as if the gods and heroes could come to life. According to another myth, related to the area of ancient Olympia, the cradle of the Olympic Games, it was the demigod Heracles, son of Zeus, who went to the land of Hyperboreans, beyond the Boreas, i.e. the North wind, and convinced them to offer him the wild olive tree, which he planted in Olympia, so as to shadow the Zeus shrine and to make the crown (“kotinos”) for the winners of the Games. In the Third Olympian Ode, composed by the poet Pindar, in honour of Olympic Games victories in the year 476 B.C., the poem is related to the myth of the Olympic Games founding by Heracles, and narrates the story of the demigod, who realized that the place for the Games, on the banks of Alpheios river, had no trees at all, and was thus exposed to the piercing rays of the sun, and planted the olive trees near the race course at Olympia. Besides, Heracles’ connection to the wild olive tree can be traced in the choice of olive tree’s wood for the construction of his cudgel, the legendary weapon, which became the symbol of the hero. Apart from the Acropolis of Athens and the Altis of Olympia, another sacred olive tree can be seen on the Aegean island of Delos, the birthplace of god Apollo and of goddess Artemis, and one of the most important archaeological sites of Greece. Standing on the grave of two female Hyperborean maidens, whose cult was especially connected with Apollo, god of light, the olive tree was considered sacred because of its presence when Apollo was born. According to the related myth, Apollo’s mother, Leto, when giving birth to her son, lent on the trunk of the olive tree, and, in the moment of Apollo’s birth, the tree leaves became golden. Apart from these olive trees, which were the centre of major worship, the sacred character of the olive tree was a common place for Ancient Greeks. Suppliants were holding olive branches, patients crowned with olive leaves were asking for the assistance of Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek religion, sacrifices to gods were accompanied by the offer of olive tree branches, which were placed on the altars. Moreover, primitive statues of gods were made of olive tree wood, as it was believed that this wood was source of energy, nature revival and fertility.
Olive trees can also be seen on the tombs of heroes, and archaeological findings give us evidence that olive tree leaves were used in funeral rituals. The ancient name of the olive tree, “moria”, derives from the substantive “moros”, which means “death”, and is related to a myth about the death of Poseidon’s son, caused by the olive trees that he attempted to destroy, furious as he was, that this tree gave the privilege of Athens patronage to Athena, and deprived it from Poseidon. All these elements, connecting the olive tree with religious rituals and with death, refer to the relation of the olive tree with the cult of goddess Earth, the inexhaustible giver of life and food. This relation can be interpreted, if we think that the olive tree has remarkable reproductive power, and great importance for the nutrition of human beings. We should also not ignore that the tradition, according to which the olive tree is related to the wealthy land of the Hyperboreans, with the long-lived or even immortal inhabitants, connects the olive tree with the symbolism of the inexhaustible fecund power of Earth, while at the same time it connects this continuous revival and rebirth with the idea of immortality. The mythological tradition that the olive tree was the gift of gods to humans conveys the importance attributed to the olive tree, to its crop, and to the olive oil as the most vital agricultural products of the ancient Greek world. Olive oil was an essential ingredient of ancient Greek cooking, used either raw in salads, or in the preparation of food. The olive oil was stored in amphorae, and put in dry, cool storage places, free of odours. An expanded and blooming net of olive oil trade in the Mediterranean basin proves the economic importance of the olive oil, as branches of olive tree or of Athena are depicted in the coins of major olive oil production regions.
The olive tree cultivation involved a wide range of professional activities, which were benefiting from it. Farmers, sailors, traders, perfume makers, potters, were taking advantage of the olive oil production.
Olive oil was also used as lighting material, and for the protection of metal, leather, wood and ivory. It is known that olive oil was used for the maintenance of the famous gold-ivory Zeus statue in Olympia, so as “to make its power immortal”.
Besides, oil olive was used by athletes in their preparation before exercise in the gymnasium and at games. In this way, athletes were protected by the sun and by excessive perspiration, while wrestlers used to smear their bodies with olive oil, so as to avoid the opponents grasp. The “aryballos” was a circular, ovoid or pear shaped small vessel, which contained the oil that athletes used to clean themselves. The strigil was shaped like a shallow spoon with a handle, and was usually made of bronze. It was used as a scraper to remove the oil, dust and mud from the skin of the athletes, after the contest.
The crown of olive tree leaves from the “Kallistephanos”, an ancient wild olive tree next to the temple of Zeus in ancient Olympia, was the “crown of virtue for men”, for the victors of the Olympic Games. In this way, the olive tree, symbol of physical power and of virtue, is firmly connected with the ideal of the major athletic event, the Olympic Games, while at the same time this award symbolized the armistice of any hostility and the peace.
Olive oil constituted also the valuable prize for the Panathenaic Games, held every four years in Athens, to honour goddess Athena, the patron of the city. It is estimated that the city of Athens needed about 70,000 kilos of oil to reward the winners of the Games. Panathenaic amphorae, full of oil, were awarded as prize to the athletes who had the privilege to be the victors of the Games. The quantities of the olive oil for the winners were huge. Depending on the sport, the first winner could be awarded with about 5 tones. In Roman period, the olive oil trade flourished, mainly due to the transportation of the product to areas of the empire, where olive trees were not cultivated. Besides, olive oil was a common ingredient of almost every type of food in the Roman feasts and in the every-day life of the Romans.
In the Byzantine Empire, voluminous quantities of olive oil were consumed in the capital of the empire, Constantinople, not only for nutritional and cosmetic purposes, but also for the nocturnal lighting of the city. The production of the olive oil in Greek territories was significant because of the vast size of the Empire, which included almost half of the olive oil productive areas in the known world, and olive oil was exported throughout the world. Large part of the total production was the work of the monks, due to the big areas possessed by the monasteries. The fall of the Byzantine Empire and the Turkish occupation of the region partly affected olive oil production. According to letters, dating back to the 10th century AD, olive tree cultivation and olive oil production were abandoned as agricultural and trade activities in the Asia Minor region, while the references of texts to olive oil thefts, give evidence that olive oil was by that time – perhaps more than any other nutrition product – a valuable but not sufficient commodity.
Besides, from 13th to 15th century AD, the cultivation of olive tree on the island of Crete is very limited. Descriptions of the countryside in this period show that olive trees are almost absent, compared with vineyards or other cultivated trees, and we can be sure that olive tree cultivation was just a minor secondary agricultural activity, deprived of any economic feature and limited to the narrow scope of family consumption. Besides, the absence of descriptions for the cultivation and olive oil extraction methods hints the scarcity of the activity and of the product by that time. During the 16th century AD, large quantities of olive oil were exported to European countries. This olive oil was mainly used as basic substance in soap industry. The most considerable quantity was exported to the French port of Marseilles, which had evolved to a significant centre of soap production. In 19th century, after the Greek Revolution and the founding of the Greek state, the Economy was mainly based on the agricultural activity, and olive oil – along with wine and grain – is the most important product. In this period, olive oil mainly covers big part of the country’s exports, while the rest is consumed by the farmers themselves. However, the rate of olive oil exports would not increase steadily, as it was determined by the quality of the harvest and the repercussions of natural disasters or diseases of the olive trees. Yet, in the newly founded state, olive oil still constituted a pillar of Greek economic activity, and a significant element of high nutrition value for every-day consumption. It was the solid base, upon which not only the survival of the population but also the independence and the social and economic structure of the Greek state during the 19th and 20th centuries were consolidated. In this historic and cultural process, the religious symbolism of the olive oil is widespread in the Greek world. Combining elements of Orthodox faith with religious habits, local customs going back to ancient times, and with beliefs relating to the cycle of the seasons, fertility and agricultural tasks, olive oil plays an important role in the context of the life cycle, from birth to death, and is used in Christian mysteries. In contemporary Greek rituals, olive oil is employed in the Christian mysteries, from baptism to death, and it is associated with mourning, memorial services and funeral suppers.
The traditional Greek festal calendar presents many customs, which relate the olive oil to fertility, happiness, good fortune, the hope for a good harvest. Fishermen and sailors cast oil from the cresset which burns in front of St Nicholas icon on the sea to calm it. A flask made of blown, colorless glass narrates the story of a moving religious belief. The flask was found in a dig in the area outside the Church of St Demetrios in Northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. The body is in the form of a flattened-out ring. At the point where the long, tube-like neck is attached to the top of the vessel, two symmetrically placed bands of billowing glass have been attached as reinforcement and at the same time as added ornament. From its shape we can conclude that it was probably a sprinkler, a long-necked vessel, which may have contained scented oil, exuded, according to the tradition, by the tomb of St Demetrios. The flask may have been used by the clergy for sprinkling oil and bless people. Besides, the olive tree is a common motif in articles of secular life, such as ceramics and textiles, while the olive oil is used in beautifully shaped clays, and lightens with its eternal light human life.
Following the journey of a silvery green leaf Lost in time and coinciding with the development and expansion of the main Mediterranean civilizations, the origin of the olive tree can be traced in Asia Minor, where it is extremely abundant and grows in thick forests, while olive leaf fossilized remains and pieces of wild olive trees discovered in the Mediterranean Basin (Italy, Spain, North Africa) give evidence that the existence of olive tree dates back to the 12th millennium BC. Wild olives were collected by Neolithic people at the 8th millennium BC.
The olive tree is considered indigenous to the entire Mediterranean Basin, and Asia Minor is believed to have been the birthplace of the cultivated olive tree six millennia ago. The cultivation of the olive tree developed considerably in the Mediterranean coasts of Syria and Palestine, and spread from there to the islands of Cyprus and Crete. Symbol of wisdom, peace, victory, light, fertility, health and wealth, indispensable part of the Mediterranean region, the olive tree and its cultivation become not only a heritage from one generation to the other, but also a connecting link among different cultures, creating the culture of olive tree, which penetrates the social and economic structure of ancient Mediterranean societies, and exerts influence on modern societies, as well. Greece, due to its privileged position at the crossroads of three continents, - Europe, Asia and Africa – became the indisputable center of olive tree cultivation and of olive oil production. If we had to name one of the trees, which determined not only society and Economy but also cult rituals, customs and beliefs, then the olive tree is undoubtedly “queen of all trees”. The long-drawn laborious process of olive tree cultivation is widely held to have begun on the island of Crete. Although we cannot exclude the possibility of the simultaneous domestication and cultivation of the initially wild tree in various areas of the Aegean Sea, we can be sure that the island of Crete fulfilled the prerequisites for the precedence in the olive tree cultivation. The temperate climate of the island, the ground morphology, the economic power of the Minoan civilization, which had transformed the island of Crete to center for redistribution of agricultural commodities, the active trade with other civilizations around the Mediterranean basin, all these elements contributed to the development of olive tree cultivation in Crete. The French researcher Paul Faure notes that “the honor of having converted the wild olive into cultivated trees belongs to the peasants of Crete”.
The systematic cultivation of the olive tree in Crete led Minoan civilization to its apogee around 1,900 B.C., with the establishment of palaces, which concentrated political and economic power, as well as artistic activity, and have also served as centers for the redistribution of agricultural commodities. Major palaces were built at Knossos and Mallia in northern Crete, at Phaistos in the south, and at Zakros in the east. Everywhere in Crete archaeological findings testify the widespread usage of olive oil in every-day life. The Minoans used olive oil in their diet, as a cleanser, as the base for scents and ointments, as a medicine, in tanning, for lighting and for the protection of delicate surfaces. One of the most impressive findings is the cup with the preserved olives, which was found sunk in a water cistern at the Minoan palace of Zakros.
Olive presses have been found in Crete. The one in Vathypetro complex, in the south of the island, is believed to be the oldest in Europe.
Olive oil was stored in large pithoi (earthenware jars) like those found in the Minoan palace of Knossos, with a total estimated capacity of 250,000 kilos. The tradition of earthenware jar construction for the storage of olive oil survives even nowadays on the island of Crete. Main centre of this activity is the village of Thrapsano, in Herakleion Prefecture. The name of the village derives from the ancient Greek word “thrapsalo”, which means “piece of earthenware jar”, and refers to the property of the village as major centre of Minoan pottery since the Minoan period. Various sources give evidence that in the period of the Byzantine Empire, the inhabitants of the village were potters, while in the era of the Venetian occupation of the island, Thrapsano is described in texts as a populous village, and most of the inhabitants are potters.
Research proves that even nowadays the construction of jars follows the tradition of the past, and it is highly interesting to see every – day use vessels to be constructed according to an ancient method, and to constitute part of the people’s life and not just museum exhibits. According to archaeological research, the form of the jars is absolutely identical to the Minoan form of the 2nd millennium B.C., and the construction method offers insight into the methods of ancient pottery. Many years ago, as a child, I spent one day in the area of the traditional kiln, I attended the process of jar making, and I was told a famous proverb of the village: “Everyone is afraid of God, Thrapsano is afraid of the walls”, referring to the fear that was related to the transfer of the jars and the danger of their destruction due to a probable knock on a wall. I still recall the experience of this day in my memory, as a link connecting human activity with nature, creation, tradition and history. Knossos was the most important of the palaces, and it constituted the administrative, economic, religious and cultural centre of the island. The depiction of the olive tree in the narrative frescoes of Knossos palace is of great importance not only because these frescoes are the oldest portray of the olive tree in the Aegean, but also because few of them present the first picture of the domesticated olive tree. Characterized by the tendency to depict the natural environment and the landscape as framework for various activities or rituals, Minoan art presents excellent representations of the olive tree, which is not just part of the Cretan landscape flora, but also – and this aspect is, perhaps, most important – it is transformed to a symbol related to religious cult and to the beneficial properties of the olive tree.
The best known fresco with olive tree is the one of the “holy grove”. The synthesis is dominated by bushy olive trees with big trunks, indicating that the trees are old. One impressive element of the fresco is the color of the trees: they are blue, and the outline is designed with black color. The olive trees are surrounded by people, who raise their hands to the sky, allowing us to think that the fresco narrates the story of a festival in the palace. In this fresco and in another one, as well, where olive branches are depicted, one can be impressed by the precise and detailed presentation of the olive leaves, by their oblong form and by the game of their color under the light of the sun, and most of all, by the idea that the leaves rustle blown by the wind.
One valuable information source on the importance of olive tree cultivation for the prehistoric societies is the evidence provided by the Linear B sun-dried clay tablets, unearthed in the Minoan city of Knossos, in Crete, and in the palace of Pylos in Peloponnese. In these tablets, dating back to 14th – 13th century B.C., the olive tree and the olive oil acquire their name in Greek language, and thus, their identity for the Economy and for the daily use of their time. It is the first time that we have the differentiation of the tree, the crop and the oil, and the three elements are depicted with three different ideograms.
Besides, the Greek words attested in Linear B syllabic script for olive tree and olive oil are e-ra-wa (elaia) and e-ra-wo (elaion), respectively.
The Linear B tablets provide us very interesting information on the everyday-use of olive oil, the trade and manufacture activities, the religious rituals. In one of them, olive oil is recorded along with other products, such as wine and honey, while others refer to the transfer of olive oil to shrines, where it would be used in rituals. In Linear B tablets of Mycenean palace, we find a variety of fragrances used to add a special flavor to the olive oil or to preserve it and protect it from going rancid. The world “oil” in many languages derives from the ancient Greek word. In the 16th century BC, olive was disseminated throughout the Greek islands by the Phoenicians, the great sea traders of the Mediterranean, and between the 14th and 12th centuries BC it was introduced to the Greek mainland, where its cultivation flourished and gained so great importance, that in the 5th and 4th centuries BC decrees were regulating olive planting, and the therapeutic qualities of the olive oil were recognized.
When the Greeks’ quest for arable soil led them to distant lands, where they founded colonies, they also brought to their new homes the olive tree and the method for its cultivation. The ancient geographer Strabo narrates that Greeks planted the first olive tree in Massalia in Gaul (modern France), and in Portugal.
Greek olive oil: The Homeric “liquid gold” Most of the global olive oil production comes from the Mediterranean region, where 95% of over 750 million olive trees worldwide cultivated can de found. Europe, with nearly 500 million olive trees, has more than ¾ of the world’s cultivated olives Of the total European production, 97% comes from Spain, Italy and Greece. With more than 132 million trees, Greece devotes 60% of its cultivated land to olive growing, and – despite its small size - holds the third place in world olive production, using the most advanced methods and the most sophisticated technologies. It is the world's top producer of black olives and has more varieties of olives than any other country. As the competitive advantage of Greek olive oil in relation to that of other countries is its fine quality, about half of the annual Greek olive oil production is exported. Greece is the largest exporter of Extra Virgin and Virgin olive oil, with 1/3 of the total Extra Virgin and Virgin olive oil production being exported. The remaining quantity gives Greece the leading position in per capita consumption at world level: Greece has by far the largest per capita consumption of olive oil worldwide, over 26 liters per year, while the annual per capita consumption in Spain and Italy is 14 liters, in Tunisia, Portugal and Syria, around 8 liters, an far less in Northern Europe and North America (0.7 liters).
Olive oil is primarily produced at the olive presses, small sized family run businesses, which are set up in oil producing areas. After the production process, the oil is either directly offered for consumption or further processed and bottled by companies, which are also involved in distribution. Major wholesale trading companies deal exclusively with sales within Greece and abroad.
Olive Tree Cultivation, Care and Harvest
The olive tree says to its master: "Care for me and I will nourish you. Water me and I will make you rich" (Greek Proverb)
Olive trees are very robust, hardy, drought-, disease- and fire-resistant, and can live for a very long time. Their root system is very robust and capable of regenerating the tree even if the above-ground structure is destroyed. Though olive trees like hot weather, they can endure temperatures below 6-7 degrees Centigrade (21-23 degrees Fahrenheit) in the winter, and they tolerate long periods of drought in the summer thanks to their sturdy and extensive root system. They show a marked preference for calcareous soils, flourishing best on limestone slopes and crags, and coastal climate conditions. They grow in any light soil, even on clay if well drained, but in rich soils they are predisposed to disease and produce poorer oil than in poorer soil. They grow best in areas with an average rainfall of 14-16 inches per year, and a dry summer with temperatures of about 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Olive trees do best in a Mediterranean climate with a hot, dry summer and a cool, wet winter. Olive trees can live exceptionally long, up to several centuries, and can remain productive for as long, if they are pruned correctly and regularly. The olive tree life cycle is as follows: From 0 to 7 years of age, the tree is unproductive. From 7 to 30 years of age, the tree grows with a constant increase in productivity. From 35 to 150 years of age, the tree reaches maturity and full production.
At 150 years the olive tree starts aging with a remarkable productivity for centuries and sometimes for thousands of years. The olive trees production is cyclical with more production in one year and significantly less in the following year. This cycle is repeated throughout the life of the tree.
In spring the tree starts to blossom after a pause during the cold months of winter. The soil around the tree must be fertilized and tilled for improved storage of water near the roots. The trees must also be pruned at this time. The goal of pruning is to increase productivity through well-balanced growth of the tree throughout the year. The spring fertilizing provides mineral and other necessary substances for blossoming, adjusts the ratio of those contained in the soil, or supplements them if they are scarce. It has been estimated that 100 pounds of olives remove from the soil an average of 409g of nitrogen, 91g of phosphoric dioxide and 45g of potassium. The period, the quality and quantity of fertilizing depend on soil, on exposure and on many other variables. An old and effective treatment is the use of organic fertilizers (dung, green fertilizer, etc.) that can supply nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and many other microelements. In summer, the olive tree can survive in a dry climate. In fact, a great number of trees (especially those up in the mountains) are not watered during the summer months because water is not available in these areas. However, for trees that are located on flat land near the sea, an adequate water supply is essential at certain times of their vegetative cycle. These trees are watered every 2-3 weeks during the summer months, when the fruit is in its early stages of growth and the pits harden. The fruit continues to grow until the moment when the green color of the skin fades and reddish spots appear. During these stages a lack of water may cause the fruit to be smaller, its oil content lower, and it may even cause the fruit to fall from the tree. In this period olives can be damaged due to exposure to harsh weather, disease and parasites. A very good harvest might be seriously jeopardized by these factors. The Olive Fly (Dacus Olei) is the most feared enemy. In certain years this insect can destroy the entire crop. It is found in many olive-producing areas in the world. The larvae cause premature fruit drop and yield reduction. An infestation seriously affects oil volume, alters its color and increases acidity. Farmers use against the fly antiparasitics, poisoned bait and certain parasites of the olive fly that attack its larvae during summer. There is absolutely no use of pesticides which have been banned years ago.
In autumn, the olives grow ripe and they lose their green color due to increase in oil content and decrease in water content. During this period, the growth and ripening of the fruit require a constant supply of minerals and other substances. Lack of water and nutrients during autumn vegetation can seriously affect the year’s crop as well as the tree's productivity in the following year. The soil surrounding the plant is treated at a maximum depth of 20cm in order to avoid damaging surface roots. This treatment allows the mixing of fertilizer with the soil and prepares the soil to receive rainwater and to maintain humidity as long as possible. The simultaneous elimination of infesting weeds helps the plant and prepares it for harvesting. In winter, the olives become ripe and their color changes from green to violet and finally to almost black, while their pulp becomes soft. The ripening is progressive and relatively slow, especially when sunlight is not intense. Olives must be harvested when they are violet and before they become fully ripe and the accumulated oil in the fruit starts to decrease. Olive groves require care throughout the year and the work is labor-intensive. Mechanized harvesting is not common at all because it does not work well. Almost all operations are totally manual and that is the most important reason for the higher prices of olive oil.
The olive harvest period begins in November and lasts till March. The olives are ready to be picked when the fruit is ¾ ripe, which means that it should be purple or close to black. If the crop is fully ripe, then the quality of the olive oil deteriorates and the acidity increases.
Harvesting begins early in the morning and lasts till late afternoon, with a noon brake for lunch. The weather should not be windy or rainy, and everything has to be done efficiently and fast, exactly because of the weather dependency. In ancient Greece, the incredibly advanced for its time olive harvesting knowledge was often aided by astronomy. For instance, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Thales of Miletus, used his astronomical observations to predict an excellent harvest for 596 BC. He immediately urged the inhabitants of Chios and Melos Aegean islands to establish many new oil presses, and made them rich in a year. Greek philosopher Democritus also studied the relationship between good harvests and the position of the stars. The traditional way of harvesting is with long wooden sticks, used by the farmers to hit the olives. When the trees are very young and short, small handheld plastic “combs”, that comb the olives off the branches, are used. Olive harvest can also be mechanical, with special portable equipment. These harvesters consist of a portable generator and a rod with elastic sticks attached to it. The head of the rod rotates fast and the elastic sticks hit the olives and throw them on the special nets or big pieces of synthetic fabric, which are placed under the trees. The advantage of the manual process is that the fruit is not bruised, and this leads to superior quality olive oil. Table olive varieties are more difficult to harvest, as workers must take care not to damage the fruit. The placement of olives in the sacks is usually a women or children activity, while it is very common that relatives and friends help each other in the olive harvest, transforming the agricultural activity to a vivid celebration of the gift generously offered to the Greek landscape. Every day, at the end of harvesting, the full sacks are taken to the oil mills, so that the olives will be processed immediately, otherwise the result will be a lower quality olive oil.
Extraction technology: Think green, act green To extract olive oil, three methods are commonly used: The traditional press method The three-phase decanter centrifuge method The two-phase decanter centrifuge method The press method is a non-continuous process, which provides high purity extra virgin olive oil. At the olive mill, the fruit is put into a big feeding hopper attached to a moving belt, and the leaves are removed. The fruit is washed to remove any foreign materials, and then the olives are crushed and the olive oil is separated. The olive oil is stored in metallic tanks or glass bottles, as plastic material is not suitable for olive oil storage. The three-phase method is a continuous process, which requires the addition of warm water to improve extraction. This wastewater needs treatment before disposal. The two-phase method is the most innovative technique, which produces a semi-solid cake of pressed olive fruits and stones, as opposed to the highly polluting wastewater from the three-phase method. During the olive oil production process, a number of by-products are produced. These are olive leaves, carried away with the olives, as the latter are collected, the pomace, which mainly consists of the pits of the fruits and solids remaining after pressing, and a significant quantity of vegetable water of high organic load, known as “liozoumi”, “katsigaros” or “mourga”, consisting of the olive juice liquid fraction and the water used during the different phases of olive mill processing. Olive oil mills wastes (OMW) constitute an important pollution factor for the olive oil producing regions, and a significant problem to be solved, due to its environmental, social and economic repercussions. Environmental repercussions are determined by the method of OMW disposal and by the consequences caused to the recipients, i.e. the surface water systems, the soil and the ecosystems. Social repercussions refer to the conflicts between local communities’ members regarding the way of disposal, the potential dangers for human health and for the environment, the degradation of neighboring areas.
Economic repercussions include the consequences caused by the general environment degradation, i.e. reduction of natural resources and degradation of their quality, reduction of productive and commercial activities, negative consequences on tourism. The direct impact of olive mill waste water on the environment is the aesthetic degradation caused by its strong odor and dark color. Furthermore, direct dumping of olive mill wastewater in the environment is unacceptable, as, due to its high organic load and the presence of polyphenols, this vegetable water is likely to cause eutrophication. Thus, treatment is required prior to disposal. Various treatment and disposal methods have been tested both in vitro and in vivo, however, despite efforts, an integrated solution has not yet been proposed, and techniques applied in each individual case present certain technical and economic disadvantages and have failed to provide a satisfactory solution to the problem. In Greece, almost the 70% of the olive oil mills are of a three-phase centrifugal type, and the rest, of classical type or combinations. Only few olive mills use two-phase centrifugal decanters. Besides, in Greece there is no specific regulation regarding the discharge of OMW. The olive oil producing prefectures have their own environmental requirements and, on the gained local experience and the results of sponsored research projects, they encourage different waste management approaches. Nowadays, the issuing of an olive-mill operation permit is subject to measures taken to treat the olive-mill waste. A technology which can be taken in consideration for a more sustainable disposal of waste waters is under vacuum evaporation. Such technology derived from specific sectors belonging to industry such as galvanic industry, metallurgy, machine building, chemical and pharmaceutical production, food processing and textile industries. Its application to waste water with high concentration of pollution substances has already been tested on other substrates but it deserves to be deepened with regards to olive mills waste waters, too. The principle of the process is very simple and it is based on the fact that, under vacuum conditions, liquids can boil at a much lower temperature than 100 °C, i.e. around 37 °C. The application of evaporator under vacuum results to demineralized water, which can be re-used (around 85-95% of the starting liquid volume), and concentrated waste substances (5-15%), where all pollutants are condensed and which can be more easily disposed with a significant reduction of costs.
Olive oil, the pure natural juice of olives, which is extracted from the cold press of the olives, is classified according to the International Olive Oil Council into six grades: Extra virgin olive oil, which comes from first pressings, that meet the ultimate standards, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and has extremely fine taste Virgin or select olive oil, which comes from first pressings, that meet defined standards, contains no more than 2% acidity, and has exceptionally fine taste Pure or edible olive oil, which is usually a blend of virgin or extra virgin and refined olive oil, its acidity is up to 1.5%, and it has good taste Refined or commercial, which consists of lampante, from which acid, color and odor have been removed Lampante, which is not for consumption, is mostly used in the industrial market, it is high-acid, and is obtained from a second pressing of residual pulp with hot water Sulfide, which is extracted with solvents and has been refined repeatedly. In the last few years two new categories have been established: Olive oil of Protected Designation of Origin (P.D.O.): it is Extra Virgin Olive Oil produced in certain areas of some regions, where the climate, the soil and the olive trees variety favors the production of exceptional quality olive oil, and is bottled in numbered bottles. P.D.O. olive oils have the verification of the E.U. and are subject to strict national and European standard checks. Olive Oil – Product of Organic Farming: it is Extra Virgin or Virgin Olive Oil produced from olive groves subject to strict rules of organic farming. The cultivation, cold pressing, storage and packing of the olive oil is controlled by specific Standards Organizations, who also check the final product and certify that during the farming of the olive groves chemical fertilizers and insect repellents or chemical sprays are forbidden. The olive oil is accompanied by chemical analysis, proving the lack of chemical sediment.
Olives are grown for olive oil production mainly in Crete, in Peloponnese, in the North Aegean islands, in the Ionian islands, and in mainland Greece. Due to its mild climate and to the composition of its soil, Crete is an ideal place for olive trees cultivation and olive oil production, and thousands of families make a living from this activity. Cretan olive oil, with its fine aroma and superb flavor, is internationally acknowledged for its high quality. Peloponnese and especially the southwest areas comprise for centuries one of the most important olive groves of Mediterranean. Olives and olive oil production have always been very important for the survival and economic evolvement of the region, offering economic robustness to the people. All five counties and especially the southern part of Peloponnese produce great quantities of olive oil of great quality. For many centuries, olive oil production has been a particularly developed practice on the North Aegean islands. Due to the significant economic value of olive products, and to the particular trade relationship, based on these products, which was developed between the islands and the coasts of Asia Minor, North Aegean islands have always enjoyed high economic growth. Climate and composition of the soil create perfect conditions for olive trees cultivation and for the production of high quality olive products on the Ionian islands. We should bear on mind that the finest olive crop cannot guarantee the quality of the final product. So as to achieve the desired high quality in the olive oil production, we must ensure that the olive crop is healthy and wholesome, it is transported to the factory on the same day of the harvest to immediately undergo the pressing procedure, and throughout all the stages of production, it is never exposed to temperatures above 27° Celsius. As far as the final product, the olive oil, is concerned, it should be strictly assessed as to all its possible parameters prior to its transport and bottling, thoroughly evaluated and accordingly stored in area free of insects, rodents, microorganisms, bacteria, etc. Strict inspections should be conducted on the packaging/bottling material that come in contact with the olive oil, insuring that they are produced exclusively in factories applying systems of safety and hygiene throughout the manufacturing process, while all personnel involved in all the stages of production must be certified and healthy. From the grove to its packaging, the whole step-by-step conveyance of the product should be monitored (this process is called “traceability”).
Greek olive varieties The olive fruit is a small drupe, thinner fleshed and smaller in wild plants than in orchard cultivars, with one or two seeds in the stone. The main classification of olive crops pertains to edible olives and olives for the production of olive oil, and there is also the mixed kind of olives. Olives are also separated to small sized and large sized, black and green. Greece is one of the most important production countries for edible olives in the world, and it primarily produces black olives. From taste and quality point of view, Greek olives are considered of the best worldwide, and certain varieties are famous internationally. Olives have maximum oil content and greatest weight six to eight months after the appearance of the blossom. They are grown mainly for the production of olive oil. Fresh, unprocessed olives are inedible because of their extreme bitterness, while the processed fruit may be eaten either ripe or green. The origins of the Prehistoric collection and use of olives as food can be traced in Greece. In Crete, in the early Minoan times (3,500 B.C.) olives were collected and used as valuable nutrition element. Olives constituted major element of the nutrition in ancient times. Along with olive oil, bread, wine, cheese and salt, olives were considered absolutely essential part of a healthy diet. Travellers, farmers working in the fields, and soldiers were usually the main consumers, as olives can be easily transferred, have high nutrition value and can be preserved for a long time without going off.
There are totally nine different Greek olive varieties, which are used either for straight consumption or for olive oil production. "Kalamata" olives are the most known variety. Named after the Peloponnesean city Kalamata, the large black olive with the smooth taste is used as table olive. Usually the fruit is cut in the middle and preserved in wine, vinegar, salt, and olive oil. Kalamata olives enjoy Protected Designation of Origin status. “Amfissa” is a table olive variety of excellent quality, grown in the olive grove of Amfissa, near the ancient oracle of Delphi, in Central Greece. Amfissa olives, which are equally good for olive oil extraction, enjoy Protected Designation of Origin status. The olive grove of Amfissa is part of a protected natural landscape. "Koroneiki" originates from the Southern Peloponnese. Its name derives from the Greek word “korona”, which means crown. This small olive, though difficult to cultivate, is mainly used for the production of exceptional quality olive oil, with a very light and harmonious aroma, often with a light flavor of lemon. "Gaidoroelia", which means “donkey olive” and owes its name to its big size, is used as table olive. It can be found in North Greece, and more precisely in Chalkidiki. "Conservolea" is the most common type of Greek table olives. 80% of Greek table olives belong to this variety and are disposed with several local names. It is oval or round, 5-8 grams and it is served with salty food. "Kothreiki" is similar to conservolea in size and color, and is used as table olive and for oil production "Megara" olives, also appropriate for straight consumption and for oil production, are small green or small olives, usually preserved in salt. "Stafidoelia", table olive, which means raisin olive, doesn’t need to be processed. It gets matured on the tree. It can be preserved in a tin with salt or oil. It is black and shrunk. "Throuba" table olive loses its acidity by maturing on the tree. Its bitter ingredients are transformed by a microorganism that the olive tree produces. Its size is small to medium.
Olives and Olive oil, the elixir of life Olive oil was a valuable medicine in the hands of ancient Greek doctors. The Greek physician Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, mentions 60 different diseases which could be treated with olive oil, such as skin infections, wounds and burns, gynecological ailments, ear infections. Considerable medical research attributes important health-giving benefits to the daily consumption of olive oil – especially, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and of olives. The beneficial and therapeutic elements of olive oil, known and respected for thousands of years, are due to its high content of mono-unsaturated fatty acids and its high content of anti-oxidative substances.
Olive oil constitutes basic product of the Mediterranean diet pyramid, which is based on the dietary traditions of Crete and southern Italy in the 1960s. The importance of the Mediterranean diet consists in the fact that there is a general consensus among health professionals that this diet is healthy and leads to notably low incidence of chronic diseases and to high life expectancy rates. The diet is characterized by abundant plant foods (fruits, mainly as typical daily desserts, vegetables, bread, other forms of cereals, beans, nuts, and seeds). It also includes olive oil as the principal source of fat, moderate amounts of dairy products (principally cheese and yogurt), low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry, red meat in low amounts, and wine consumed in low to moderate quantities, normally with meals.
The Mediterranean dietary pattern is characterized as rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids, a balanced ratio of essential fatty acids, and high amounts of fiber and antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, polyphenols, selenium, and glutathione. Greater adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet has been associated with a significant reduction in total mortality and improvement in longevity as well as lower incidence of atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and biochemical indicators of insulin resistance, inflammation, or cardiovascular disease risk.
Olive oil and Cardiovascular Disease The consumption of olive oil contributes to the decrease or elimination of the appearance of coronary disease and other cardiovascular diseases. It has been proved that the appearance of such diseases is relevant to hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure and smoking. The increased cholesterol of blood plays important role to the appearance of coronary disease. Consequently, the nutrition is vital to the prevention of such diseases. The low density cholesterol of those who follow the Mediterranean nutrition and thus consume a great quantity of olive oil is in lower levels, while the high density cholesterol (the good cholesterol) is higher. Studies have shown that people who consumed about 2 tablespoons of Virgin Olive Oil daily for 1 week showed less oxidation of LDL cholesterol and higher levels of antioxidant compounds, particularly phenols, in the blood. But while all types of olive oil are sources of mono - unsaturated fat, Extra Virgin Olive Oil contains higher levels of antioxidants, particularly vitamin E and phenols, because it is less processed.
Olive oil and Cancer It is widely believed that olive oil provides protection against cancer and especially against some particular types, such as the breast cancer. A study published in “The Archives of Internal Medicine” finds that the consumption of olive oil helps reduce women's chances of developing breast cancer. The decrease of the appearance of such cancer due to the consumption of olive oil varies from 30% to 50%. According to Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, Chairman of the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, “American women might actually experience as much as 50% reduction in breast cancer risk, if they consumed more olive oil” instead of other fats in their diet. Dr. Trichopoulos adds that “even though diet does not go to the root of the breast cancer problem, the findings of various studies indicate that a prudent diet containing plenty of vegetables with olive oil may lower the risk of their disease”. Besides, according to recent research, the olive oil protects against other types of cancer as well, namely endometrial, gonads, prostate, stomach, colon, liver and pancreas cancer. The consumption of olive oil diminishes the metastatic phenomenon, i.e. the ability of cancer to make metastasis. Olive oil and Gastrointestinal System Olive oil can be digested more easily than any other edible fat or oil. It also has protective action, as, according to recent research, its consumption leads to the decrease of stomach cancer, and, in cases of gastric ulcer, olive oil is very beneficial, because it decreases the excretion of gastric acid. Thus, the olive oil supports the normal function of the digestive system, reducing to minimum the chances of ulcer creation and other related diseases, and it is the best natural medicament for the fight against constipation. It also increases the absorption of calcium and protects women against osteoporosis. Olive oil consumption is also very important for the liver, as it contributes to the normal function of hepatic shells, it diminishes the production of low density (“bad”) cholesterol, and augments the production of high density (“good”) cholesterol.
Olive oil and Urinary System The olive oil consumption protects the kidneys from the toxic action of other fat or medicines, and, therefore, diminishes the occasion of nephric deficiency. Olive oil and Diabetes Greek traditional nutrition is considered the ideal model against diabetes. In cases of diabetes type II, most dietitians consult patients to cover 30% - 40% of daily calories with olive oil. Additionally, it has been proved that the use of olive oil in nutrition helps to sustain human metabolism at a good balance, and body’s and bone growth at a good level. Olive oil contains antioxidants, which help protect the body from free radicals, and delay the change of cellular structure which accelerates the aging process. One more unique property of olive oil is that it dissolves useful substances coming from food, which cannot be absorbed by the human body. Besides, as rich source of vitamin E, which improves sexual life, olive oil can be considered a very good aphrodisiac. Olive Oil and Cosmetology
Olive oil skin care is an ancient beauty secret. In prehistoric Greece, olive oil was one of the most important elements for the face and body treatment, as it promotes a smooth, radiant complexion, helps maintain elasticity of skin, adds shine to hair and heals dry nails. Olive oil has also been used in soap making for thousands of years. Olive oil, like all fats and oils, is transformed into soap by adding lye. Over the centuries, the process of making soap from olive oil was improved, different oils were mixed with olive oil, and additives – from algae to minerals – were utilized.
Olive oil soap has the property, when mixed with water, to remove the dirt form clothes and body. The olive oil soap has either green or white color, and is pure and friendly to the skin, while at the same time it hydrates and protects the skin. Being non toxic, friendly to the environment and very effective, the olive oil soap is highly recommended for the body care and for the washing of clothes.
In Greece, soap making became an important industry on the islands of Crete and Lesvos, and in the city of Volos, in the 18th and 19th centuries, with major exports of soap from these regions. There were 45 soap factories in Crete, using 2,200,000 okes (a unit measuring 1280gr) of olive oil per year. Large ships of 150-170 tons were built in Crete to transport soap to Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Smyrna and Syria. A visitor to Heraklion, Crete in 1881 writes: “The Heraklion Soap Factory produces excellent scented soap. Linen washed with Heraklion soap is not only cleaner than using any other soap, but also gives off a pleasant scent, even if the soap is not mixed with any perfume”.
Greek Olive Oil: Approaching the vast Chinese market "Τhe region of Crete is playing a considerable role in local cooperation between China and Greece. Agricultural cooperation between the two sides has a special characteristic. Cretan olive oil has already started to enter the Chinese market". President Hu Jintao, official visit to Greece, November 2008
"Last night, for the first time in my life, I dipped a bite of bread in olive oil. It tasted very good". Premier Wen Jiabao, official visit to Greece, October 2010
"Within the next five years the demand for Greek olive oil in Chinese market will exceed the supply that you can offer, and the price for the Greek olive oil will double". Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, official visit to Greece, June 2010
The rapid development of Chinese Economy during the last decade resulted, inter alia, to the significant improvement of living standards, while at the same time the opening of China to the West and the transition from centrally planned Economy to the status of Market Economy, contributed to the massive import of new products to the Chinese market, and to the enhanced access of Chinese consumers to completely new habits of consumption.
Besides, advertisement becomes a major factor for the promotion of imported commodities, and the ongoing tendency to adopt a way of living, that will resemble more or less to the lifestyle of Western societies, requests the purchase of foreign products, which are deemed to offer to the consumer prestige and social approval. This socially determined tendency is combined with the gradual emphasis that Chinese people put on the quality of their nutrition. Imported products gain ground in the preferences of the Chinese market, and analysts foresee that by 2018 China will be the biggest market of imported commodities worldwide. The enhanced information on the major importance of nutrition for the health leads more consumers in China to the decision to taste the Greek olive oil, a product already known to China, due to its therapeutic and cosmetic properties, but only recently appreciated for its nutrition value and for its contribution to healthy diet. According to statistics provided by China Oil Association, the annual consumption of plant oils in China in 2010 runs into 24.8 million tones. In the year 2006, 7,600 tones of olive oil were consumed, and, according to the General Administration of Customs, China imported 8,017 tones of olive oil in 2007, up from 393 tones in 2001. The plant oils traditionally used in China are mainly soyabean oil, sunflower oil, seed oil, corn oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, colza oil, sesame oil, salad oil and olive oil. The correlation of the olive oil price with the income, the attitude of the consumers towards the adoption of a completely differentiated model of nutrition habits, based on the use of natural and healthy ingredients, the information provided by the Mass Media, and by the net of exporters and importers, the ongoing market liberalization, the evolution of trade relations and the competitiveness can be deemed as crucial factors for the trends and the perspective in the olive oil market. For the time being, the Extra Virgin and Virgin Olive Oil is mainly used in the restaurants of luxurious hotels and in restaurants with Western cuisine, and it is sold in the stores of international super market branches and in super markets for expatriates living in Beijing or for the burgeoning middle class of Chinese people who have lived abroad and have adopted western nutrition habits. It is interesting to mention that the education of Chinese chefs, who are already interested in the evolution of Chinese cuisine and in the use of healthy products, will increase the presence of olive oil in the every-day life of Chinese people.
Imports are the source of olive oil in the Chinese market, as domestic production is extremely limited – just 0.4% of the imported quantity – due to factors related to the geographical position of the country and to the absence of know-how and of investments in this field. Steadily increasing is the trend for the Virgin Olive Oil, and in this field statistic data show that Greece comes third, after Spain and Italy, while the share of the three countries in total quantity of Virgin Olive Oil imports to China was 2006 93.7%. China is the top destination of Greek olive oil in Asia, and in the year 2006 it ranked 15th in the relevant list worldwide, while 2003 China was the 34th destination of Greek olive oil exports. A remarkable trend refers to the fact that Greek olive oil is considered more genuine, healthy and natural product, and Chinese consumers are willing to buy it even in a relatively high price, as they are convinced that Greek commodities always combine traditional standards of production with high quality. On the other hand, the Chinese consumer is not yet used to eat olives, which are still considered a completely new, rather “exotic” product. Asked if they have tasted olives and what they think about it, Chinese people answer that the olive is salty, bitter or sour, and admit that they do not know how they could eat it.
Determined by the favorable economic environment, the market trends, the attitude of the Chinese consumers and the chances of Greek companies to promote their product in the vast Chinese market, the perspective of Greek olive oil in China can be deemed positive, as China gradually becomes the largest olive oil market worldwide, offering in this way huge potential for the olive oil import. Apart from its use for cooking, Greek olive oil can also be promoted as cosmetic or as pharmaceutical product, while it can also be connected to the overall promotion of traditional Greek diet and to its major contribution to a healthy lifestyle.
Besides, it is interesting to notice that the olive oil production and consumption is strongly connected to the Greek civilization, and the high esteem to the product derives partly form the admiration of Chinese people for ancient Greece, and from their conviction that the cultivation of olive tree, the production of olive oil and its consumption are major elements of the every – day culture of this civilization. This trend is definitely enhanced by the excellent level of bilateral Sino – Greek relations and by the favorable framework of trade cooperation. When, in the year 2008, President of People’s Republic of China, Hu Jintao, as part of his official visit to Greece, went to the island of Crete, and was given a guided tour of a model olive-oil producing cooperative in the village of Peza, at Heraklion Prefecture, he referred to the importance of the agricultural cooperation between the two countries, and stressed that he knew Crete produced high quality olive oil, and that new horizons were opening up for the product on the Chinese market. Besides, in the village of Peza, Mr. Hu Jintao visited an olive grove, where he took part in the collection of olives from the trees – a move that has been interpreted as tangible display of China’s vivid interest in olive products. Moreover, the importance attributed by Chinese leaders to the enhancement of trade cooperation in the field of olive oil can be traced in the fact that, during the recent official visit of Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, to Greece, the willingness of China to import competitive Greek products was affirmed, and Chinese Vice Premier, Zhang Dejiang, stated during his official visit to the island of Crete that the increase of Greek olive oil usage in China foretells that in the near future, Cretan olive oil production will not be enough to cover the demand of China.
Therefore, the broadening of the exporting activity and the creation of mutually beneficial synergies in the field of Greek olive oil export to China will lead to the development of the sector and to the expansion of the Greek “liquid” gold to one of the most important, challenging and interesting markets worldwide.
From Life to Art Οι ελιές με τις ρυτίδες των γονιών μας Τα βράχια με τη σοφία των γονιών μας Γιώργος Σεφέρης, Αστυάναξ The olive trees with the wrinkles of our fathers The rocks with the wisdom of our fathers George Seferis, Astyanax In this long journey, the prevailing mythological tradition, according to which the olive tree was the gift of gods to people implies its importance for agricultural production, and attributes to it high symbolic value. This wide area of usage and symbolism, contained in the olive tree, the olive grove and the olive oil, has been the privileged field of inspiration for Greek art and literature. The dependence of Greek civilization – in the different aspects of its long journey through the centuries - on the cultivation of olive tree and on the trade of its products finds evidence not only in every-day life, but also in myths and rituals, in the art, in ancient and modern Greek literature, as well. It is interesting to notice that artistic and literary creation lead to the transformation of reality to a new “poetic” – with the original meaning of the world – universe, in which nature and its basic elements gradually tend to lose their real hypostasis/substance, and become symbols of a reality, in which the element of personal and human experience is crucial and dominant. From Homer’s almost naturalistic depiction of the olive tree, combined with adjectives which refer to its productive qualities along with the calm and at the same moment impressive image of its presence, to modern Greek poetry, which assimilates the literary tradition and transforms it either to topographical determination of the Greek landscape or to element of a personal dialogue with nature, olive tree justifies its prime position in Greek experience and thought. From Minoan frescoes to Byzantine icons and then to modern Greek fine Arts, the olive tree depiction unveils and reflects the aesthetic principles of a civilization, which respects the olive tree as source of life and lavishes on it care and toil. In Minoan and in Mycenean Art the olive tree represents the productive power of earth, and is closely connected to rituals of worship.
In Byzantine icons and wall paintings, the olive tree as element of iconography forms the natural environment, which is related to the theme of the icon. At the same time, the olive tree depiction is not limited to a naturalistic formalism, as, thanks to its significant symbolic weight, it constitutes a spiritual element of the narration. The presence of the olive tree contributes to the serenity of the landscape, some times in terms of a clear opposition to the tension of the context, bringing spiritual and aesthetic emotion to a climax.
The olive tee and, especially, the process of the harvest, becomes a favourite issue of Greek folk art. Considering the importance of olive tree cultivation and of olive tree products for Greek Economy, it is absolutely understood that the depiction of the olive tree becomes a source for inspiration for people, who wish to honour in this way the blessed tree. In Neo – Hellenic folk painting, the motif of the olive fruit can be seen combined with the motif of the sun, revealing thus the interconnection of the two basic elements of Greek nature – of sun and of olive tree – and creating a universe of harmony and joy.
In the transition from 19th to 20th century, as Greek Art gradually emancipates from academic influence and discovers impressionism, painting discovers and develops Greek nature. In the view of the shining and vivid Greek light, the olive tree, main element of Greek landscape, and its products, find their ideal interpretation in the new form of an ancient traditional symbol, which permeates the centuries of Greek history and creation.
The observation of the changes and of their repercussions in a rapidly transforming world leads painters to an inspiration, which traces the relationship of the Greek and the Mediterranean landscape, the “discourse” of the nature and its interaction with the human mediated environment. Seeking to emancipate from naturalism, Greek painters discover a rich gamut of colours and combine the olive tree depictions with the tension of the olive tree incessant presence in the Greek landscape. With its continuous presence in the Greek art and literature of 20th and 21st centuries, the olive tree signals and confirms the strong relationship between Greek nature and Greeks. The olive tree becomes the utmost symbol of this relationship, the link connecting the past with the present, the renewed acceptance of tradition as value and heritage. Olive tree becomes the matrix of life, the place of vivid memory. Χάραξα τ’ όνομα το αγαπημένο Στον ίσκιο της γιαγιάς ελιάς Στον ρόχθο της ισόβιας θάλασσας Οδυσσέας Ελύτης, Ήλιος ο Πρώτος I carved the beloved name In the shade of the aged olive tree In the roaring of the lifelong sea Odysseus Elytis, Sun the First
Dedicated to the precious memory of my father
Eleni P. Moutsaki Embassy of Greece in Beijing Press & Communication Office
Front – cover: “Olive trees at Diakofto city”, by 6-years-old George-Angelos Failadis Sources www.internationaloliveoil.org, www.sevitel.gr, www.oliveoilmani.gr, www.mediterraneandiet.gr, www.greek-olive-oil.com, www.greeknet.com, www.olivetreeroute.com, www.oliveoilmuseums.gr, www.easap.gr, www.explorecrete.com, www.terracreata.gr, www.prosodol.gr, www.oliveisland.gr, www.theacropolismuseum.gr, www.metmuseum.org, www.nationalgallery.gr, www.benaki.gr, www.bokoros.com, www.eikastikon.gr, www.britishmuseum.org, www.byzantinemuseum.gr, www.therafoundation.org, Herodotus, Historiae, Thucydides, Historiae, Plato, Menexenus, Pausanias, The Description of Greece, Academy of Athens, In Praise of the Olive, Academy of Athens, Research on the Olive tree civilization. Embassy of Greece in Beijing, Economic & Commercial Affairs Office, Reports on Olive Oil Market in P.R. of China.