Along with grapevines, the olive tree is the oldest known cultivated tree in the world, believed to originate in the Eastern Mediterranean area. It seems to have been around for at least 5000 years. The forerunner cultivated olive tree is believed to have been established in Crete. You will certainly see many olive trees around Samos. Most produced has been for use within the island – family use, tavernas etc but now some of it is being bottled for sale and you can find it in some of the supermarkets.
Types of olives
In Greece I is mainly black olives which are cultivated and in most other Mediterranean regions, the green olive predominates. Some olives are only for eating and others for oil. The most natural olives for eating are the throumba or stafidolia olives – they lose their bitterness through natural processes on the tree.
Growing, picking and pressing olives
The olive tree is tough, thriving under difficult conditions. Annual pruning is necessary. The white paint that you see coating trees in some areas is a deterrent to insects and also goats, who love to nibble on the bark.
Olive trees blossom from April into May, at which point the olives begin to grow. Initially they are all green in color and change as they ripen. Picking is still done manually on many Greek islands. Nets laid out under the trees – the olives drop off the tree when ripen (usually October/November) and are collected by hand and if they don’t fall, the tree is shaken, or the branches hit with a stick to persuade the olives to drop.
Olive is the natural juice of the olive and is found in the pericarp, which is the fleshy part of the fruit. Oil comes in a range of flavors, aromas and colors, depending on the place of origin and therefore the climate, soil and harvesting methods. Olive oil is graded according to its flavor and acidity levels, of which the four most common grading are:
Extra virgin olive oil
About 10% of olive produced worldwide can be considered as top-quality extra virgin olive oil. It is made from the finest olives. The oil is extracted naturally – with no chemicals used – and has had none of its characteristics altered. It has an acidity level, when unprocessed, of 1%. This is the finest olive oil in every respect – aroma, flavor and color.
Also regarded as a premium product, it is naturally extracted with no purification. Its acidity is no more than 2% and again perfect aroma, flavor and color.
This is a blend of refined and virgin oil. Refined oil has no flavor or aroma and the virgin oil is added to provide these qualities.
Olive pomace oil
This is obtained by blending refined oil with olive pomace oil (from leftover fruit pulp). Technically speaking, it should not be labelled as olive oil.
Correct storage of olive oil is important. Olive oil is perishable, being sensitive to heat, light and air and is best stored in glass bottles in a cool dark place. Unopened olive oil should last about 15 to 18 months if stored correctly. It is best, however to enjoy it whilst it is still fresh. Local producers do store it in large plastic barrels but then they use it quite quickly.
Olives and good olive oil are excellent for your health. Medical research indicates that positive benefits have been shown in the following areas:
Of olive oil in place of other fats or oils reduces the concentration of bad LDL cholesterol in the blood without decreasing good HDL levels
It has been clinically proven that olive oil reduces the level of triglycerides in the blood. A build up of bad cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood can block the arteries which carry oxygen to the brain and heart.
Blood pressure is reduced, therefore reducing the risks of heart attacks and strokes.
Olive oil assists in the maintenance of bone thickness. Medical researches also indicate that good olive oil, along with a healthy balanced diet and exercise, can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. It is also recommended for sufferers of diabetes.
The use of olive oil in the kitchen is pretty obvious. It makes a fantastic salad dressing and enhances the flavor of cooked dishes, pasta sauces etc. some people save the good olive oil for special uses and may not use it for frying.
Olive oil soap
Olive oil soap has been manufactured for over 200 years and indeed there is an olive oil soap factory in Ormos.
Oil is heated in tubs for approximately one week. It is then cast in open molds to produce the bars of soap and finally placed in wooden racks to cure for 3-4 months. Only the basic ingredients require for saponification are used in the process: Lye (caustic soda), sodium chloride (sea salt) and water. Natural food dye is used to mark the surface for stamping and cutting.
The main types of soap
Green soap is made from crude (unprocessed) pomace oil, obtained by extraction from the ground flesh and pits of the olives after pressing. It contains olive chlorophyll – hence the green color of the soap is used mainly for household chores (including washing clothes). It also has a good reputation for its disinfecting and healing properties on skin infections, allergies and bedsores.
Asper green soap is a stronger formula of the above. It has free alkali (increased pH).
White olive – palm kernel soap is made from pure virgin olive oil and edible palm kernel oil is added during the manufacturing process. This is used as cleanser for face and body and lathers well.
White olive oil soap is as above, without the addition of the palm kernel oil. It has limited lathering ability and should be used with soft water.