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Crete - Greece

 
photo The island of ▶ Crete is frequently designated as the origin of the olive tree. It is however uncertain whether this is true as the tree is biogenetically very ancient - probably much older than the geologically rather young Greek archipelago.

But for sure oil has been made from olives in Crete since the dawn of history, and today's olive trees are the result of thousands of years of cultivation. Therefore Crete can at least be estimated as the origin of olive oil.
 
On Crete, olive oil is staple food. It is of considerable calorific value so it provides energy to the body. The so-called "Cretan diet" is simply the traditional composition of the island's menu which is based upon olive oil as the primary source of energy.
 
Among all oils which suit as foodstuff, olive oil has the highest quota of unsaturated fatty acids. It therefore lowers the blood cholesterol level and this way prevents heart and circulation diseases effectively.

So the Cretans' outstanding life expectancy just results from the fact that their most important foodstuff accidentally is especially advantageous to heart and circulation.
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In former times the ripe olives were crushed, and the oil was pressed from the mash with levers. Later on mills from stone and screw squeezers were used which in some villages partly are in practical operation up to the present day.
 
photo The edible oil produced this way was called "cold pressed" (though daytime temperature can quite possible rise to 30 centigrade) as from the left-over material they afterwards extracted the remaining oil by cooking.

Cooked oil however does not suit as edible oil but only for manufacturing soap, and for use as lamp oil, because several etheric components which work as natural preservatives decompose at temperatures above 36 centigrade: The oil then looses it's stability.
 
Since some decades there are attempts to install a permanent power supply in Crete. The demand for lamp oil declines, and fossil fuel (paraffin) is predominantly used today. The old presses are simultaneously replaced by modern cream separators, and the mash is heated before centrifuging to some degrees above 30 centigrade. This way the oil in the mash is brought to it's maximum malleability, and more edible oil can be extracted as by the old methods.
 
It is still named "cold pressed", in contrast to the remaining part which subsequently is extracted by cooking and nowadays with few exceptions used for soap production only.

The most significant quality criterion of edible oil is it's acid ratio. The lower the acid ratio, the higher the ratio of unsaturated fatty acids and etheric components. Oil with a particularly low acid level is coincidently particularly preserved and healthful.
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The Cretans are lucky to have olive trees on their island which deliver oil of particularly low acidity, due to cultivation of species, the soil and the climate. In fact only the oil of highest quality produced here is sold as "Cretan oil": Minor sorts are delivered to other Mediterranean countries where they blend it with their own production, in order to improve stability.
 
photo During the last decades, organic cultivation methods are used increasingly. Single-crop farming is replaced stepwise as they today know about interaction between different plants.

So since several years, some responsibly thinking farmers leave room between their olive trees for so-called weeds again as they reduce the total production of a healthy olive grove negligibly.
 
Use of pesticides however becomes completely unnecessary. Former expenses for chemicals can be saved, and once again it comes to light that ecological measures support economy also.
 
Text: Ingo H. Dietrich


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