Olive Oil History in Andalusia

olive oil nerja

On a previous post we explained the process of the olive oil making, but we felt we had left something behind: the history of the olive oil in Andalusia. We could not miss the opportunity to bring you such an important information, so here it comes!

An interesting fact to begin with, is that the word oil derives from the Arabic word “az-zait” which means ‘olive juice’. But it is also worth remembering that the poet Homer, thousands of years ago, referred to olive oil as “golden liquid”. Since then, this oil has become one of the main elements of the Mediterranean Diet.

The beginnings

Olive trees in a pinture by Vincent Van Gogh.

Olive oil was discovered and started to be used, most probably, thousands of years ago, when the different peoples who lived in the Mediterranean region -such as the Romans, Greeks and Phoenicians-, started the cultivation of olive trees and the extraction of the juice from the olive. However, it was in ancient Greece that the olive tree, its fruit and olive oil acquired the importance that they still have today. Not for nothing, such elements can be seen represented on coins or as symbolizing immortality in ancient tombs.

The Roman Period

Nor was it until the time of the Roman Empire that the product we are talking about had its greatest splendour and then became popular throughout the entire Mediterranean region until it reached Hispania, the name that Spain had at that time when it was a Roman province. In fact, this reference makes us understand a lot about the history of Spanish Olive Oil, since this region of Europe, since those times, produced a “golden liquid” of exceptional quality.

The Romans were indispensable for understanding what olive oil is today, since they improved the procedures for growing and transporting it. The Romans were notable consumers of olives and olive oil brought from Hispania and, more specifically, from the Betica (present-day Andalusia).

Mosaic with olive oil palms discovered in Jaen, the province with more olive trees in Spain.

The oil from Hispania was the best valued in the empire because of its enormous quality. It is estimated that, during this period, Hispania exported more than 30 million containers of olive oil, thousands of which arrived from time to time in Rome, the great imperial capital.

Olive oil in the Middle Ages and more recent times

Already in the Middle Ages, olive oil was widely used for soap making in Spain and the neighbouring nation of France. It is no coincidence that, as time went by, this product had many other applications, such as home lighting or as an ingredient in beauty treatments. In any case, its main use has been and continues to be in the food industry. Olive oils, in any of their varieties (olive oil, virgin, extra virgin), are excellent for any recipe.

Centuries later, in the 19th century, the cultivation of the olive tree had a great expansion in Spain, thanks to the construction of the railway network. In this way, Spain became the largest olive grove in the world.

Antique olive oil mill in Casabermeja (Málaga)

In the 20th century, a real technological revolution took place in Spain. This allowed the production of excellent oils, which triumph every year in the most prestigious contests in the world. Today, Spain is the world leader in quantity – and mainly in quality – of olive oils produced.

We hope you have enjoyed this small summary of the history of olive oil not only in Andalusia but on the rest of the world, too! And if you are curious about the production of this delicious liquid, come and join us on our Olive Oil & Mountains Tour!


See you on the next one!

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