The olive was native to Asia Minor and spread from Iran, Syria and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean basin 6,000 years ago. It is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world - being grown before the written language was invented. It was being grown on Crete by 3,000 BC and may have been the source of the wealth of the Minoan kingdom. The Phoenicians spread the olive to the Mediterranean shores of Africa and Southern Europe. Olives have been found in Egyptian tombs from 2,000 years BC. The olive culture was spread to the early Greeks then Romans. As the Romans extended their domain they brought the olive with them.

1,400 years ago the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, advised his followers to apply olive oil to their bodies, and himself used oil on his head. The use of oil is found in many religions and cultures. It has been used during special ceremonies as well as a general health measure. During baptism in the Christian church, holy oil, which is often olive oil, may be used for anointment. At the Christmas mass, olive oil blessed by the bishop, "chrism", is used in the ceremony. Like the grape, the Christian missionaries brought the olive tree with them to California for food but also for ceremonial use. Olive oil was used to anoint the early kings of the Greeks and Jews. The Greeks anointed winning athletes. Olive oil has also been used to anoint the dead in many cultures.

The olive trees on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem are reputed to be over 2000 years old, still relative newcomers considering the long domestication of the olive. We don't know the exact variety of the trees on the Mount. Man has manipulated the olive tree for so many thousands of years that it is unclear what varieties came from which other varieties. Varieties in one country have been found to be identical to differently named varieties in another. Some research is now being done using gene mapping techniques to figure out the olive family tree. Shrub-like "feral" olives still exist in the Middle East and represent the original stock from which all other olives are descended.

In the past several hundred years the olive has spread to North and South America, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

Resource: The Olive Oil Source

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There are hundreds of different varieties of olive trees. Some are very similar, sometimes identical with just slightly different names. Some are very different. They have different looks as well as growing characteristics and preferences. Their olives vary in size, oil content, taste, chemical characteristics, ripening time, and many other factors.

The four main varieties of olives grown in California used to be: Mission - originally cultivated by the Franciscan missions; Manzanillo - the most prevalent; Sevillano and Ascolano - the larger sizes. There is now a very wide diversity of olives found in California.

We recommend reading the "Olive Varieties" section in Paul Vossen's book, Organic Olive Production Manual, University of California, on pages 7, 8, and 9. It provides an excellent description of the most common varieties.


Differences between the thousands of varieties can be very subtle. It is now possible to use DNA fingerprinting to identify specific varieties.

Researchers at the two World Olive Germplasm Banks (Córdoba & Tassaout-Marrakech) are doing on-going research on the determination and description of the genetic make-up of the olive species.


Variety, along with maturity are the two most important factors on the quality and taste of olive oil. Click here to see what Paul Vossen, the leading California expert on olive oil, has to say.


The Olive Oil Source is in the process of creating a Varietal Chart with information gathered from the OLEA database and the International Olive Oil Council's CONSERVATION, CHARACTERISATION, COLLECTION AND UTILISATION OF GENETIC RESOURCES IN OLIVE.

Resource: The Olive Oil Source

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In this section, we describe the chemical composition of olive oil, and some of its characteristics. We discuss the different fatty acids found in olive oil. This will help you understand the effect of olive oil on a healthy diet. You will also find explanations of such terms as olive oil acidity, peroxides, or polyphenol antioxidants. Although the subject is pretty dry, it is critical for olive oil producers and consumers to understand what these terms mean as they are invaluable tools to making and buying a high quality product.

For Details :

Chemical Characteristics

Flavor and Taste

Resource: The Olive Oil Source

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