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Olive Oil: The Magic of Nature

Olive oil is lovingly called liquid gold owing to its properties. That’s how Homer, the Greek poet referred to it. Did you know that Olive trees were so revered that it was considered an offense to cut them down as per the Laws of Solon? The oil was frequently used in religious rites. It was also used to make medicines and cosmetics. The oil was also used in culinary preparations. 

It is believed that olives got their name from the word “el’yon” of Semitic-Phenician origin. The term was used in comparing the oil with the vegetable and animal fats used at that time. Interestingly enough, the Romans extracted olive oil using a screw-press method that is still used to this day around the world. 

The oil is also known for its antibacterial properties and is also a very potent cleanser and moisturizer. It is also widely used as a massage oil. Did you know that Spain is the largest producer of Olive Oil? Italy and Greece are major producers too.

 

Table of Contents

Historical Uses of Olive Oil

The Chemical Constitution of Olive Oil

Benefits of Olive Oil

How is Olive Oil Cultivated and Harvested?

The Extraction Process of Olive Oil

The Everyday Benefits of Olive Oil

The Varieties of Olive Oil

Precautions When Using Olive Oil

Historical Uses of Olive Oil

Olive oil is linked with Greek mythology too. It is believed that Athena, the Greek goddess, gifted the Olive tree to the region. The Greeks preferred the tree to the gift of Poseidon, a saltwater spring that arose from a cliff. 

The Greeks believed that the oil was an essential part of religious ceremonies. It was also used for lighting, culinary uses, and in medicinal preparations. The religious literature of the region also mentions olive oil and its many uses. They also consider olive as an expression of peace and cosmic blessings. From this arose the popular phrase “extending an olive branch”. So you see, the olive tree has been very significant culturally. The olive tree is also considered a symbol of strength, beauty, and prosperity.

The tree grows for nearly 400 years and is highly respected in the Mediterranean region. We do not yet know much about the exact origins of the tree but some believe that it was first cultivated on Crete as well as the other Greek islands some 7000 years ago. Most people, however, believe that olive oil traces its origins to the Near East. The Olive tree reached the Mediterranean region as it was popularized by the Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Phoenician cultures.

It is said that Portuguese and Spanish explorers brought the Olive trees to the West in the 1400s and 1500s. The Franciscan missionaries brought Olive groves to California in the latter part of the 18th century. Today, the areas near the Mediterranean Sea are the best for the growth of Olive trees owing to their climate and soil.

Outside the Mediterranean region, the nations that produce Olive oil in large amounts include Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Southwestern USA, New Zealand, and Australia. 

Homer, the Greek poet called Olive oil the “liquid gold”. In fact, it was so respected that those who cut down Olive trees were sentenced to death as stated in the Greek Laws of Solon from the 6th and 7th centuries. It is also believed that the royal Olive groves of King David were well guarded round the clock, as were the Olive Oil warehouses. 

It so happened that Olive oil became one of the most traded items when the Roman Empire spread its influence across the Mediterranean region. There was major commercial progress at this time. Pliny the Elder in his accounts mentions that Italy had great quality Olive Oil by the 1st century AD which was then considered the best of its kind in the region. 

The Romans, it is believed, used Olive Oil in the manner of a body moisturizer. They used it to hydrate the skin and lock moisture after bathing. Olive oil was also a frequently gifted item. The Romans also invented the screw-press technique that helped in the extraction of the oil and is still used in many regions across the world. 

It is also believed that the Spartans and Greeks used Olive Oil as a moisturizer in gymnasia so as to enhance the muscular shapes of their forms. The athletes in the ancient times were given massages with oils that had Olive Oil blended in to heal sports injuries, relax muscles, and prevent the accumulation of lactic acid. The ancient Egyptians also used the oil as a strong antibacterial agent, a skin moisturizer, and a cleanser. 

Many believe that the Greek name of the Olive tree itself establishes its values and benefits. The name is considered to be derived from the word “el’yon” of Semitic-Phenician origin that means “superior”. This very name was used across trade networks and more often when Olive Oil was compared with the other vegetable and animal fats of the time.

The Chemical Constitution of Olive Oil

Olive Oil derives its properties from its many chemical constituents. Let us now study these compounds in detail and see their specific benefits. 

Oleic Acids (also called Omega 9) 

  • Helps keep the hair and the skin soft, radiant, and supple
  • Promotes the growth of long, thick, and strong hair
  • Fights premature aging signs such as fine lines and wrinkles
  • Removes dandruff and promotes hair growth
  • Improves immunity
  • Strong antioxidant properties
  • Heals inflammation and pain in the joints

Linoleic Acids (also called Omega 6)

  • Linoleic acids are also known as Omega 6 and will moisturize the hair well
  • Boost hair growth
  • Helps wounds heal faster
  • Powerful emulsifiers that are often used in oils that are quick-drying as well as soaps
  • Has powerful anti-inflammatory properties
  • Helps heal acne and reduces the future occurrences of acne
  • Helps retain moisture in the hair and the skin
  • Reduces consistency of oils when added to oil blends. Useful for acne-prone skin

Palmitic Acid: 

  • Known to have emollient properties
  • One of the common saturated fatty acids
  • Softens the hair and does not leave behind a sticky residue

Stearic Acid:

  • Cleanses the skin by purging the dirt, excess sebum, and sweat from the skin and the hair
  • Powerful emulsifier that will blend together oil and water
  • Extends the shelf life of products to which it is added
  • Protects the hair from damage without reducing the luster
  • Powerful cleansing agent
  • Softens the skin

Linolenic Acid (also called Omega 3): 

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Keeps clotting under control
  • Reduces pain in the joints and reduces stiffness

Polyphenols:

  • They add antioxidant properties and aroma to coconut oil
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Heal damaged skin and reduce dryness
  • Make the skin more elastic and are good for reducing signs of premature aging
  • Improve skin moisture levels
  • Reduce damage caused by UV rays
  • Promote the growth of healthy skin and hair cells
  • Improve blood circulation

Vitamin E: 

  • Powerful antioxidant
  • Reduces aging signs
  • Heals damaged tissues and promotes recovery from acne, scars, and wrinkles
  • Keeps the skin protected from toxins in the environment including air pollution

Carotenoids: 

  • Known for antioxidant nature
  • Protect against damage to the cells
  • Keep the hair and the skin safe from toxins in the environment
  • Heal skin damage and aging signs that are the result of acne, hormonal imbalance, or UV radiation
  • Eliminate hyperpigmentation that is the result of hormonal phenomena, acne, or UV radiation
  • Promote the growth of a healthy-looking skin
  • Promote skin regeneration
  • Promote the production of collagen in the skin along with elastin to result in firmer, thicker, softer, smoother, and more elastic skin
  • Hydrate the skin well 

Squalene: 

  • Powerful antioxidant properties
  • Anti-aging agent
  • Very similar in chemical composition to the natural sebum present in the skin
  • Balances the production of sebum
  • Protects the skin and keeps it soft
  • Moisturizes the skin

Olive oil’s composition varies depending on the quality and variation of the Olive fruit that is used in its extraction. It also depends on the region from where the fruit has been sourced, the altitude, the harvest time, the climate at the time of growth, as well as the process used for extraction.

That said, three essential compounds always present in Olive oil include Linoleic acid, which makes up 21% of the oil, Palmitic acid, which makes nearly one-fifth of the oil, and Oleic acid that comprises about 83% of the oil. 

 Let us now discuss the variations between the different varieties of Olive oil. 

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: 

This is basically natural, pure Olive oil or one could argue, Olive juice. It has undergone the least amount of processing. This is because it is extracted through a cold-pressing process and no chemicals are used to refine the oil. 

Since high amounts of heat are not used to extract Olive oil in this technique, the nutrients and compounds present in the oil are retained. This ensures that the natural constitution is maintained and so are the health benefits. 

Extra-virgin olive oil is thus a premium variety of the oil. In fact, the word “extra” in the name symbolizes that the oil is of exceptionally high quality. 

Virgin Olive Oil:

Virgin Olive oil is obtained by the second pressing once the extra-virgin variety has been obtained from olives. Like the extra-virgin variant, the virgin variety is also obtained using simple cold-pressing using mechanical devices. One of the main drawbacks of this variant is that it uses a poorer quality of the fruit in comparison to the extra-virgin variety.  

Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil:

Ordinary virgin olive oil is also extracted from the fruit using mechanical means only. Sometimes, thermal methods are also used but care is taken that the oil’s properties are not altered. This process involves washing, decanting, centrifuging, and filtering the oil. 

The oils that are extracted using solvents or methods involving re-esterification as well as the oils that are mixed with oils from different sources are not put into the category of Ordinary Virgin Olive oil. The Oleic acid content is 3.3% which makes them lower in quality.

Refined Olive Oil:

Sometimes chemical treatment is used to extract the oil. In this method, the acid content and unwanted properties like the strong odors are taken out with the help of chemicals or charcoal. These help to neutralize these traits.

The refined variety is also called pure olive oil or just olive oil by some companies.

Olive Pomace Oil:

This variety of olive oil is extracted from the pomace which is the “mash” which means the skin, seeds, stem, and pulp of the olives that remain after virgin olive oil has been extracted from the olive fruits. The oil that is obtained is very small in quantity and simple pressing does not yield a lot of oil. 

Thus, to extract it, chemical solvents and high heat are used to extract the oil. This includes the use of chemicals such as hexane. 

Benefits of Olive Oil

Owing to the ability of olive oil to cleanse, moisturize, and deeply penetrate the tissues, the oil can be applied to the skin and used in a massage. It is also known to prevent injuries during workouts, sports, muscle aches, and joint pain. It helps to eliminate the accumulation of lactic acid. 

It also contains antioxidant properties and reduces premature signs of aging from the skin. It restores smoothness in the skin and forms a barrier that guards against the harmful UV rays of the sun. It also helps to prevent damage to the skin by free radicals. It can be added to compounds that are abrasive and used as an exfoliating agent that will make the skin look rejuvenated, radiant, and soft.

Olive oil is also a great makeup remover and can remove very stubborn products from the skin. It also has moisturizing properties that help to make the skin soft and smooth. It is also used in shaving creams and is applied as an aftershave.

It is also used in manicures and applied to the cuticles to soften and moisturize them. It is also used to make facial masks. People with skin that is prone to acne or skin that is sensitive can also use olive oil to prevent dryness. Olive oil hydrates the skin and prevents the growth of acne-causing bacteria.

It is used to prevent hair damage as it forms a protective sheet on the hair to protect them from the damage caused by external pollutants. Olive carrier oil makes hair skin smooth, healthy, and strong. 

Let’s now discuss the medicinal uses of olive oil. Olive carrier oils have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory phenols that protect the skin from getting infected by harmful bacteria and help the skin to heal. It also provides relief to sore and bruised skin and is also used to provide relief from muscle and joint pains that are caused by arthritis or sprains. 

It helps to heal the skin that is damaged by the harmful rays of the sun and gives a radiant and youthful appearance to it. 

The oil also has therapeutic benefits. Let us see these now.

Cosmetic: Emollient, Antioxidant, Skin Brightening, Collagen Boosting, and Cleansing

Medicinal: Antibacterial, Anti-Inflammatory, Stimulant, Regulating, and Detoxicant

How is Olive Oil Cultivated and Harvested?

Dating back to the 8th millennium, Olive trees were found all around the Mediterranean basin. The largest producers of olive oil include Italy, Spain, and Greece. These are evergreen trees and have a long lifespan. Some even live up to a thousand years. 

Great Olive yields are produced in alternative years as a good yield depletes the natural resources leading to a lighter yield in the next year. Owing to this reason, the trees are planted in a way that alternate breeding is implemented. 

Olives pollinate themselves but the growth can be increased by using pollinator trees, especially when the weather is not suitable. 

The trees do not need specific conditions for their growth and are pretty forgiving. They are grown on steep hillsides and can even grow in poor soil and in an area with low water levels. If the temperature falls below -5 degrees Celsius, the small branches of the trees are damaged and the large branches will die if the temperature drops below -9 degrees Celsius.

There are some varieties of Olives that are more sensitive to cold compared to the others. However, there is no variety that is completely resistant to cold weather. Care should be taken that the tree is not kept in freezing temperature before harvest, otherwise, the crop will be damaged. 

Olive trees grow best in lean soil. Lean soil has very low quantities of nutrients and they can also grow in soil that is well-drained. Olives can also grow in soils that have different pH levels that range between 5 and 8.5. However, the optimal pH level for growth is 6.5. 

They will not prosper in highly fertile and deep soil. Olive trees require adequate drainage for their growth and they cannot withstand excessive moisture. Young trees need more water to yield fruits in minimal time. 

When the blooming period is underway, olive trees will need dry conditions so that the fruits set well. For the development of the flower, olive trees need some chilly temperature that reaches about 7 degrees Celsius. They will not grow in tropical or semi-tropical areas as the heat will not allow proper flower formation. The requirement of the chill temperature varies from one variety to the other. 

In the traditional method, olives are cultivated through the technique of dry farming. It does not make use of irrigation and is mostly used in drylands. Irrigation allows the trees to bear fruits much sooner. When properly irrigated, the tree bears fruits within 8-10 years of cultivation. Otherwise, it bears fruits in 20-30 years.

Olives that are edible are called table olives and need large amounts of water to increase the size of the fruit. On the other hand, the olives that are cultivated to extract the oil require less amount of water.

In the month of October and after December, olives are harvested mechanically, manually, or by combining both the methods. A trunk shaker is used for mechanical harvesting. It puts its arms around the trunk of the olive tree and shakes the tree and the mature olives fall to the ground. 

Olives, on maturation, turn black. However, when the olives are totally green, they are also considered mature. There is a huge range of olive carrier oil colors which mostly are mixtures of green and ripe olives. 

Ripe green olives are picked in the development stage where the juice of the olive turns milky. The olives that will be used for extracting oil are left on the tree so that they change their color. They can also be picked when they are green in color and then allowed to transform themselves into black color while processing. 

Green olives produce oil which is peppery, smells pungent, bitter, and is herbaceous. Ripe olives have an aroma that is mild and buttery. The young olives are beaten manually to detach them from their branches and they are captured in a net which resembles an inverted umbrella and prevents the olives from falling to the ground. If the olives hit the ground, their aroma will be affected.

From the net, the olives are taken to the collection device. When the fruits are beaten, some of them have their skin bruised which affects the aroma of the oil. The oxidation of the olives can be prevented if they are sent to the mill within an hour of being collected from their trees. Ideally, the processing should start within 24-hours of the fruit collection. If they are left in the bins, they will deteriorate and begin to decay. This will cause the oil to smell musty. 

The Extraction Process of Olive Oil

In the process of extraction, firstly, the twigs, stems, leaves, and any remaining dirt need to be removed. Then, the olives are washed to eliminate contaminants and pesticides. The next process involves the olives being ground into a paste. A hammer mill, stone mill, or a metal tooth grinder is used to grind the olives. This will tear the flesh of the olives and make the release of the oil easy. 

The next process is malaxation. In this process, the paste is stirred continuously for approximately 45 minutes in a warmed tank. All the small droplets of oil will combine to form big drops. Then the oil is separated from the fruit, water, and solid matter. 

In the modern method, a centrifugal decanter is used, wherein, the paste is spun rapidly and the oil is separated from water and the solids. A second centrifuge is done to remove any remaining impurities. The oil is left in the tank or barrels so as to settle. This is called racking. Finally, the oil is filtered and bottled. 

Like all other carrier oils, olive oil also deteriorates on aging and also when it is exposed to light, heat, and air. For its long life, it should be stored in a dark bottle of glass away from light. The polyphenol content present in the oil contributes to the shelf life of the oil. The higher the level, the more stable will be the oil. 

The oil that is derived from the olives that are harvested earlier has an increased level of polyphenolic components and lasts approximately 2 years. On the other hand, the olives that are picked in a late harvest will yield an oil that is low in polyphenolic content. This oil will turn rancid sooner. If left unopened and well stored, it’s life can be up to 1 year. For the further refining of olive carrier oil, it can be processed which will reduce the acidity by the use of steam processing or caustic soda. The oil is bleached with activated carbon or synthetic Silica treatment which will reduce the presence of residual fatty acids, chlorophyll, pesticides, and carotenoids. 

Processing of the oil with activated carbon will reduce its aroma. 

The Everyday Benefits of Olive Oil

There are numerous benefits of Olive carrier oil that range from cosmetic to medicinal. It is used in lotions, oils, soaps, gels, candle-making, and shampoos. Olive oil can be applied directly on the skin or it can be mixed into a moisturizer and then applied on the skin to hydrate it. It will also increase the effectiveness of the moisturizer. 

Olive oil has soothing properties and can be used on irritated, inflamed, or dry skin. Organic olive carrier oil is a good bedtime serum and can be applied to the face and neck. During the daytime, olive oil should be applied and left on the skin for approximately 15 minutes. Wash it thoroughly. It is also useful on sunburnt or skin that has been exposed to the sun.

Olive carrier oil can be applied to the skin before or after shaving. After shaving, it acts as an aftershave. Olive oil is a very good makeup remover and carries with it all the pollutants, blackheads, and dirt. For a steam facial, olive oil is mixed with an equal amount of castor oil and massaged to the facial skin. Then, rinse the skin with warm water which will help to clean the pores.

To use the oil as a makeup remover, add 1-2 drops of extra virgin olive oil to a cotton pad and wipe across the face gently. It can remove the most stubborn makeup. It can also be used as a pre-cleanser. 

It is also used to exfoliate the skin by mixing it with a small quantity of sea salt. Massaging the area of the skin that is scaly and dry will make it look young and new. Instead of salt, sugar can also be used. Sugar will remove the dead cells of the skin and the oil will penetrate deep into the skin, allowing it to look more polished and radiant. 

Olive carrier oil is also known to treat split ends and frizzy hair. It is also known to cure dandruff. It can be used in a hair treatment mask by mixing an egg yolk into it and squeezing some drops of lemon juice into it. Apply this mixture from the roots to the tips. Allow it to remain for 15 minutes and then wash with shampoo and conditioner. This leaves the hair lustrous, soft, and silky. 

You can also apply olive carrier oil directly without mixing lemon juice and egg yolk. Just heat the oil a little and apply to the hair and allow it to remain for an hour. It also prevents the nails from cracking and drying. This will prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. Olive oil when applied to the nails will keep the cuticles soft. 

Apply one drop to the cuticles before bedtime. This will help the nails to grow healthy and will keep them hydrated. Nails can be soaked in warm olive carrier oil two times a week to increase their gloss and strength. For complete relief, mix extra virgin olive oil with warm bathing water. This will help to repair the skin, increase its elasticity, and slow down the signs of aging as olive oil has antioxidant properties. 

You can massage the body with olive carrier oil and then take a warm bath. This will make the body soft and smooth. Olive oil can be used as a body lotion after bathing to make it soft, shiny, and smooth. 

The Varieties of Olive Oil

Variety of Olive
    Origin Country
      Benefits
        Olive Carrier Oil (Pomace Grade)

        Olea europaea
        Spain
          Pale or greenish-yellow in color
          Little aroma as it is refined
          Used in making soaps as it has saponification properties
          Leaves skin a little oily and is absorbed at a medium pace
            Olive Carrier Oil (Refined)

            Olea europaea
            Spain
              Conditions skin and hair that are damaged and dry
              Used in bathwater
              Used in soap-making
              Yellow-greenish in color
              Light aroma that does not affect essential oils that are added
              Used for dry hair and in summer products
              Average skin absorption speed
                Extra Virgin Olive Carrier Oil

                Olea europaea
                Spain
                  It is unrefined and pure
                  Used to treat skin and hair that are damaged, irritated, or dry
                  Numerous health benefits
                  Very versatile
                  Gold-greenish in color
                  Has a strong aroma that can affect blends with essential oils
                  Average skin penetration speed
                  Has monounsaturated fats
                  Reduces bad cholesterol and promotes good cholesterol
                  Reduces blood pressure
                  Helps in the absorption of calcium
                  Keeps the bones strong and healthy
                  Has antioxidant properties
                  Reduces inflammation
                    Extra Virgin Organic Olive Carrier Oil

                    Olea europaea
                    Spain
                      Suited to products with organic ingredients
                      Best for skin and hair
                      Versatile
                      Has a number of health benefits
                      Golden in color, has greenish hues too
                      Has a strong odor that can alter essential oil blends
                      Used in making cosmetics and soaps
                      Has mainly monounsaturated fats
                      Reduces bad cholesterol and promotes good cholesterol
                      Reduces blood pressure
                      Helps in the absorption of calcium and thereby increases bone strength
                      Has antioxidant properties
                      Reduces inflammation

                         

                        Precautions When Using Olive Oil

                        Remember that you should never ingest carrier oils. They are for external use only. Olive oil should not be applied to sensitive skin or if you’re suffering from dermatitis as it can worsen the situation. Conducting a patch test on the skin is highly recommended. To conduct a patch test, apply a pea-sized amount of the oil on the inner arm and leave it for 24-48 hours. 

                        If no allergic reactions appear, it proves that the oil is safe for use on your skin. Olive carrier oils should never be applied to infants as research has shown that when applied directly to the baby’s skin, it might cause eczema, particularly if there is a history of skin problems in the family. 

                        People who suffer from asthma, hay fever, or atopic dermatitis should abstain from the use of olive oil as it may increase allergic reactions. Because of the heavy nature of olive carrier oil, it is advised that excess oil should be wiped off with cotton wool from the skin after application to prevent the clogging of pores and trapping bacteria. 

                        Pregnant and lactating women should not use the oil before consulting their doctors first. Before using olive carrier oil, always consult your healthcare practitioner as he will be the best person to advise.


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