Liquid gold running through Greeks veins



Steeped in history and lapped by the turquoise blue Mediterranean sea, Greece is home to some of the finest ingredients in the world. Sample them in a traditional Greek dish along with a glass of ouzo, just doesn't get any better. One of the best parts about traveling is tasting the food. I am never disappointed by the discovery of a completely different palate, a new array of tastes and textures and smells and ways of eating. With the opportunity to immerse ourselves into the Greek culture for 3 months this summer had my mouth literally watering, after all it is a foodies dream made in heaven.

What we didn’t realise was we would be sailing the famous Peloponnese region of Greece. This region displays monuments from every period of the eventful Peloponnesian history great archeological sites such as ancient Olympia, Epidavous, Mycenae and Tirynth, Byzantine churches, unique settlements and amazing castles. It's natural beauties such as mountains, forests, rivers and caves surrounded by the turquoise sea, fringed by beautiful beaches, sandy and smooth coasts on the west, rocky and dentelated on the east, make this part of Greek land an amazing place to sail. 

Apart from all of these man made and natural beauties the Peloponnese is know for its amazing Olive Oil. On our three month visit to this remarkable area we discovered how important Olive oil is to the survival of the Greeks. 300 litres or nearly (80 gallons for my US friends) Is the most homemade olive oil one Greek family bought at once from Yiannis and Mina Roboras, who have been producing their own olive oil in the Peloponnese region of Greece for more than 20 years.


Olives harvested awaiting pressing.
“Its a long family tradition,” Mina says proudly. “Our olive oil is special because our mountains haven’t been spoiled by industrialisation as other areas have. Our olive oil is 100 percent pure and we think – better quality than in the stores.”

The Robaras’ live in the sleepy village of Klimendi, high in the mountains of Corinth. They describe their village as “old but beautiful” with its traditional stone houses, rolling mountains covered with olive and mandarin trees and white and red grapes which they also harvest to produce wine and sultanas. “Olive oil is an absolute necessity and it’s very important to us Greeks. It is part of our culture and we use it for all cooking and sometimes for moisturiser on our skin and hands. It is considered a gift from the Gods,” says Mina.

I know others might disagree with me, but I will take a good quality olive oil over butter any day! I love using it to make popcorn. I drizzle it on fresh tomatoes and slices of bread. I use it to fry fish and as an ingredient in cakes. 

Olive oil is simply a golden liquid fat obtained from olives, a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean. The oil is produced by pressing whole olives. It is commonly used in cooking, whether for frying or as a salad dressing. It is also used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and soaps, and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps and has additional uses in some religions. It is associated with the "Mediterranean Diet" for its possible health benefits. The olive is one of the core food plants in Mediterranean Cuisine.

Spain is the largest producer of olive oil, followed by Italy and Greece. However, per capita consumption is highest in Greece.

As scientists tell us, the exact place where the olive tree sprung for the first time is the greater Mediterranean Basin. The first cultivation of the olive tree worldwide took place in Greece, and more specific in Crete. This happened in about 3500 BC in the Early Minoan times. In this period the olive tree was in a wilder form in comparison to the tree we know today. After 2000 BC the cultivation of the olive tree in Crete was very intense and systematic playing the most important role on the island's economy. The first export of the olive oil not only in mainland Greece but in Northern Africa and Asia Minor as well, started from Crete.

Very soon the cultivation passed to mainland Greece and the olive tree and its blessed product, olive
The historic site of Mycenae
oil became synonyms of the Greek nutrition through centuries. The Mycenaean civilisation (c.1600-1150 BC) followed the Minoan in mainland Greece. The olive oil production was very important in the economy of this society. The decipherment of the "Linear B" script brought to light valuable information about the production, the commerce and the export of the olive oil in Mycenaean Greece as we can see in the palace records of Mycenae and Pylos. Indeed, one could reasonably assert that the whole of Greek civilisation was established upon the branches of this humble tree.

A number of facts show to us the relationship between the olive tree and its product with some social activities. The olive tree was a particularly important symbol for the ancient Greeks. It was connected to their diet and their religion, and was used as a decorative motif on vases, in gold jewellery and elsewhere. It was considered a symbol of peace, wisdom and victory. When the first Olympic Games took place in Olympia in 776 BC an olive-tree branch was the award to the winners symbolising the armistice of any hostility and the peace. This symbolic award was given to winners until the end of the ancient Olympic Games. However, not only an olive-tree branch was the award in games but the product itself. 

A Hellenistic gold olive wreath, Circa 3rd Century BC

From this time until today, Greece became the world's most important exporter of qualitative olive oil. The love and high esteem of the Greek olive-grower for the olive tree is passed on from generation to generation and from family to family. With the birth of a child an olive tree is planted which will grow and develop along with the child. When the child starts school at the age of six, the olive tree is ready to produce its fruit. The blessed tree grows up with the family, only it will have a much longer life and will still be around to be tended by the next generation, and the one after that. Each year, it yields its annual crop of olives in return for the labor and love expended on it. 

Cristina Stribakou from Lia Olive Oils says her family tree shares common roots with their olive trees. "Panagiotis and Konstantina, our parents, inherited just 19 olive trees in 1975. They raised us and grew our grove with the same care and affection. As the olive trees grew in number, we grew up as well playing hide-and-seek behind their ageing trunks and branches which reached out for the sun while loitering among the thick shadows of those trees. Therefore, we created a land property of unique beauty within the unsurpassed beauty of the Messenian landscape. Our Messenian roots, our family roots, our tree roots are what we have learnt to love and appreciate. 

We continue the circle of life just like our trees do by fostering the same values we have been taught by our parents while cultivating our grove and our soul. Our trees are not only memories of the past but also tools of inspiration for the future." This we discovered is a common feeling amongst Greek families toward their olive groves. They are not just trees but they are part of their family.

Karen samples local olives whilst discussing Mark and Maree's olive grove,
located above the beautiful coastal town of Ermioni.

Greeks collect the olives during the winter months. They usually start in November and they finish in January. Harvesting Olives is not easy as the weather conditions makes it harder. Also it requires all the family to participate as it a demanding job to do. The past few year’s farmers use advanced equipment in order to make it easier to collect the olives. But groves like Mark and Maree's are still hand picked and supplies enough oil for their use and a small income.

There are different variations of olive oil that you will see in your supermarket, most commonly
What is the best Olive Oil. Photo by news.com
Extra Virgin Olive oil, Virgin Olive oil, Pure Olive oil and Olive oil. The difference is basically in the taste. Extra virgin olive oil is the best when you are looking to add an olive oil flavour to your meal, but when you are using olive oil to say, stir-fry, it is best to go with the standard olive oil. Because of the refining process in standard olive oil, it holds up better when exposed to high heats, and it actually costs less than the virgin grades.

Olive oil is best used when pan frying only. If you want to deep fry, I would consider other oils on the market. It may hold up well when pan frying but has a low smoke point and will overheat when used when deep frying.

Before you run out to your local supermarket and grab a bottle for yourself, be aware that there are different variations of olive oil, all with different tastes. So which one is best for you? 

The best olive oil is a blend of oil from a mixture of red-ripe (not green and not fully ripe) olives and a smaller proportion of oil from green olives of a different variety. Cold-pressing, a chemical-free process using only pressure, produces a higher quality of olive oil which is naturally lower in acidity.

Olive Oil Grades

Olive oil is graded based on how the olives are processed and the acidity level of the final oil. For the maximum flavour and health benefits, buy extra virgin olive oil. When purchasing olive oil, it is important to check labels for the percentage of acidity, grade of oil, volume, and country of origin. The level of acidity is a key factor in choosing fine olive oil, along with colour, flavour, and aroma. 

How to Store Olive Oil

Heat, light, and air all affect olive oil in a negative way. Olive oil is best stored in sealable metal tins or dark glass bottles to protect the oil from the light. These darkened containers should then be kept away from light and heat. 

Cooking Uses for Olive Oil

When you go to the trouble and expense of buying high-quality olive oil, use it where it can shine: to dress salads and drizzle on dishes. Lesser quality olive oil can make a good cooking oil.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The most commonly used and heard of olive oil is extra virgin. Extra virgin, along with the standard virgin olive oil, is extracted directly from the olive fruit by grinding the olives in thermal conditions which preserves the natural taste. The method for extracting the oil is what is known as “cold pressed,” which keeps the oil from losing its flavour that can be lost when exposed to high temperatures.

Extra virgin olive oil is produced naturally, meaning that the oil is not made from any sort of chemical treatments. Virgin oil is also an indication that the oil is not refined, that they are of a higher quality and retain their natural flavour.

Pure Olive Oil

Pure olive oil is another oil, but the name can be misleading. Pure is actually a blend of either extra virgin or virgin olive oil and olive oils that are refined. It is used mainly when extracted olive oil is of poor quality and the refining process helps it to have a better flavour.

Many times, refined olive oil is used when frying as the taste is not as remarkable as the virgin olive oil.

A product labeled simply Olive Oil, is nearly the same as something marked Pure Olive Oil in that it is refined with lack of taste.

Olive oil has long been the most important ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. Besides dipping bread in it and using it to dress salad, there are many ways people from the Mediterranean use olive oil. 

Here are 10 traditional ways to use olive oil for better well being.

  1. To bathe a newborn and soothe a new mother. Bathing a newborn baby in olive oil calms the baby and cleans the baby’s delicate skin gently. A new mother can also use olive oil to ease pain, such as skin irritation from breast feeding.
  2. As a morning beverage. Some olive farmers drink a bottle of olive oil every morning. Many live a long life. Drinking one spoonful of olive oil every morning can soothe the stomach. Swishing it in the mouth for a few minutes can improve dental health.
  3. To nourish hair. For dry and damaged hair, wet it a little, apply olive oil, cover it with a shower cap and stay in a hot shower for 15 to 20 minutes, then wash out the oil. This treatment is recommended weekly.
  4. As a cleanser and makeup remover. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans had no soap. They massaged olive oil into their skin, then scraped it back off, along with dirt and dead skin. Olive oil can serve as a face wash and eye makeup remover if massaged over the face and wiped away.
  5. As a skin moisturiser. Gently rub olive oil on dry skin areas, including hands, body, and feet. It works better than most lotions.
  6. To polish furniture. Use a cloth dampened with olive oil and apply the oil to wood furniture to clean it and make it shine.
  7. As lamp oil. In ancient times, olive oil was used in lamps. It has a pleasant, sweet scent when burned, and it is the cleanest oil for lamps.
  8. To clean leather. Olive oil can clean and waterproof leather coats, boots, belts, et cetera.
  9. To shine dinnerware. Olive oil can be used to shine brass utensils and silverware.
  10. As bath oil. A little olive oil in the bath is like a spa treatment, leaving skin silky and fresh.

The Health Factor in Olive Oil

The health benefits of olive oil are unrivealed, and research reveals more benefits nearly every day. In fact, we are only just beginning to understand the countless ways olive oil can improve our health, and our lives. Olive oil is the cornerstone of the Mediterranean Diet — an essential nutritional mainstay for the world’s longest-living cultures. Aside from its practical aspects, the olive tree gained a mythical dimension. The Goddess ‘Athena’ was believed to have gifted an olive tree to the Athenians which grew next to the Acropolis, presumably in honour of the city state’s devotion to her. Another myth states that it was Hercules who brought the first olive tree from the heavens. Homer refers to olive oil as ‘liquid gold’ and Aristotle argued that the cultivation of olive trees is a science. According to Hippocrates, olive oil was used in ancient Greece for more than 60 pharmaceutical applications, including the healing of skin problems, stomach pain and ear infections. 

Though considered a fat, olive oil is one of the most healthy oils due to its high monounsaturated fat content and relatively low saturated fat content. Studies have shown that olive oil helps the body’s heart remain healthy and also aids in regulating cholesterol levels.

Aside from consuming olive oil, some people swear by its benefits from using it topically on the skin. In 1997, the record holder for the longest lifespan, a woman from France, used olive oil daily not only in her diet but by rubbing it on her skin.

Whatever it is used for, the health benefits of olive oil have been researched and proven. Oil is such a commonly used product today it only makes sense to opt for the most healthy one on the market. It is also one of the most flavourful of all the oils and is the perfect addition to many meals.

Some of the research shows:

  • The phytonutrient in olive oil, oleocanthal, mimics the effect of ibuprofen in reducing inflammation, which can decrease the risk of breast cancer and its recurrence. Squalene and lignans are among the other olive oil components being studied for their possible effects on cancer.
  • Older individuals who consume olive oil daily may be able to protect themselves from a stroke, according to a new study from France published in the online issue of Neurology.
  • A diet rich in olive oil may actually be able to slow down the ageing of the heart.
  • Olive oil supplementation was found to positively affect the thickness of bones. Olive oil will not be the only solution in the continuing fight against postmenopausal osteoporosis, however scientists have concluded that it is a very promising candidate for future treatments of the disease.
  • A study published in the scientific journal Diabetes Care showed that a Mediterranean style diet rich in olive oil reduced the risk of type II diabetes by almost 50 percent compared to a low fat diet. Type II diabetes is the most common and preventable form of diabetes.

If you would rather not drink a glass a day, try it next time on your favourite dish. It would be worth it to try if we could all live a long and healthy life.





Olive Oil Ice Cream

Ingredients

MAKES ABOUT 3½ CUPS

1 3/4 cups whole milk
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Lets get Cooking


Bring milk, cream, salt, and ½ cup sugar just to a simmer in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar; remove from heat.

Whisk egg yolks and 2 Tbsp. sugar in a medium bowl until pale, about 2 minutes.

Gradually whisk ½ cup hot milk mixture into yolks.

Whisk yolk mixture into remaining milk mixture in saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, 2–3 minutes.

Strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl set in a large bowl of ice water; whisk in oil.

Cover with cling wrap to stop a skin forming.

Let cool, stirring occasionally.

Pour the custard into the chilled loaf pan. Cover with foil and place in the freezer for 6 hours or until it’s almost set. 

Use a metal spoon to roughly break up the ice-cream. 

Transfer the ice-cream to a large bowl.

Use an electric beater to beat for 3 minutes or until smooth and pale. 

This breaks up the ice crystals and gives the ice-cream a smooth texture. Return to the loaf pan. 

Cover with foil and freeze for 4 hours or until firm.




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