Olive trees have grown in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea since the 8th millennium BC. The hardy trees have robust root systems and can live as long as 2,000 years. The oil from olives is actually this fruit’s juice, and is typically used in cooking or as a salad dressing. It is also incorporated into soaps and pharmaceuticals (to reduce high blood pressure), and as an additive in cosmetics (particularly skin cream). Spain is, by far, the world's largest producer of olive oil, especially in southern parts of the country. According to statistics from the International Olive Council, Spain's virgin olive oil output during the 2016-2017 period was nearly twice that of Italy, Greece, and Tunisia combined.
The awesome olive:
- While Spain produces the most olive oil, Greece consume more of it than any other country. In fact, the average Greek consumes about 5.3 gallons (20 liters) of olive oil a year.
- The entire olive is crushed during processing; they are typically harvested twice a year. An early harvest begins in October, and those oils are particularly high in antioxidants and polyphenols. The main harvest occurs in November and December.
- Olives are still hand-picked, although some harvesters use mechanical means to shake the tree’s branches, causing olives to fall into nets. Each tree can produce about 66 lbs (30 kg) of fruit, or one gallon (4 liters) of oil.