olive oil
Olive Oil Uses

The Tree of Life Making Health, Light and Husbands Faithful!

The olive tree ranks right up there with the dog as one of man's best friends. Indeed, its special gifts to humans have been documented for at least 6,000 years and it is an olive branch that has become the global symbol of peace.

The cultivated olive is from a tree known scientifically as olea europases, originally native to the eastern Mediterranean region. The olive tree is a member of a plant family that includes the ash, jasmine and lilac. Today, it is widely cultivated throughout the whole Mediterranean area (98 percent of the world's olive oil comes from there) and in other areas with a warm climate.

The wood of the cultivated olive, being hard and variegated, is valued in cabinetry. If you have ever toured the Holy Land, you may have bought a souvenir made from olive wood.

Greek mythology attributes the "creation" of the olive tree to the goddess Athena who first planted one among the rocks of Acropolis and endowed it with powers to illuminate the darkness, soothe wounds, provide nourishment.

According to the Bible, when Moses was atop Mt. Sinai, he received the divine recipe for making holy anointing oil - a mixture of myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane and olive oil. During the Roman Empire, olive cultivation and oil production advanced to a fine art - art that has survived largely intact for 2,000 years. So, too, have Roman recipes for the use of olives and olive oil in food.

Olive oil illuminated Mediterranean houses well into the 19th century and it lubricated the machines of the industrial revolution just as it had served the Romans earlier as axle grease. In Spain, some peasant women keep an olive branch strategically positioned in the house in the belief that it keeps husbands faithful and the wife master of the house.

Numerous folk medicine applications for olive oil have been described throughout history. They include:

  • Olive oil, mixed with an equal part of limewater, for burns.
  • Olive oil for the discomfort of teething and inflammations of mucous membranes.
  • To a quart of olive oil was added 200 centipede legs, a piece of snake's skin, and the sprouts of a Spanish herb, the combination boiled down to a third and then used as a potion against paralysis.

    Hyppocrates, the most celebrated physician of ancient times, recommended olive oil for curing ulcers, cholera and muscular pains. In more recent medical times, the health benefits of olive oil have received considerable attention.

    Much research has been conducted on the connection between dietary fats and blood cholesterol. Olive oil, a so-called monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as corn, soybean and safflower all lower the artery-clogging low-density lipoproteins (the so-called LDL "bad cholesterol"). Which oil does a better job is moot, depending on the particular study you read. Many widely-published studies point to the consumption of olive oil by Mediterranean people's as a major reason why they have a lower incidence of heart disease than Americans.

    Fats (oils are fats) are all combinations of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The term saturation refers to the number of hydrogen atoms a fatty acid carries. Fatty acids have different degrees of saturation and length, factors which determine whether a fat is solid or liquid at room temperatures. Saturated fats tend to be solid and relate primarily to animal sources such as butter and the fat in dairy and meat. What matters most, researchers say, is that you reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet.

    Animal studies suggest that large amounts of polyunsaturated vegetable oils can increase the risk of several types of cancer. Among them: breast cancer. Investigators at the Harvard School of Public conducted a survey of Greek women to determine if their high consumption of olive oil could also increase cancer risk. Their findings indicated that olive oil had an opposite effect. They reported that the breast cancer risk for women who consume olive oil more than once per day is reduced by 25 percent when compared to women who consume olive oil less frequently.

    "Our work shows an association between consumption of a type of fat and reduced risk of breast cancer," said Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, director of the study. "These findings suggest that the type of fat source one consumes may influence breast cancer risk in opposite directions."

    Researchers all point out that people in Mediterranean areas eat more vegetables and fruit than Americans, foods that contain many natural substances beneficial for health. Studies have documented a beneficial effect of olive oil on blood pressure and blood glucose levels. For cooking purposes, olive oil is recommended over polyunsaturated vegetable oils. It is less susceptible to heat-caused oxidation that changes the chemical structure of the oil to a less nourishing and potentially harmful form.

    For more information, Contact Allergy Research/Nutricology Inc.
    400 Preda Street, San Leandro, California 94577
    Copyright copy; 1996 Health Savers

    Chanukah and Olive Oil:
    Lessons in Devotion

    YomTov, vol. II # 22 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero

    One of the main rituals associated with Chanukah, which begins at sunset on December 5 1996, is the lighting of the Menorah. The Menorah, an eight branched candelabra, is lit to commemorate the great miracle which occurred at the time of the Maccabees: a flask of oil which could only last for one day miraculously lasted for eight days. (See vol. I: 57-62 for further information.) The Aruch HaShulchan (Orech Chayim 673:1) writes that it is preferable to use olive oil when lighting the Menorah because it is easily drawn into the wick, its light burns clearly, and the miracle of Chanukah happened with olive oil.

    There is another aspect to olive oil that makes it an appropriate choice for use on Chanukah. The Medrash Rabba (Vayikra 31:10), when discussing the use of olive oil for the Menorah in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), mentions a parable. "Rav Avin said 'It is comparable to a king whose legions rebelled against him. However, one of his legions remained faithful and did not rebel. The king said that this legion that did not rebel, from them I will take for my rulers and governors.' So did Hashem say - This olive brought light to the world in the time of Noach, as we see 'the dove came...and it had an olive branch in its mouth."

    The Rada'l explains when exactly the olive did not "rebel" against G-d, thus earning it a special place in history. In the time of Noach, the entire world was corrupt. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that not only did mankind engage in immoral, base, and corrupt behavior; the animal and plant world did as well. One specie of animal tried to breed with a different one, and one type of plant attempted to "graft" itself to other forms of vegetation. The only plant that withstood the corruption that permeated the entire world at that time was the olive tree. It remained pure. It withstood the pressures to engage in the perverse behavior that was in vogue at the time. The olive remained faithful to the world order as G-d created it, and for that reason, it is considered the "legion that did not rebel." Because it remained faithful to G-d, the olive was chosen to be the sign of rebirth and renewal after the flood. It was chosen to be the source for light in the holiest place in the world. It was chosen to be the source of light for generations to come.

    Chanukah is a holiday on which we celebrate our freedom from religious oppression. The Syrian-Greeks' oppression of the Jews was not physical. They did not want to annihilate the Jews. They did, however, want to annihilate Judaism. They applied what ever pressure they could to "convince" the Jews to abandon the ways of their fathers. Many Jews indeed succumbed to this pressure. Hellenism made inroads in to the Jewish communities. At times, the pressure to give in to popular culture was overwhelming. Ultimately, the Jews withstood this pressure and fought with all their might against it. The Jews were victorious. Today, all that we know of the Syrian-Greeks is from history books, while Judaism lives on. When we look at the olive oil burning bright on Chanukah, we should be reminded that the olive is a symbol of the fortitude our forefathers had. The olive withstood the pressure to deviate from the word of G-d. Our forefathers at the time of Chanukah withstood the pressure to deviate from the word of G-d. We should allow the light of the olive oil to inspire us to stand steadfast against the pressure, what ever it may be, to deviate from the word of G-d.

    For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero. Copyright 1995-1997 Project Genesis, Inc. learn@torah.org 6810 Park Heights Ave. Baltimore, MD 21215 (410) 654-1799 Last Revision: August 17, 1997

    Rating the Olive Oils

    Olive oil has a rich and enduring history as a culinary oil. It was held as sacred by the Romans and was used not only as a food source but was revered for its healing and restorative properties. It lit the lamps of the temples and homes of our ancient civilizations.

    Our fascination with and enthusiasm for olive oil remains today. Still holding a high rung on the culinary ladder it is an integral part of the cuisines of Italy, Spain, Greece and France. Olive trees require a considerable investment of time and money. The olive trees do not fully mature for thirty years and harvesting is done by hand. Olive oil is produced anywhere that olive trees will grow. You will need to sample oils from each production area to see what best pleases your palate. The oils of Italy and France and California are my favorites. I find they are more fruity and flavorful bringing to the surface the true character of the olive.

    Because olive oil is basically a "fruit" juice and does not contain cholesterol, it has gained in popularity in this country. California is responsible for almost all of our olive oil production in the United States.

    With all the different sources and grades of olive oil one wonders how to choose among the varieties. It is not as difficult to decipher the difference as it may first appear.

    Olive oils are rated on their level of acidity. The higher the acidity level the less aromatic the oil will be and usually the less expensive.

    The traditional method for making olive oil is to crush the olives to a paste between two stone wheels. The crushed olives are laid out on mats, stacked and weighted to extract the oil. The slow pressing of the olives does not build up heat and is referred to as "cold pressed". The lower the heat the lower the acidity and the oil retains its full flavor.

    The oil is then separated by use of a centrifuge. This very first pressing yields what is called Extra Virgin Olive Oil with an acidity level of less than 1 percent.

    The second pressing yields Fine Virgin Olive Oil or Virgin Olive Oil with acidity levels ranging between 1.5 and 3 percent. Pure Olive Oil is a blend of refined olive oil with small amounts of extra virgin olive oil or virgin oil added for flavor.

    Olive Pumace Oil is the result of treating the remaining pulp with solvents to extract any additional oils. This usually is the least desirable and least expensive of the olive oils.

    The term Light Olive Oil is a reference to its color and flavor not to its caloric content. All of the olive oils have basically the same amount of calories from fat.

    In reading the label it is important to look for the acidity level, the grade of oil, the region of origin and any other distinguishing information. Some oils will even display a vintage, the name of the farm or producer or village where the oil was made.

    Since the production of olives is dependent on soil, weather and individual olive oil making styles all of this information is of value when selecting an oil. The quality and flavor of olive oil is really the determining factor. This quality and flavor is tied to price. The higher the quality the higher the price.

    When cooking with olive oil you will want to select the olive oil that best suits the dish at hand. Use the more flavorful hearty extra virgin olive oils when seeking the rich flavor of the olive in your dishes. If this proves too strong for you, select the lighter oils. Color

    It is also common to infuse these lighter oils with additional flavors such as porcini mushrooms, herbs, lemon, garlic and spices. These additions are limitless and are a great way to infuse flavor into a dish or to use simply as a seasoning to sprinkle over tomatoes, crusty bread or pastas.

    Storage is also important. Once the oil is opened it becomes vulnerable to its immediate environment. Keep the oil tightly sealed in a cool place away from direct sunlight. The oil can and will go rancid if stored improperly. Refrigerate the oil If you expect to keep it on hand for more than a couple of weeks. The oil will become cloudy when cold but the flavor remains relatively unaffected. The oil will clear up when it returns to room temperature.

    Expect to see more and more varieties and selections of olive oil in your markets as our diet conscious public discovers what the ancients held as sacred long ago.