Olive oil is a liquid fat obtained from olives (the fruit of Olea europaea; family Oleaceae), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin, produced by pressing whole olives and extracting the oil. Olive oil is the most common vegetable oil. It is commonly used in cooking, for frying foods 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. The olive is one of three core food plants in Mediterranean cuisine; the other two are wheat and grapes. Olive trees have been grown around the Mediterranean since the 8th millennium BC.
The top five producers of olive oil by volume are Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Greece, and Italy. However, per capita national consumption is highest in Greece, followed by Spain and Italy.
The composition of olive oil varies with the cultivar, altitude, time of harvest and extraction process. It consists mainly of oleic acid (up to 83%), with smaller amounts of other fatty acids including linoleic acid (up to 21%) and palmitic acid (up to 20%). Extra virgin olive oil is required to have no more than 0.8% free acidity and is considered to have favorable flavor characteristics.
Olive oil is an important cooking oil in countries surrounding the Mediterranean, and it forms one of the three staple food plants of Mediterranean cuisine, the other two being wheat (as in pasta, bread, and couscous) and the grape, used as a dessert fruit and for wine.
Extra virgin olive oil is mostly used as a salad dressing and as an ingredient in salad dressings. It is also used with foods to be eaten cold. If uncompromised by heat, the flavor is stronger. It also can be used for sautéing.
When extra virgin olive oil is heated above 210–216 °C (410–421 °F), depending on its free fatty acid content, the unrefined particles within the oil are burned. This leads to deteriorated taste. Also, most consumers do not like the pronounced taste of extra virgin olive oil for deep fried foods. Refined olive oils are suited for deep frying because of the higher smoke point and milder flavour. Extra virgin oils have a smoke point around 180–215 °C (356–419 °F), with higher-quality oils having a higher smoke point, whereas refined light olive oil has a smoke point up to 230 °C (446 °F). A paper in the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine considered it a "popular myth" that high-quality extra virgin olive oil was a poor choice for cooking, saying that its smoke point is above the temperatures required for cooking, and a greater resistance to oxidation than most other cooking oils, as a result of its antioxidant and mono-unsaturated fat content.
Choosing a cold-pressed olive oil can be similar to selecting a wine. The flavor of these oils varies considerably and a particular oil may be more suited for a particular dish.
Fresh oil, as available in an oil-producing region, tastes noticeably different from the older oils available elsewhere. In time, oils deteriorate and become stale. One-year-old oil may be still pleasant to the taste, but it is less fragrant than fresh oil. After the first year, olive oil is more suitable for cooking than serving raw.
The taste of the olive oil is influenced by the varietals used to produce the oil and by the moment when the olives are harvested and ground (less ripe olives give more bitter and spicy flavors – riper olives give a sweeter sensation in the oil).
Olive oil is also a natural and safe lubricant, and can be used to lubricate kitchen machinery (grinders, blenders, cookware, etc.). It can also be used for illumination (oil lamps) or as the base for soaps and detergents. Some cosmetics also use olive oil as their base, and it can be used as a substitute for machine oil. Olive oil has also been used as both solvent and ligand in the synthesis of cadmium selenide quantum dots.
The Ranieri Filo della Torre is an international literary prize for writings about extra virgin olive oil. It yearly honors poetry, fiction and non-fiction about extra virgin olive oil.
In 2016/17, world production of virgin olive oil was 2,586,500 tonnes, an 18.6% decrease under 2015/16 global production. Spain produced 1,290,600 tonnes or 50% of world production. The next six largest producers – Greece, Italy, Turkey, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia – collectively produced 70% of Spain's annual total.
In the EU, Eurostat reported in 2007 that there were 1.9 million farms with olive groves. The olive sector is characterised by a large number of small operations. The largest holdings are in Andalucía (8 ha/holding on average) in Spain and Alentejo (7.5 ha/holding) in Portugal while the smallest are located in Cyprus (0.5 ha/holding), Apulia and Crete (1.7 ha/holding).
Some 75% of Spain's production derives from the region of Andalucía, particularly within Jaén province which produces 70% of olive oil in Spain. The world's largest olive oil mill (almazara, in Spanish), capable of processing 2,500 tonnes of olives per day, is in the town of Villacarrillo, Jaén.
In 2016/2017 Greece was the second largest producer of olive oil with 195,000 tons produced. As of 2009, there were 531,000 farms cultivating 730,000 hectares (1,800,000 acres) from 132 million trees producing 310–350,000 tons of olive oil.
Italy produced 182,300 tonnes in 2016/17 or 7.6% of the world's production. Even though the production can change from year to year, usually major Italian producers are the regions of Calabria and, above all, Apulia. Many PDO and PGI extra-virgin olive oil are produced in these regions. In Apulia, among the villages of Carovigno, Ostuni and Fasano is the Plain of Olive Trees, which counts some specimens as old as 3000 years; it has been proposed to add this plain to the UNESCO Heritage List. Excellent extra-virgin olive oil is also produced in Tuscany, in cities like Lucca, Florence, Siena which are also included in the association of "Città dell'Olio". Italy imports about 65% of Spanish olive oil exports. Some Italian companies are known to mix the imported olive oil with alternate oils (such as soy) and falsely market the blend as authentic olive oil "Made in Italy", creating a fraud that the European Commission has attempted to overcome by offering a 5 million Euro reward to stimulate better methods of authentication.
Turkey is the largest producer outside the EU (table), with 178,000 tons produced in 2016/2017, cultivating from 174.594 thousand trees.
Tunisia is the fourth largest producer outside the EU (table), with 100,000 tons produced in 2016 to 2017, among which 73% was exported to Europe. Because of the arid climate, pesticides and herbicides are largely unnecessary in Tunisia.
While the majority (between 60–70%) of olive oil consumed in Australia is imported from Europe, a smaller domestic industry does exist. Many Australian producers only make premium small-batch oils, while a number of corporate growers operate groves of a million trees or more and produce oils for the general market. 11% of Australian production is exported, mostly to Asia.
In North America, Italian and Spanish olive oils are the best-known, and top-quality extra virgin olive oil from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece are sold at high prices, often in prestige packaging. A large part of U.S. olive oil imports come from Italy, Spain, and Turkey.
The United States produces olive oil in California, Hawaii, Texas, Georgia, and Oregon.
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