Ancient traditional taste of Mediterranean cuisine
Treasured since ancient times for their excellent nutritional quality, olives and olive oil have always been essential component of the diet in many Mediterranean civilizations, especially those located in Anatolia (Asiatic part of Turkey). As a versatile ingredient, olive oil has been used not only as a flavor enhancer in various dishes, but also as a medicine for healing wounds, as fuel for lamps and as cosmetics for the hair and skin in different cultures. Considered sacred, it has been the symbol of peace and richness connecting three continents in one soul. Although the olive tree is native to the eastern Mediterranean basin, it gradually spread westwards beyond Turkey into Europe due to its increased importance as a source of edible oil. Having the longest coastline on the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey has been one of the major producers of olives among Mediterranean countries. Thus, olive oil traditions and dishes have been the pride of Turkish cuisine since the time of the Ottomans. Likewise, table olives have been a staple at every Turkish breakfast, generally beside a slice of bread and traditional white cheese. Today, Turkey supplies the olives and olive oil of Mediterranean cuisine all over the world.
An Ancient Olive Oil Plant of Anatolia
The Ionian city, Klazomenai, which emerged 3000 years ago in the western part of Turkey, was known for its economic prosperity based on olive oil production. The remains of Klazomenai lie on the southern shore of the Gulf of Izmir in the Aegean Sea, in the fields of the town of Urla; a region which Herodotus called truly blessed with a perfect Mediterranean climate. Excavations in this region revealed the earliest known olive processing plant, demonstrating the importance of Anatolia in the development of olive cultivation and technology. This was the first time that archaeologists had discovered a complete olive oil plant, which had operated at a substantial production capacity. Continuous production by means of a three-com- partment oil separation system was first performed here, showing that Klazomenai had possessed technology far ahead of its contemporaries. In addition, excavations showed that olive oil production was one of the main activities in the city and became an important trade commodity for the Klazomenians in the second half of the sixth century B.C. After the excavations of Klazomenai were completed in 2002, the unearthed ancient olive oil plant was restored to its original state in two years. Then, this centuries-old olive oil plant of Anatolia began to work again, and after 3000 years the first olive oil was obtained at the initial production trial on 10 November 2004.
Healthy Food For All Ages
Olives and olive oil are appreciated not only for their nutritional quality but also for their health benefits. Among edible oils, olive oil is the only one that can be produced by physical methods from a fresh fruit and can be consumed immediately after pressing the olive, like fruit juice. Likewise, a complex process, other than treatment with either dry salt or brine, is not required to produce table olives. Namely, olive oil and table olives are pure, natural, healthy products that require minimal processing. Today, olive oil is increasingly present on the food scene as the healthiest alternative to other edible oils. Some studies indicate that olive oil helps to reduce the levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein), known as “bad cholesterol”, due to its higher percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids content (oleic acid: 61-83%) than any other type of edible oil. Although cholesterol is necessary for many bodily functions, excess LDL levels cause deposits of cholesterol in the tissue cells of the body leading to clogged arteries, restricted blood flow, high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes. Researches also suggest that monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil help to either increase or maintain the levels of HDL (high-density lipoproteins), known as “good cholesterol”, that carry excess cholesterol to the liver to be eliminated from the body. This is in contrast to other edible oils that contain high percentages of polyunsaturated fatty acids because they also reduce good cholesterol while lowering total and bad cholesterol. Therefore, it is thought that olive oil improves the functioning of the circulatory and cardiovascular system by reducing the levels of LDL and maintaining the levels of HDL and guards against arterial blockage. Olive oil is rich in natural anti-oxidants such as vitamin E, which help to eliminate free radicals from the body. Some studies confirm the excellent effects of olive oil on bone growth, brain development and digestion. It helps to reduce the incidence of breast cancer and cell aging. It has been proved that olive oil activates bile secretion and stimulates pancreatic lipase. In addition, its emollient effect protects against ulcers, and reduces the risk of gallstones. It improves triglyceride activity and increases the rate of fat absorption. In addition to providing nutrients to the skin, this divine elixir protects and softens the face and body, maintaining a young, healthy and beautiful appearance.
Olives grow best in warm temperatures, and cannot tolerate extreme climatic conditions. The Mediterranean region, owing to its mild climate, contains 98% of the olive harvest and 95% of the olive oil production in the world. Harvesting and processing of olives are carried out between November and March. About 70% of the olives produced in Turkey are pressed for oil and the rest are reserved for table olives. In Turkey, olive oil production has undergone remarkable developments since the eighties and more and more olive oil plants have either started to produce virgin olive oil or increased their production capacity. Now, Turkey has the capacity to supply more than 300 thousand tons of olive oil per year owing to its largescale plants with modern bottling lines. T able olives are also produced in modern plants equipped with advanced technology, which enables them to comply with the standards of hygienic packaging. High quality production of table olives is done in retail packs such as cans, glass jars and/or vacuum packed bags. There are compulsory export standards for table olives and olive oil in Turkey. Thus, production in all plants conforms to the standards of the Turkish Standards Institute (TSE), which are also consistent with the international standards. Olive oil is classified as “extra virgin”, “virgin”, “refined” and “riviera” (a blend of virgin and refined olive oil that is called “olive oil” in international standards) based on the means of production as well as the physical properties and organoleptic characteristics of the product. Due to the preferences of consumers who are less familiar with the natural taste of olive oil, some are also produced with added flavorings such as garlic, onion, nutmeg, fresh thyme, basil or bay leaves. In international standards, table olives are classified as “green olives”, “olives turning color” and “black olives”. They are commercially produced in the forms of “stoned”, “stuffed” (with pimento, capers, etc), “halved”, “sliced”, “paste” as well as “whole” olives. It is quite common in Turkey to start the day by having a rich breakfast including this nutritious food, which contains abundant calcium, iron and vitamin A. There are few countries in the world which have a consumption pattern of olives close to Turkey but according to one’s palate, olives can also be used in the preparation of various dishes. Olives are put in pizzas, salads and cooked dishes as an ingredient and/or eaten as an appetizer usually to accompany a drink.
Being a net exporter of olive oil, Turkey supplies the variety of olive oil to a wide range of countries including major producer countries that either consume or re-export Turkish olive oil. Turkish olive oil is demanded from every part of the world and there are more than hundred countries that have experienced the excellent taste and fragrance of Turkish olive oil such as the EU, the USA, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Australia, South African Republic, and the Russian Federation.