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Tuesday 27 June 2017
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Olives and olive oil: history and health benefits

The mighty olive trees of Bchaaleh

The mighty olive trees of Bechealeh ©Lebanonuntravelled

The olive tree has always been a symbol of peace, wisdom and immortality. It was first mentioned in the bible when God sent Noah a white dove holding an olive twig to tell him that the flood is over (Gen.8:11). Other biblical writings not only mention the olive tree but also olive oil that was often used to anoint the head and body after a bath, used to light lamps and of course to season food!

Olea Europaea or the olive tree is one of the oldest cultivated trees in the world. It originated in the Levant and was spread afterwards to different parts of the globe. The Phoenicians played a major role in spreading this evergreen tree around the Mediterranean. It is presumed that in the north of Lebanon, in the village of Bechealeh more specifically, we find the oldest olive tree of the world, dating back to 4000 BC; other ancient trees, 1500 years old, are also found in the northern region of Amioun.

Tourists participating in olive harvesting activities with a local farmer - darb el karam in West Bekaa

Tourists participating in olive harvesting activities with a local farmer – darb el karam in West Bekaa

Olive oil and olives occupy a very important place in the Lebanese gastronomy and agriculture; Olive oil is abundantly used in the Lebanese cuisine. Olive trees are grown in a variety of topography, soil fertility and climate. They are rain-fed and cover around 563 sq. km of the country surface.

Extra virgin olive oil - Aitanit mill, darb el karam, West Bekaa

Extra virgin olive oil – Aitanit mill, darb el karam, West Bekaa

Facts on olive and olive oil production in Lebanon

According to the FAO, in 2011 Lebanon produced

  • 90,307 tons of olives
  • 11,300 tons of olive oil
  • 7910 tons of virgin olive oil
  • 3,390 tons of extra virgin olive oil.

There are 170,000 olive producers in Lebanon and around 544 registered oil mills distributed all over the country.

Lebanese olive oil is exported to many countries in the world including the USA, Australia, Canada and different Arab countries.

Green olives - Olive harvesting season in Koura, North of Lebanon

Green olives – Olive season in Koura, North of Lebanon

Health facts about olives and olive oil

Although more attention has been given to their oil in terms of health benefits, olives have plenty of health protective nutrients and can be enjoyed in different ways. Olives have hundreds of varieties and different shade of colors. Olives and olive oil are the cornerstones of the Mediterranean diet – one of the healthiest diets around the world.

Although classified in the fat group, their fat content is the healthy monounsaturated type that helps in lowering “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and raising “good” cholesterol (HDL) levels in our bodies.

While a diet rich in saturated fat may increase the risk of diseases, including healthy fats in our daily food intake such as olives and olive oil protects from several chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and cancer. In addition, olives and their oil carry a large amount of antioxidants which is one of the components that are responsible for their ability to fight inflammation and provide powerful health benefits. They are also a rich source of Vitamin E and K and carotenoids and are widely known for their role in protecting, nourishing and hydrating the skin and hair.

Black olives, olives cocktail and labneh sprinkled with olive oil - darb el karam, Shouf

Black olives, olives cocktail and labneh sprinkled with olive oil – darb el karam, Shouf

After learning the health benefits of olives and olive oil, try to include them in your diets always keeping in mind that “moderation is key” given their high caloric content.

8 olives or 1 teaspoon olive oil = 45 calories

Olives can be included in salads, and in several recipes with pasta, pizza, fish, potato, cheese and breads. They are also used to make spreads and tapenade to be served in appetizers or side dishes. Don’t be afraid of the “fats”, learn to pick the healthy fats and stay away from the harmful ones!

Dardar seasoned with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and lots of garlic!

Dardar seasoned with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and lots of garlic!

 

 




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