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Food Trails

The Olive Trail

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Hosts and local guides

Bechara Shakar, Aitanit

Bechara's mother sorting olives
Bechara’s mother sorting olives

Bechara is the owner of the olive mill in Aitanit. During the olive harvesting season, the mill is like a beehive! People wait for their turn to squeeze their harvest into a fine olive oil.

Bechara, on the right, explaining to his visitors how olive oil is extracted
Bechara, on the right, explaining to his visitors how olive oil is extracted

The mill comprises two parts: an old traditional press where visitors can watch every step of the process, and a new mechanical press where only one can see the olives entering the machine from one side and the virgin olive oil going out from another.

The traditional press: olive paste is spread on disks in order to extract oil
The traditional press: olive paste is spread on disks in order to extract oil

Bechara not only presses olives, but he makes baladi soap and transforms the solid olive mill waste into  “briquettes” which make a great substitute for food logs. Briquettes are used to light fire in chimneys and ovens.

Green and black olives to be squeezed
Green and black olives to be squeezed
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Eat Local

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.

[quote]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.[/quote]

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.

[quote]8 olives or 1 teaspoon olive oil = 45 calories[/quote]

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!

 

 

Categories
Food Tourism Activities

Olive Harvest

olive 3

Ancient as time, the olive tree forms part of the identity of every mediterranean person. Indigenous to these lands, it has often symbolized peace, prosperity and blessing. An integral part of the Lebanese diet, olives and olive oil are a must at every meal.

olive 1

For this reason, it is essential that we get to know this ancient tree and know the people who care for it, harvest it and process its much esteemed fruits.

olive 2

On the Olive trail, the food trail proposes the olive harvest activity as well as the visit of the olive mill, where you can enjoy a day in the olive orchard, learning from farmers about the harvest techniques, harvesting olives and witnessing olive oil extraction following the traditional and modern processing methods.

olive 5

The day is not complete without tasting local dishes made with olive oil and when in season, you will get to appreciate the taste of the freshly crushed olives with coarse salt, a trophy for every gourmet person!