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The Importance of Olive Oil

Olive oil has been part of Lebanese culture for thousands of years and it has impacted everything from the way we eat to how we conduct our ceremonies. Here is a brief look at the long and rich relationship between Lebanon and olive oil.

manoosh olive oil Lebanese pizza sydney

CC image courtesy of USDA on Flickr

Olive oil is an ancient delicacy unlike any other and no one knows how to work its magic quite like we do.

An ancient part of our landscape

The first olive tree is believed to have grown in the Levant (an area comprising modern day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel) and it came about when a creative farmer grafted a fruit tree to a local evergreen more than 8,000 years ago. The result was the Olea Europaea – the same olive tree we know and love today. Lebanon’s temperate summers and mild winters proved to be the perfect conditions for olive trees to flourish and they soon became a distinctive part of the landscape. Today, some of the oldest olive trees in the world can be found in the northern Lebanese villages of Bshaale and Amioun – some are more than 1,500 years old!

olive oil manoosh pizza sydney

CC image courtesy of goats greetings on Flickr

From olives to oil

Olive oil is believed to have first been pressed around 6,000 BC in the region where modern day Lebanon now sits, although it wouldn’t take long for the practice to spread throughout the surrounding area. The evidence of early oil production in Lebanon is extensive. For instance, ancient clay jars that were used to store olive oil have been unearthed in the city of Sidon, while presses thousands of years old were discovered in the villages of Oumm el-Amed and Khan Khalde.

A lucrative trade item

The Canaanites are believed to have been the first to trade olive oil around 3,500 BC, doing so out of the Lebanese port city of Byblos. They traded extensively with the Ancient Egyptians, who used olive oil for religious ceremonies, massage and embalming, receiving Egyptian gold and papyrus in exchange for high quality Levantine olive oil. The Phoenicians would later become the region’s dominant traders, introducing both olives and olive oil to Greece, Spain, Italy, France and North Africa.

olives manoosh pizza enmore

CC image courtesy of Alkan Boudewijn de Beaumont Chaglar on Flickr

Tasty, healthy, versatile

One of the main reasons why olive oil has become such a big part of Lebanese culture is thanks to its amazing versatility. It has been used in medicine and cosmetics, villagers preserve their vegetables in it, and our ancestors burned olive oil in the temples of Baalbek for thousands of years. Olive oil has also had a dramatic impact on our cuisine, becoming part of almost every traditional Lebanese food – everything from manoosh and hommus to labne and lahembajin just wouldn’t be the same without olive oil.

How to make olive oil

Olive oil has been made using the traditional method for thousands of years. The basic process is as follows;

  • Olives are ground into a paste, pit and all, using large millstones.
  • Next, the olive paste is spread onto large discs (often made from natural fibre) which are then stacked on top of each other in a pile. The pressure from the pile forces the liquid (oil and water) from the paste and it is collected at the bottom.
  • The oil and water is then separated, typically via a decantation process where it is allowed to settle naturally.
manoosh pizza lebanese olive oil

CC image courtesy of docnic on Flickr

Modern methods of olive oil production involve grinding the olives using industrial machines, pressing them with hydraulic mechanisms and separating the oil using high speed centrifuges.

Olive oil is an ancient delicacy unlike any other and no one knows how to work its magic quite like we do. To try authentic Lebanese olive oil at its best, stop by Manoosh or order online, you are in for a real treat!

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