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K. Kris Hirst

History of Olive Oil

By January 9, 2012

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The domestication history of various plants and animals is only the starting place to understanding what shows up on our modern dinner plates. Olive oil, for example, is often cited as one of the reasons olives were domesticated, some 6,000 years ago. But the earliest evidence of olive oil pressing is only about 4,500 years old.

Jaen Olives in Andalusia, Spain
These olives are from the Jaen province in Andalusia, where some of the earliest processing plants are known. Photo from JMN / Cover / Getty Images.

So, how was this lovely stuff manufactured before EVOO became a standard culinary shorthand for Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

By the way, by some weird coincidence, as I was researching this article, I heard an interview on Lynne Rosetto Kasper's The Splendid Table about a new book based on a UC Davis study comparing olive oils sold in California retail stores--and their results are not even close to what you might be paying for.

  • UC Davis Olive Center, click on the Evaluation of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Sold in California for a free download of the findings.
  • The Splendid Table interview with Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity


January 9, 2012 at 9:31 am
(1) Claude Mariottini says:


Thank you for this information about Olive Oil. I have written a post on Olive Oil in the Bible: Green Oil.

In my post there is also a link to an article I wrote on the production of olive oil in the Ancient Near East.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

January 9, 2012 at 10:40 pm
(2) Kris Hirst says:

Thanks so much for your insight, Dr. Mariottini. Very interesting background on ‘anointing’.

January 10, 2012 at 8:53 pm
(3) Kristin says:

I so love these articles on plant and animal domestication. Thanks! (Though I’d perhaps argue that cats domesticated humans, not otherwise.)

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