Olive oil! Big business might describe it as liquid gold. Many believe that the health-giving properties contained within its glistening amber are the secret to a long and active life. Whenever chefs prepare ingredients for a varied menu of insalate (salad) at Londa Hotel’s Caprice Restaurant, every drizzle of locally produced extra virgin oil pays homage to an ancient island tradition.
The long relationship with the olive is reflected in the national flag of Cyprus itself, which depicts two crossed olive branches – a symbol of peace – and the coat of arms also features a dove carrying an olive branch. The cultural visitor staying at Londa Hotel is sure to know that, more than ever in this health conscious age, olive oil continues to plays an important part in daily fresh food preparation. According to popular legend, those who eat the fruit of the olive tree – and there are more than 600 varieties of olive – will develop great resilience and endurance.
Health-giving properties responsible for exceeding average life expectancy
Today, many doctors and nutritionists consider the health-giving properties of the Mediterranean diet – especially olive oil – to be responsible for many Cypriots exceeding the average European and world average for life expectancy, which increased to 82.7 years in 2016. In Britain and the US, an average 1 litre of olive oil is consumed per person per year compared to the Greeks, Italians and Spanish who all drink more 13 litres per person.
Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which improves the digestive system and is also believed can help strengthen blood vessels and bone tissue, and speed metabolism. Medical research has also shown that olive oil antioxidants, its vitamins and oleic acid may also reduce the risk of cancer. The best quality extra virgin oil – especially if cold pressed – contains higher levels of antioxidants, which reduce inflammation and also help reduce the effects of aging.
The history of olive oil use stretches back more than ten thousand years…
The ancestor of the olive tree, which is native to the Mediterranean originally produced the “oleaster” wild olives, which were collected by Neolithic peoples as early as the 8th millennium BC. By the seventh century BC, olive-oil production had spread beyond Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. Stone tablets from the court of King Minos of Crete, which date back to 2,500 BC make reference to olive oil, which was also used for religious rituals, medicines, oil lamps, soap-making, and skin care application.
Originally, a donkey pushed a long wooden handle which rotated a heavy millstone press for crushing fresh olives. Today, the process in Cyprus is almost completely automated, but the main principle of using neither heat nor chemicals to produce high quality olive oil has remained the same down the centuries.
Fresh olives are manually picked during the Cyprus harvesting season from October until January, but with the help of a machine to gently shake the tree. Once transferred to the factory, the olives are cleaned, washed and ground in a special millstone in a process which takes more than three hours. After filtration, the olive oil is poured into bottles with around 5 kilograms of olives producing around 1 litre of oil.
Oldest olive tree on the island is 700 years old
There are more than 2.5 million olive trees in Cyprus, which produce a total harvest of about 10 thousand tons of olives per year. Olive trees can live up to two and a half thousand years, and the oldest olive tree on the island, which is 700 years old with a circumference of more than 10 metres, may be found between the villages of Agia Marina and Ksiliatos on the road from Nicosia to the Troodos Mountains.
One of the leading organic oil producers in Cyprus is Oleastro Olive Park, located half way between Paphos and Limassol. Established in 2003 with the vision to promote the history and culture of the olive tree and olive oil, the Park comprises a state-of-the-art eco-olive mill with mill stones, museum and visitor centre, restaurant, video room, bottling, and storing facilities. Oleastro Olive Park is around 45 kms north west from Londa Hotel and is open 7 days a week, 10.00 – 18.00.