The olive has been with us for as long as we can remember, and more. If we were to pick one tree, one crop, one product which is truly Mediterranean, it would certainly be the olive and its main product, olive oil. From prehistoric times to Classical Greece and Ancient Israel and on to all the present-day cultures around the Mediterranean basin, olives are to be found in all cuisines in our area.
The olive is one of the fundamental crops of the classic agriculture in the Land of Israel. The land has always been known to produce wheat, grapes and oil. When we speak of oil it is first and foremost olive oil. The production of olive oil is still part of the agricultural calendar, as it has been from time immemorial. Olives are picked in the fall, starting around the month of October. The decision when to pick the olives largely determines the quality and the taste of the oil which they will yield.
Olive Oil in Jewish Culture
The olive tree and olive oil have been part of the Jewish and Israelite culture from ancient times. The olive is one of the “Seven Kinds”, that is the traditional seven kinds of crops of the Land of Israel. Olive oil was used to illuminate the Temple in Jerusalem and in Biblical times, the kings were anointed using olive oil in the ceremony. The Bible regards the Olive tree as “the king of the trees” and expresses a great deal of respect for the tree. In ancient times, people were forbidden from cutting down olive trees for firewood. If an olive tree was old or stopped yielding fruit, one was allowed to cut it down only in exchange for planting two new trees instead of the one that was being destroyed. Olive oil was used not only for fuel and for cooking. Ancient travel diaries tell us about the use of olive oil to produce cosmetics hundreds of years ago. A pigeon with an olive branch is the symbol of Peace and a symbol of the covenant between the Jewish People and God. Since Israel is rich in olive trees, they are part of its landscape and you will be able to see them and appreciate them during your cooking vacation.
Cooking vacations - Olive Oil in the Israeli Cuisine
Research conducted in Israel lately has shown that 89% of Israelis use olive oil for cooking and seasoning on a regular basis. The high percentage is the best proof of the central role of olive oil in the Israeli cuisine.
In our cuisine, olive oil is used not only to season salads but also for baking and even in desserts. Since olive oil is such a fundamental ingredient in Israeli cooking, we will encounter it all along the cooking workshops we will conduct during our cooking vacations.
Israel produces various kinds of olives, which are used for producing olive oil:
A modern Israeli olive, picked when it's still green. Has a strong and clear taste. Its smell resembles freshly-cut grass.
The classic olive of the Land of Israel. The first to ripen and the first to be picked. Has a slightly sharper taste compared to the Barne'a. Interestingly, the Syrian olive is not to be found in Syria, but is typical to Israel and Lebanon.
Originally from Spain, the Arbequina has relatively smallish and round fruit.
A tiny olive which is picked right before the end of the season (in the month of January), when it's black.
A large, fleshy olive, used both for oil and for making preserved olives.
Many brands of olive oil are blends of different kinds of olives aiming at a more complete and balanced taste, benefiting from the best traits of each kind. The process is reminiscent of the one common in the wine industry, where different kinds of grapes are combined to produce the desired wine.
We will encounter some of these unique kinds of olives in our culinary vacation in Israel, as part of our fascinating tours as well as in our unique cooking workshops.
How to choose the best olive oil
During our culinary vacation, we will learn how to identify high-quality olive oil.
When you taste olive oil, it's a good idea to start by looking at its color and its transparency. Many make the mistake of thinking that green, thick oil is the best kind. It's important to remember that golden, clear oil can be excellent as well, while oil which isn't clear may be unclear on purpose. This is not necessarily bad, but a matter of personal preference. The oil's scent should be the fresh scent of olives. If you sense the scents of vinegar or metal, you are better off avoiding the particular oil. In addition, when you let the oil roll on your tongue you may sometimes feel a slight sting in your throat. Don't be alarmed, the sting means that you've just tasted fresh olive oil!
In order to choose good oil, you can rely on the quality rating recorded on the bottle or the tin. The lower the acidity, the better the oil. Olive oil which was not produced by cold pressing – an exclusively mechanical process of pressing the olives – is of a lower quality and cannot be called virgin olive oil.
Fine virgin olive olive oil has an acidity of up to 0.8%
Virgin olive oil has an acidity of up to 2%.
Purified olive oil has an acidity of more than 2%.
The health benefits of olive oil are well-known. Olive oil contains Oleic acid which aids in reducing the level of “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and in raising the level of “good cholesterol” (HDL). It contributes to reducing heart disease and blood-vessel disease. In addition, olive oil contains anti-oxidants which help the body protect itself from producing cancerous cells.
Cooking vacations in Israel are an excellent opportunity for getting acquainted with the wonders of olive oil. What can be better than a culinary vacation in a country where olives and olive oil are fundamental ingredients in both traditional and innovative local cooking?