Olive oil is a familiar term for most of us. It is the mainstay of the Mediterranean diet and a staple in many international cuisines. Packed full of benefits and antioxidants, its nickname of ‘liquid gold’ couldn’t be more appropriate. But olive oil is not only used in cuisine, it is used for a variety of purposes including cosmetics, and it is one of the most common base oils used in soap making. As a matter of fact, many ancient civilisations already used olive oil in cuisine, medicine, and skincare thousands of years ago. In this blog post, we will focus on where olive oil comes from, how it is produced and how it can benefit your diet, skin, hair, and health in general.
How it’s made
Olive oil is the natural oil extracted from olives, which are the fruit of olive trees. The term olive is used to refer to both, the tree and the fruit. The olive tree is an evergreen tree native to Mediterranean Europe, Asia and Africa. It is relatively short, usually not exceeding 10 metres height, with a twisted trunk and oblong shaped silvery green leaves. The olive tree has many different connotations across cultures and religions, but perhaps the best known one is the olive branch as a peace symbol.
The lifespan of the olive tree is between 300 and 500 years on average, although it can surpass the 1,000-year barrier under the right care and climate conditions. In fact, the olive tree of Vouves, located in Crete (Greece), is believed to be 2,000 - 4,000 years old, making it one of the oldest (if not the oldest) olive tree in the world. Astonishingly, the tree remains productive to this date. Talk about delaying retirement!
The fruit of the tree is the well-known olive, a small ovalish fruit with a stone (or pit) inside. The olive is green when it is harvested early and not fully riped, but it acquires a darker colour when it is fully riped. Its texture remains similar, although its flavour changes depending on the colour. The olive is often served as a snack, on a pizza or to garnish the world-famous cocktail martini.
When it comes to producing olive oil, it all starts with the harvesting around late summer or early autumn. Mechanical rods are used to make the branches of the tree vibrate, which in turn makes the olive detach from it and fall into a tarp, sheet or net placed under the tree to be collected. To produce 1 litre of olive oil, it is necessary to harvest between 4-5 kgs of olives.
Next, the olives go through the cleaning process, where any branches and leaves left are removed, and the olives are washed in water. During this stage, the olives can also be classified if there’s a mix of green and black olives.
Then, the olives are ground into a homogeneous paste, releasing oil in the process. This paste is shaken to allow the released oils separate from the rest of the mixture, which includes pulp, stones and water. In order to extract as much juice as possible, a strong pressure is applied on the paste in what is usually called a cold-pressed method.
However, this method has been replaced by a centrifugation system in recent years, which optimises the process, reduces the amount of waste and makes it more sustainable. Through centrifugation, the oil is separated from the solid remains of olives, called pomace, and stored in tanks. Here, any remaining impurities settle at the bottom of the tank and the oil can be decanted to remove any excess of water and those impurities. Finally, it is evaluated to assess its quality and ensure the acidity is correct before being packaged.
Broadly speaking, that is the process to produce virgin olive oil, in other words, unrefined oil extracted by mechanical means with no heat or chemicals involved. The resulting oil can be refined, altered, or blended with other oils to produce other types of oils. It is important to note that this kind of oils won’t have as many benefits and antioxidants as virgin olive oil.
Properties & Benefits
As aforementioned, olive oil has a wide range of uses, from cooking and salad dressing to soap making. Due to its multiple benefits, it is indispensable in any healthy diet, although with moderation as any other fat. Besides its nutritional advantages, olive oil also boasts numerous cosmetic benefits for skin and hair. It has been used for centuries as a natural ingredient in skincare products and soap making due to its properties. Undoubtedly, a good olive oil soap is one of the easiest and simplest ways to get the benefits of olive oil on your skin.
Olive oil is mainly composed of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), accounting for about 74% of the content with oleic acid as the main component. MUFAs are healthy fats commonly found in nuts as well. These fats are resistant to moderate heat, so they won’t oxidise and damage as much as other fats, making olive oil a safer and healthier cooking choice compared to other vegetable oils.
Lower risk of heart disease
Olive oil can be highly beneficial for heart health. Replacing saturated fats in your diet with monounsaturated fats like the ones olive oil contains, can reduce blood cholesterol and triglycerides, thus reducing the risk of clogged arteries, a main cause of heart disease. It is also proven that MUFAs can lower the blood pressure and improve the lining of blood vessels, and several studies evidence a link between the consumption of olive oil and a lower risk of suffering a stroke. In addition, its positive impact on blood vessels in the brain can help fight Alzheimer’s disease.
Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory
Olive oil is rich in antioxidants that prevent cellular damage and oxidation. The most important ones are oleacein and oleocanthal, two phenolic compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. In particular, oleocanthal works similar to Ibuprofen, reducing inflammation and inhibiting the proteins that drive it. These compounds can help protect against certain diseases in the long term, such as cancer, arthritis and heart disease.
Additionally, olive oil contains moderate amounts of vitamins E and K, which play an important role in a healthy immune system and protect from free radicals.
Reduce Type 2 Diabetes risk
MUFAs can improve insulin sensitivity, a key hormone that controls blood sugar levels. In a nutshell, insulin helps move sugar from blood to the cells for storage. However, sometimes cells are insulin resistant and cannot use it appropriately, leaving the sugar in the blood and causing hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar levels). Over time, hyperglycaemia can cause severe health consequences if not treated.
By improving insulin sensitivity, your cells can be more responsive to insulin allowing for a better control of blood sugar levels, therefore reducing the risk of diabetes, among other diseases.
As aforementioned, olive oil not only has multiple nutritional benefits, but also cosmetic ones, and it is a popular natural ingredient in skincare products. It can be found in soaps, lotions and body washes, but you can also use it directly into the skin to enjoy the benefits. It is recommended to apply it in small amounts, so using an eye dropper is a good option.
Excellent moisturiser for skin and hair
Due to its high content in essential fatty acids and squalene, olive oil is an excellent moisturiser for the skin, face and body alike. It is a natural emollient that locks in moisture in the skin to prevent water loss, keeping the skin nourished for a radiant appearance.
It can also be used on your hair to make it softer and silkier, and Its vitamins can help strengthen the hair follicles. Once a week, you can apply a small amount on your hair and leave it for about 15 minutes before washing it out.
Repairs damaged skin and protects
Being a source of vitamins E and K, olive oil can help repair and regenerate damaged skin tissue, reducing fine lines and wrinkles. The antioxidants revitalise the skin and protect it from external factors preventing premature ageing.
Helps remove makeup
It can be used as a makeup remover, especially in the delicate eye area, as it will moisturise the skin and hydrate eyelashes as it does with your hair.
Olive oil is shown to have a certain degree of antibacterial properties. Although not the most effective among vegetable oils (virgin coconut oil has stronger antibacterial properties), olive oil can be used to treat some skin conditions and infections.
Unfortunately almost nothing in this world comes without drawbacks. Despite its multiple advantages, olive oil is not an exception.
- As with any other fat, olive oil is highly caloric and it should be included with moderation in your diet.
- If you have a very sensitive or oily skin, it would be better to avoid using it, or at least, do an allergy test first applying a very small amount on the skin. It is recommended to avoid it using it directly on infants.
- Even though olive oil has antibacterial properties, coconut oil is a better alternative to enjoy those benefits.
- Olive oil is a heavy oil, and thus not easily absorbed by the skin. It can have a comedogenic effect leading to clogged pores.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of olive oil, these are some of our products containing it:
- Babies & Pets
- Dental Care