Crete is famous for its olive oil production and boasts a large number of awarded brands, distinguished for their top quality and exquisite taste. Olive oil, however, is more than a product in Crete: it is part of the island’s history, culture, everyday life and nutrition and a local secret of longevity.
Olive oil was widely used in cooking, ceremonies and medicine since antiquity in Greece and the wider area of the Mediterannean. In Crete, numerous archaeological findings link olive oil production and consumption to the Minoan Civilization. For instance, a palatial olive grove comprising 400 olive trees was discovered in Knossos, as well as an olive oil mill within the palatial complex, together with enormous urns for olive oil storage. Similar findings were discovered in the palaces of Phaistos and Zakros, among others, suggesting that olive oil has been consumed in Crete since 2,000 B.C approximately. Plus, Crete hosts one of the oldest olive trees in the world (2,000 – 4,000 years old) that still produces olives today, located in the village of Ano Vouves in Chania.
But what makes Cretan olive oil so special? First and foremost, it is a matter of variety. Crete is especially known for its Koroneiki olive variety, producing high quality olive oil, distinguished for its bitter, gingery and fruity flavor. Crete’s unique climate and high in potassium and phosphor soil also play an important role in the quality of olive oil. In fact, 80-90% of the olive oil produced in Crete is extra virgin, which basically means top quality.
The positive effects of olive oil consumption on human health are widely recognized in the international research community, with the famous Seven Countries Study (first published in 1978) pointing to the island of Crete and the high consumption of olive oil as a model of healthy nutrition that leads to fewer cases of cardiovascular diseases, compared to other countries. It is now well-known that olive oil consumption reduces LDL disease and increases HDL, which protects arteries from cholesterol.
Undoubtedly then, olive oil should be on your shopping list when you visit Crete. But how will you choose the best brand for you?
The first and most important step to recognise top-quality olive oil is to read the label. Go for the “extra virgin” indication exclusively, and preferably certified and / or awarded labels. Another important factor for connoisseurs is the harvest date, since olive oil is at its best in the first two years of its harvest. Finally, take the opportunity to visit an olive farm or specialized shop to taste a variety of olive oil varieties and choose the one that better satisfies your palate.