WOULD it surprise you to learn that olive oil is a fruit juice? If you live in a Mediterranean country, it may not. After all, it is estimated that of the 800 million olive trees under cultivation in the world, about 98 percent are in the Mediterranean region. Here, olive oil has played an important role in people’s lives for thousands of years.
In simple terms, the olive is the fruit of an evergreen, and olive oil is essentially what is squeezed from the olive. Because of its slow growth, the olive tree may take up to ten years or more before producing well. After that, the tree can produce fruit for hundreds of years. It is said that there are olive trees in Palestine that date back more than a thousand years!
The production of olive oil begins by crushing the olives under millstones. The crushing produces a paste that is placed under hydraulic presses to extract the juices. This is no ordinary fruit juice, however. It is actually a mix of water and oil. After the water has been removed, the oil is graded, stored, and bottled for consumption.
Its Uses in Ancient Times
The versatility of olive oil was especially evident in the ancient world. In Egypt, for example, olive oil was used as a lubricant in moving heavy building materials. In addition to being a basic food, olive oil was used as a cosmetic and as fuel in the Middle East.
According to a number of Bible accounts, olive oil, laced with perfume, was used as a skin lotion. It was also commonly applied to the skin as protection from the sun and after bathing. (Ruth 3:3) To grease the head of a guest with oil was considered an act of hospitality. (Luke 7:44-46) The oil also served a medicinal purpose as it was used to soothe bruises and wounds. (Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:33, 34) And olive oil was likely an ingredient used in preparing a person for burial.—Mark 14:8; Luke 23:56.
When Jehovah instructed Moses to prepare the “holy anointing oil,” what kind of oil did he prescribe among the ingredients? Yes, the purest olive oil! With it Moses also anointed the tabernacle, its furniture, the holy utensils, and even the ark of the covenant. Aaron and his sons were anointed with this oil to sanctify them as priests to Jehovah. (Exodus 30:22-30; Leviticus 8:10-12) Similarly, Israel’s kings were anointed with olive oil poured upon their heads.—1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Kings 1:39.
What was commonly burned as fuel in ancient lamps? You can find the answer at Exodus 27:20. Again, it was the multipurpose olive oil! In the temple of Jehovah, there were ten large golden lampstands fueled by the highest quality olive oil. The oil was also used in connection with grain offerings as well as the “constant burnt offering” presented to Jehovah.—Exodus 29:40, 42.
Olive oil was considered such a valuable commodity that it was even used by Solomon as part of a payment to King Hiram of Tyre for construction materials for the temple. (1 Kings 5:10, 11) Recognized today as a high-energy food and one of the most digestible fats, olive oil also served as a staple in the Israelite diet.