This blog post was originally posted on February 3, 2016, and was updated on January 11, 2018
Olive oil is an integral part of Spanish cuisine. With a tradition that spans over 3,000 years, there’s bound to be a few fun facts about Spanish olive oil you didn’t know!
No Spanish kitchen would be complete without a tall bottle of olive oil. Be it to add flavor to your tostada at breakfast, dress a salad at lunch or include in your recipes for dinnertime. The beloved aceite de oliva has been a part of the Spanish diet for thousands of years and Spain is home to some of the world’s oldest olive trees.
Some of our favorite markets in Seville are home to Spanish olive oil experts that teach us amazing things about olive oil on a daily basis. With this in mind, we’ve decided to share some of these fun facts with this list of 10 things you didn’t know about Spanish olive oil!
Photo Credit: Gabriele Cantini
1. Spain is the biggest producer of olive oil in the whole world!
Move over Italy! Spain produces on average about 44% of the world’s supply of olive oil each year, twice as much as Italy and four times as much as Greece. Spanish olive oil production works out at 1.2 million tonnes of olive oil annually – enough to fill about 400 Olympic size swimming pools! We love olive oil as much as the next person, but perhaps swimming in it would be a step too far.
2. Jaén tops the list for olive oil production in Spain.
If you’ve ever made the journey from Madrid to Andalusia, you’ll remember the sight of an infinite sea of olive groves spread across the countryside. The climate in the Southern province makes it the perfect place for olive trees to grow, and the center of olive oil production in Andalusia is the province of Jaén. About 70% of all Spanish olive oil comes from Jaén and the small province actually produces more aceite de oliva than the entire country of Italy combined!
3. Spain is the second biggest consumer of olive oil worldwide.
Although Spain makes more olive oil than anyone else, Greece actually consumes more annually. On average, Spanish annual consumption of olive oil is about 2.5 gallons per person, that equates to almost 10 liters of olive oil!
4. Spanish people have the Phoenicians to thank for olive oil.
The Phoenicians, tribes from modern day Syria or Lebanon, are said to have introduced the olive tree to Spain in 1050 B.C., meaning they have almost a 3,000-year connection to the country! However, it was the Romans that began the spread of olive groves throughout Spain and the Moors that introduced more advanced cultivation and production techniques.
5. The Ancients referred to olive oil as ‘liquid gold’.
Olive oil was particularly important in Ancient Greece and throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, Andalusia’s climate made it a huge part of the production of oil for the Roman Empire. Greeks and Romans cherished their famous ‘liquid gold’ and used incredible amounts of it for cooking. However, they also used olive oil as fuel and it is said that they even used it to light the earliest Olympic torch!
6. There are over a hundred varieties of Spanish olive.
There is an amazing variety when it comes to olives in Spain. Inevitably, this, of course, contributes to the huge significance of the oil to the country! However, not every variety of olive is consistently used to make oil! Of the 200+ varieties found in Spain, about 24 are regularly used in the oil making process, each one with a distinct, delicious flavor.
7. That Italian olive oil may not be quite as Italian as you think!
With so much olive oil being produced, it’s only natural that a big chunk of Spanish olive oil is exported. What’s interesting is that many countries bottle olive oil in their own country. However, they brand it as if it was local. One of the biggest culprits? Italy! Next time you get a bottle of Italian olive oil, investigate how Italian it really is!
8. Olive trees have an average lifespan of between 300-600 years!
Olive trees live an incredibly long time, and Spain is home to some of the oldest olive trees in the world. The Museo del Arión in Tarragona, is a museum that displays trees that are over 1,000 years old and the oldest of them all is said to be over 2,000 years old!
9. Spain is home to about 300 million olive trees.
It may seem incredible, but the number of olive trees in Spain is roughly the same as the total population of the United States of America. So, there’s a tree for each of our American friends!
10. You CAN fry with olive oil!
Contrary to popular belief, many varieties of olive oil are perfect for frying. The reason is, they get hot very quickly but won’t burn. Also, frying with olive oil can be healthy too! In fact, a recent study even said that frying vegetables in extra virgin olive oil is healthier than boiling them. Look for picual olive oils to get all those wonderful benefits for your fried food.
Want to hear some more great tips on Spain’s liquid gold? Check out this YouTube video from Devour Tours co-founder Lauren Aloise to get some more insights on Spanish olive oil. You’ll be armed with all the information you need to get the best olive oil possible.
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After studying in Andalusia, Jaimie made sure he was on the first possible flight back to Seville—the day after graduation! Many years later, he is fully immersed in Spain’s culinary world and has shown thousands of guests the secrets of sherry and tapas.