Production of olive oil dates back to prehistoric times in Turkey. In the modern times, however, the consumption of olive oil in Turkey has been less than other Mediterranean countries. And now it’s time for history to repeat itself, because olive oil is being rediscovered in Anatolia.
It would be such a shame not to mention Anatolia, if we are talking about olive oil’s history. In fact, Anatolia has always existed as a part of olive oil culture, but the Greek side of the Aegean coast has been standing in the forefront. And yet, the recent researches might change this land’s fortune on this issue.
The archeological excavations in Urla (a district of Izmir province in Turkey’s Aegean Sea coast) revealed the 2500 years of history that belongs to Klazomenia archaic city. Founded by the Ionians in the 10th century B.C., Klazomenia hosted olive oil production around 6th century B.C. In that case, Klazomenians may be the first ones that used the technology of a continuous production system with stone cylinders running around a spindle to crash olives. Klazomenia was surely the olive oil heaven for that time for producing and trading olive oil. Located at 38 km west of Izmir, Klazomenia and the restored olive oil workshop can be visited in Urla.
So why, in modern times has Turkey’s olive oil consumption been less than that of other Mediterranean countries? There are several reasons behind this issue such as the high pricing, but a lack of domestic production is certainly not a cause. Today in Turkey, there’s olive cultivation in the 45 % of the country which consists about 36 cities and 71 % of it, happens in the Aegean Sea coast. Out of this total, 70.6 percent is used for olive oil. All over the country, there are about 850 olive oil factories producing over 270,000 tons of olive oil. All of this places Turkey as the fifth largest producer of olive oil in the world, just behind Tunisia, and edging out Syria.
Turkey produces 5 percent of the world’s olive oil while it consumes just 2 percent. Fortunately, the National Olive and Olive Oil Council (UZZK) has recently announced that olive oil consumption has increased 40 percent to reach 1.4 kg per person in the last five years. Comparing to the past years where the consumption was 1.0 kg/person between 1980 – 1989, the situation can be considered promising. But of course it’s still not enough when the European Union average consumption is 4.5 kg per person.
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Even though the statistics can tell the truth, the olive oil culture in Turkey has deeper stories than the numbers. First of all, Turkey is the only country that has a special category in its cuisine for “dishes made with olive oil.” As one of the richest and oldest cuisines in the world, Turkish cuisine is the heart and soul of eastern Mediterranean cooking. Food cooked in olive oil is an indispensable part of this cuisine and some of these delicious dishes are Zeytinyağlı Yeşil Fasulye (string beans in olive oil), Imam Bayıldı (eggplant is cut and stuffed with onion, green pepper/ served cold), Zeytinyağlı Kuru Fasulye (haricot beans in olive oil), Zeytinyağlı Enginar (artichoke cooked with pieces of potatoes,carrots and peas).
Well in Turkey, olive oil is not only used in cooking. There sure are so many healthy benefits of olive oil such as being a beauty product but you’d be surprised to learn about the other uses of it. Have you ever heard about the Turkish oil wrestling? It’s one of the most popular traditional sports in Turkey where the wrestlers cover themselves with olive oil before wrestling. They wear tight short leather trousers called “Kispet” made of water buffalo leather weighing approximately 13 kilograms as they wrestle with their bodies oiled. It’s common in all over the country but the most famous tournament called “Kirkpinar” takes place in Edirne. It’s like a big fair with music and celebrations which continues until the morning. The history of oil wrestling tournaments dates back to the Persian era around 1065 B.C. and yet men still continue to find the perfect ‘balance’ for winning in this very hard and interesting sport. The 649th edition of historical Kirkpinar oil wrestlings took place at the end of June, 2010. It went on for a week and, on only the first day, about 500 kg of olive oil was used to cover the wrestlers’ bodies.
Today, all of the olive oil production companies and several associations in the country are trying to raise the bar for both consumption and production. The National Olive and Olive Oil council is one of the main organizations in Turkey that help to develop olive oil industry and culture. After Turkey left the International Olive Oil Council in 1998, the National Olive and Olive Oil Council (UZZK) was organized in 2002 and officially established in 2007. The Turkish government is also supporting the sector and hopefully the awareness will continue to develop. To make the very long story short, it seems like the miraculous olive oil is being rediscovered in its homeland, Anatolia.