`Rediscovering the Origins of Olive Oil in Turkey - Olive Oil Times

Rediscovering the Origins of Olive Oil in Turkey

Jul. 12, 2010
Umut Egitimci

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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.

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