Nurturing Italian Cultivars in Olive Tree's Historic Home

Bustan El Zeitoun uses modern agricultural and milling practices while paying homage to Lebanon’s ancient olive oil culture.

Bustan El Zeitoun
By Paolo DeAndreis
Sep. 25, 2023 14:39 UTC
Bustan El Zeitoun

In the cra­dle of olive cul­ti­va­tion, the pro­ducer behind Bustan El Zeitoun thrives on the spir­i­tual con­nec­tion he shares with the land, its his­tory and its peo­ple.

Overlooking the coastal city of Sidon, 40 kilo­me­ters south of the Lebanese cap­i­tal of Beirut, Bustan El Zeitoun is infus­ing Lebanon’s ancient olive oil cul­ture with imported olive vari­eties.

In this region, mankind began cul­ti­vat­ing the olive trees mil­len­nia ago,” founder Walid Mushantaf told Olive Oil Times. They grew olives and cedars and exported their prod­ucts to Carthage, Italy and the Middle East.”

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Given all the trou­bles Lebanon has gone through over the last few decades, we are very proud today to craft world-class extra vir­gin olive oil,” he added.

In the vicini­ties of Mushantaf’s native Aabra vil­lage, 30 hectares of olive groves were planted after 2011 to reclaim the land ini­tially des­tined to become a con­struc­tion site.

Today, more than 6,000 olive trees stand tall in the area, with local olive tree cul­ti­vars shar­ing the grove with vari­eties imported from Italy.

In Lebanon, we have sev­eral olive cul­ti­vars such as Souri or Baladi,” Mushantaf said. Our ances­tors adopted them, and the DNA of all Lebanese vari­eties is almost the same.”

We imported 12 new vari­eties from Italy and planted them in our vil­lage, let­ting them thrive in a dif­fer­ent soil, under dif­fer­ent con­di­tions,” he added.

Among the best-adapted Italian cul­ti­vars in the area is Itrana, with which the com­pany earned a Gold Award at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.


Bustan El Zeitoun grows 6,000 olive trees, including 12 local and Italian varieties.

Since 2017, we started par­tic­i­pat­ing in local, national and inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, win­ning a Gold Award in New York in 2018,” Mushantaf said. Every year, we chal­lenge our­selves to offer a dif­fer­ent kind of mono­va­ri­etal. Our first win was with Frantoio.”

Itrana is always good because of its fruiti­ness, fla­vors and per­fect bal­ance,” he added. It can pro­duce both olive oil and table olives. We do not have many, maybe 150 or 160 trees of that vari­ety.”

Besides Frantoio and Itrana, Mushantaf also grows the Tuscan vari­eties of Leccino, Maurino and Pendolino.

We also have Coratina from Puglia, Biancolilla and Nocellara del Belice from Sicily and Bianchera from north­east­ern Italy,” he said.

The dif­fer­ences in the result­ing olive oils serve the com­pa­ny’s goals.

Some of the non-local olive oils mix per­fectly with our tra­di­tional cui­sine, fla­vors to which most peo­ple are com­fort­able with, as they are close to what they are used to,” Mushantaf said.

Some of them are also very dif­fer­ent,” he added. Which means that in Lebanon, we are more or less the only one pro­duc­ing them, and we have pro­duced them only as monocul­ti­var extra vir­gin olive oil since the begin­ning.”


The company produces mild, balanced and intense extra virgin olive oils.

Each olive oil is mar­keted start­ing from its pro­file. We sell them as mild, bal­anced or intense,” Mushantaf said. People in Lebanon are not used to vari­eties, as they are in other coun­tries or among experts. Here, locally, you need to mar­ket olive oils dif­fer­ently.”

The new trend in the country’s ancient olive oil cul­ture comes from pair­ing these olive oils with the local cui­sine. The com­pany pro­motes events and oppor­tu­ni­ties to taste such pair­ings.


Thanks to the hard work of chefs, Italian and French restau­rants, even those fla­vors that many are not used to can finally reach the mar­ket and open new cui­sine oppor­tu­ni­ties,” he said.

To local con­sumers, fla­vors and nov­elty are only some of the rea­sons to pre­fer and explore olive oils.

Olive oil and the olive tree are deeply nested in our cul­ture,” Mushantaf said. We asso­ciate them with peace and health, as their heal­ing prop­er­ties were known since ancient times.”

Our groves grow in the vicini­ties of the Temple of Eshmun, god of heal­ing in the Phoenician tra­di­tion,” he added. We con­nect to that, as our ances­tors knew of olives as a source of heal­ing.”

They knew how good olive oil was long before the sci­en­tific research that assesses all the details of its ther­a­peu­tic impact,” Mushantaf con­tin­ued.


Near the historic Temple of Eshmun, Bustan El Zeitoun has adopted a range of modern agronomic and milling practices.

After a 15-year civil war, war with neigh­bor­ing Israel and eco­nomic dis­rup­tion, the tra­di­tional aware­ness about olive oil’s health ben­e­fits and the knowl­edge about olive farm­ing were par­tially for­got­ten.

We had to learn it again, thanks to sci­ence, re-learn­ing how good olive oil is for our health,” Mushantaf said. At the same time, we also learned the best prac­tices in the groves and how to trans­form olives and pro­duce high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil again. Today, we fol­low a sci­en­tific-based approach to achieve the best qual­ity.”

We now have our own mill, based on Italian tech­nol­ogy, so we can con­fig­ure and set up the whole trans­for­ma­tion process how we pre­fer,” he added. It is a new gen­er­a­tion two-phase olive oil mill which requires only min­i­mum amounts of water to oper­ate and can guar­an­tee excel­lence.”

Besides hand-pick­ing the olives to reduce poten­tial impacts on the fruits, only the best fruits are sent to the mill. Before being trans­formed, their tem­per­a­ture is low­ered by refrig­er­a­tion. We aim to pre­serve the high­est qual­ity of fla­vors and healthy con­tents,” Mushantaf said.

The cur­rent sea­son is not look­ing to be as good as pre­vi­ous ones.

Through these years, we had good sea­sons, aver­age sea­sons, but this sea­son is not very good,” he said. Part of the rea­son is that dur­ing win­ter, we had warm weather and a big infes­ta­tion of insects.”

It will be chal­leng­ing in terms of quan­tity, as we dis­card whichever fruits are unhealthy,” he added. We will still make excel­lent olive oils, but we know we will lose a lot of quan­tity.”


As the city expands, more people visit Bustan El Zeitoun’s groves to enjoy the natural surroundings.

The com­pany adopted envi­ron­men­tally friendly prac­tices and a green approach to its olive farm­ing. This means that you will find not only our olive trees but a lot of veg­e­ta­tion,” Mushantaf said.

Since the start, the com­pany has involved the local com­mu­nity. Today, we have a beau­ti­ful green space shared with the com­mu­nity,” Mushantaf said. People come here to walk in nature, do sports, meet.”

We have stu­dents help­ing us har­vest every year,” he added. We bring them to the mill to learn. We also have hik­ing pro­grams, roses which can be picked and other prod­ucts and activ­i­ties.”

Everybody now sees Bustan El Zeitoun as a par­adise,” Mushantaf con­cluded. As the near­est big city spreads fur­ther, the olives and their sur­round­ings are seen as a unique nature oppor­tu­nity.”

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