Turkish Producer Highlights the Distinctive Qualities of the Native Kilis Olive

The award-winning producers behind Masmana have overcome a range of climatic and socioeconomic challenges to bring their organic Kilis olive oil to the world.

Ali Hayta (center) with his wife, Ayşeğül (right), and their daughter (Photo: Masmana)
By Daniel Dawson
Jun. 25, 2024 12:38 UTC
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Ali Hayta (center) with his wife, Ayşeğül (right), and their daughter (Photo: Masmana)

The south­east­ern Turkish province of Kilis has a long his­tory of olive cul­ti­va­tion but is far less known for its olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Archaeologists found 4,000-year-old olive seeds in Oylum Höyük, an ancient mound in the province, along with basaltic grind­ing stones, which may have been used to pro­duce olive oil.

We are expect­ing a good har­vest next sea­son. But the issue is that big buy­ers out­side of Turkey do not know if they will be able to buy olive oil in bulk, so we can’t sign any con­tracts.- Ali Hayta, co-founder, Masmana

Despite pro­duc­ing sig­nif­i­cant quan­ti­ties of olive oil each year, the vast major­ity has been sold in bulk to pri­vate label­ers in Turkey and Italy.

The fam­ily behind Masmana is work­ing to change this by cre­at­ing their own brand and export­ing extra vir­gin olive oil made from the endemic Kilis vari­ety.

See Also:Producer Profiles

We are a fourth-gen­er­a­tion fam­ily com­pany,” said co-founder Ali Hayta. My father and grand­fa­ther sold olive oil in bulk to big com­pa­nies.”

Despite grow­ing up in olive groves, Hayta only became involved in olive oil pro­duc­tion in the past half-decade.

There were no direct exports from east­ern Turkey then,” Hayta said. Around six years ago, my wife, Ayşeğül, and I thought we should sell our olive oil with our brand.”

At first, it was really dif­fi­cult to sell olive oil because nobody knew our region or brand,” he added.

After trav­el­ing to a food fair in Madrid and vis­it­ing pro­duc­ers across the Mediterranean, Hayta and his wife decided the best course of action was to focus on organ­i­cally pro­duc­ing the local Kilis vari­ety.

We noticed that the Kilis vari­ety is very rich in polyphe­nols, so in the past four years, we have focused on pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity olive oil with high lev­els of polyphe­nols,” Hayta said. This is our biggest advan­tage.”

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-africa-middle-east-turkish-producer-highlights-the-distinctive-qualities-of-the-native-kilis-olive-olive-oil-times

Kilis extra virgin olive oil is naturally high in polyphenols and boasts distinct organoleptic traits. (Photo: Masmana)

Now, Masmana pro­duces olive oil from its 5,000-tree grove at its mill. The com­pany also rents olive groves from other farm­ers each sea­son to har­vest the olives. Hayta vis­its the groves to check on the olives and ensure they are healthy before strik­ing a deal.

To demon­strate to them­selves and their cus­tomers that qual­ity is con­sis­tently high, Hayta entered Masmana’s brands into inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion.

The couple’s plan­ning and hard work started to bear fruit when they earned two Silver Awards at the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. Masmana returned to the world stage in 2024, earn­ing a Gold Award.

Hayta said that win­ning awards has helped him sell extra vir­gin olive oil and raise aware­ness about the region and its vari­ety.

Our sales are increas­ing every year,” he said. We have a new cus­tomer in the United States this year, and we will soon start sell­ing our olive oil online and on Amazon.”

Masmana has also suc­cess­fully grown sales in Russia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

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After their ini­tial suc­cess in 2022, the cou­ple had hoped to enter the 2023 NYIOOC, but these plans were derailed after suc­ces­sive 7.8 and 7.6 mag­ni­tude earth­quakes shook the region in February 2023.

The earth­quakes, which affected large swaths of south­east­ern Turkey and north­ern Syria, resulted in an esti­mated 62,000 deaths and 122,000 injuries and caused more than $160 bil­lion in dam­age.

It was ter­ri­ble,” Hayta said. There were thou­sands of after­shocks, and this had the worst psy­cho­log­i­cal impact. We are still afraid when we hear small noises from out­side. We think another earth­quake is com­ing.”

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-africa-middle-east-turkish-producer-highlights-the-distinctive-qualities-of-the-native-kilis-olive-olive-oil-times

Masmana cultivates organic Kilis olives in the fertile plains of southeastern Turkey. (Photo: Masmana)

Our mill, house and busi­ness were dam­aged, but the worst dam­age was to our psy­chol­ogy,” he added.

Long before the earth­quake, Hayta said the com­pany was used to over­com­ing chal­lenges. The grove is located about 50 kilo­me­ters away from the Syrian bor­der, and Kilis province has felt the impacts of its neighbor’s bloody civil war.

Since the con­flict began in 2011, 3.6 mil­lion Syrian refugees fled to Turkey. In less than half a decade, the pop­u­la­tion of the city of Kilis dou­bled to about 200,000 peo­ple.

While many Syrians have assim­i­lated and Hayta has hired many to work in Masmana’s groves and mill, he said the sheer num­ber has over­whelmed local pub­lic ser­vices.

Aside from the chal­lenges posed by the company’s loca­tion along tec­tonic fault lines and the Syrian bor­der, Masmana has also over­come the usual dif­fi­cul­ties that olive farm­ers face every­where.

Like many olive farm­ers in Turkey, Masmana expe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant pro­duc­tion decline in the 2023/24 crop year.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-africa-middle-east-turkish-producer-highlights-the-distinctive-qualities-of-the-native-kilis-olive-olive-oil-times

Along with its own groves, Masmana also rents land from other farmers to meet production needs. (Photo: Masmana)

Last year was very hot, and there was no rain for a long time,” he said. Normally, we start the early har­vest around September 15th to 20th, but last year, we saw early on that there would not be enough oil in the fruit, so we did­n’t har­vest until October 10th.”

Hayta added that his Kilis olives usu­ally have an excep­tion­ally high oil yield of 25 per­cent, but last year, this fell to 17 per­cent. Additionally, he said the fruit was smaller than usual. It was really a dif­fi­cult har­vest last year,” he said.

Hayta believes the poten­tial for more har­vests like 2023/24 is increas­ing due to cli­mate change. The cli­mate is chang­ing, and we will see it have more of an impact on olive grow­ing in the future,” he said.

Many Kilis trees are not irri­gated, which is not a prob­lem for now since they require less water than other vari­eties and are well adapted to the cold tem­per­a­tures expe­ri­enced by the region dur­ing the win­ter.

However, Hayta has noticed that grow­ers with Arbequina and other vari­eties com­mon in west­ern Turkey increas­ingly need irri­ga­tion to have suc­cess­ful har­vests.

They can­not sur­vive very eas­ily in this area,” he said. When the weather is too cold or hot, they get dam­aged. Our vari­ety can sur­vive these con­di­tions with­out too much water.”

Along with a poor har­vest in 2023/24, Hayta said ongo­ing lim­i­ta­tions to bulk olive oil exports cre­ated prob­lems for him­self and many other regional pro­duc­ers.

Before the lat­est ban was announced in August 2023, Hayta had a deal to export six tons of his olive oil in bulk to a Swedish com­pany, which would then bot­tle and resell it.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-africa-middle-east-turkish-producer-highlights-the-distinctive-qualities-of-the-native-kilis-olive-olive-oil-times

Hayta inspects recently-harvested olives before transporting them to the company’s dedicated mill. (Photo: Masmana)

He said one of the main advan­tages of sell­ing in bulk is that the logis­tics are eas­ier, and ship­ping is cheaper than export­ing the same vol­ume in indi­vid­u­ally pack­aged bot­tles. This con­tract had to be can­celed after the ban was announced. We lost the cus­tomer,” he said.

While the Turkish trade min­istry has imple­mented bulk export bans in each of the past three years to keep olive oil prices afford­able on the domes­tic mar­ket, Hayta said the peri­odic pro­hi­bi­tions have resulted in for­eign com­pa­nies becom­ing more skep­ti­cal about sign­ing deals with Turkish pro­duc­ers.

We are expect­ing a good har­vest next sea­son,” Hayta said. But the issue is that big buy­ers out­side of Turkey do not know if they will be able to buy olive oil in bulk, so we can’t sign any con­tracts.”

While offi­cial esti­mates will not be pub­lished until the autumn, some peo­ple in Turkey are opti­mistic that the coun­try will pro­duce 400,000 tons of olive oil in 2024/25, slightly below the record-high yield of 2022/23.

We had a good amount of rain dur­ing the win­ter and spring,” Hayta said. This is the most impor­tant thing. The other thing is that it wasn’t very hot [at the time of blos­som­ing], though it has started to get hot now, around 39 ºC, 40 ºC or 42 ºC.”

If these tem­per­a­tures con­tinue through August, the olives might have some prob­lems,” he added. But until now, we haven’t had any prob­lems. We will have to see how things develop.”


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