A Forgotten Treasure: Making Oil from Wild Olives

Francisco Villanueva and Fernando Martín produce oil from wild olives growing on the green slopes of the Sierra de las Nieves. "Professional tasters don’t know how to describe it.”
By Pablo Esparza
Mar. 14, 2017 08:54 UTC

Ancient Greeks used their branches to weave their Olympic wreaths and Roman emper­ors are said to have kept aside the oil from its fruits for their per­sonal use. But for most of the cen­turies, feral olive trees were just for­got­ten in the bushes.

I always say it is like giv­ing a bite to the moun­tain. It tastes like wild Nature.- Francisco Villanueva

These small-leafed, poor rel­a­tives of the cul­ti­vated olive trees, were often left aside, its tiny fruits regarded as not prof­itable enough to be har­vested. This hap­pens even nowa­days. An aver­age of 4 to 6kg of olives are needed to pro­duce a liter of oil from com­mer­cial vari­eties, whereas for wild olive trees this amount increases to 15 – 20kg.

Thus, cul­ti­vated olive trees, with a much higher yield, dom­i­nate olive oil pro­duc­tion. However, some pro­duc­ers are start­ing to turn their eyes to this kind of widely neglected olive tree.

Of course, there is great qual­ity olive oil from cul­ti­vated olives. We also have it. But the oil from wild olive trees has a par­tic­u­lar fla­vor, a dif­fer­ent taste. When you take it to a tast­ing panel, pro­fes­sional tasters don’t know how to describe it,” says Francisco Villanueva, co-founder of Aceite Mudéjar, a fam­ily-run com­pany that pro­duces this par­tic­u­lar kind of oil.

We meet him and his part­ner, Fernando Martín, at the doors of their olive oil mill in Monda, some 40km south­west of Málaga, in Andalusia.

When some­one asks me how it tastes like, I always say it is like giv­ing a bite to the moun­tain. It tastes as wild Nature,” he tells Olive Oil Times.

But the fla­vor is not the only rea­son that is mak­ing oil of feral olive trees com­mer­cially viable.

There is a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence in terms of organolep­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics, but its com­po­si­tion is dif­fer­ent as well. It has, of course, the same fatty acids, but regard­ing phe­no­lic com­pounds and vit­a­min E, it has a much big­ger share of them. When we send a sam­ple to spe­cial­ized labs, they ask us where we got this oil from. They find this unusual amount of antiox­i­dants,” says Villanueva, who is also a doc­tor.

Wild olives (Pablo Esparza)

Those char­ac­ter­is­tics have made the oil an appre­ci­ated cos­metic and med­i­c­i­nal com­pound.

In Spanish, feral olive trees are called ace­buches and their fruits are known as ace­buchi­nas.”

Both words have Arabic and Berber ori­gins, a legacy of the century’s long Moorish past of the region.

Villanueva and his part­ner Fernando Martín began to pro­duce ace­buche oil just a few years ago when they started har­vest­ing the ace­buchi­nas grow­ing on the green slopes of the Sierra de las Nieves (lit­er­ally range of the snows”).

This UNESCO bios­phere reserve, halfway between Málaga and Marbella, seems ages away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of the tourist cen­ters of the Costal del Sol. It is an ideal ter­ri­tory for ace­buches.”

But oils from feral olive trees are also being pro­duced else­where, from Cádiz, at the Southernmost cor­ner of Spain, to Jaén, in cen­tral Andalusia, and the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, where ace­buches are called ullas­tres” in Catalan lan­guage.

There are many kinds of ace­buches. Some of them are sons of cul­ti­vated vari­eties. Their fruits are a bit more sim­i­lar to those of cul­ti­vated vari­eties. Others are grand­sons of great-grand­sons of ace­buches. Those are the truly rich ones to get ace­buchina’ oil from them,” explains Villanueva.

Size is the main exter­nal dif­fer­ence between cul­ti­vated olives and feral ones. Acebuchinas” are much smaller and they have a higher pro­por­tion of olive pit.

The color of their pulps is also dif­fer­ent. While cul­ti­vated olives have a whitish pur­ple flesh, ace­buchi­nas have an intense blood-like juice.

The result is a com­pletely diverse type of oil. One that has per­haps been for­got­ten for too long. As Villanueva puts it: If Roman emper­ors used it, why not us?.”


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