Food History Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2472 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Agriculture

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] Like garlic, olives were found in Egyptian tombs from around the second millennium BCE. Olive cultivation thrived in the entire Mediterranean basin between 5000-1400 BCE, but reached a pinnacle in ancient Greece. Indeed, olives became the financial and culinary staple crop of ancient Greece and Crete, where trees have grown for five thousand years. The expansion of the Greek colonies enabled traders to introduce olives to Southern Italy, Northern Africa, and Southern France by the eighth century BCE.

Olives made more of an economic impact on the cultures of the Mediterranean region than garlic did. Because the olive tree leaches nutrients from the soil in which it grows, the land on which the trees are cultivated has a tendency to become arid and barren. This created actual agricultural dependency on the crop. However, the olive grew to such status in Greece that Solon instituted a law prohibiting the export of any other crop. Moreover, olives were so revered that reportedly cutting down an olive tree was punishable by death ("Olive Oil History").

Greece became increasingly economically dependent on olives. In fact, olives became the Minoan Kingdom's main source of income. Dependency on one crop weakened both the Minoans and the Athenians, enabling Rome to eventually dominate the region's agricultural economy. After the sack of Carthage, Rome controlled the region's grain production, and soon followed suit with olives and olive oil. The oil extracted from the pulp of olives would become the most important commodity in Imperial Rome (Pellechia 90). Increased demand for the oil caused the Romans to plant trees in the entire Empire, from the Iberian Peninsula to Northern Africa, to the Middle East. Trees were planted as far north as the alpine foothills of Italy. The olive trees that grow inland produce oil different in flavor and quality from oil produced from trees that grow near the ocean. Olive trees that grow near the sea produce twenty times more fruit than those that grow inland ("Olive Oil History"). The oil produced from inland trees is therefore more expensive. Today, one third of Italy's olive trees are located in Apulia. The ancient world set the stage for the modern: all the top olive oil producers are Mediterranean countries, especially Italy and Spain. Italy alone boasts over thirty varieties of olives ("Olive Oil History").

The oil of the olive, known as "liquid gold" by Homer, was used to anoint the bodies of athletes in both ancient Greece and Rome. The oil was also a major source of food calories. Cato espoused the "first cold pressing" of the olive for the finest oil, known today as "extra virgin" oil. Olive oil production was highly organized in ancient Rome, and the oil became the Empire's foremost commodity. Olive oil production in Cato's time was not much different than it is today, at least for extra virgin oil. Centrifugal force is used to separate pulp from oil, which is collected from the fresh fruit. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution sped up the olive oil production process, but extra virgin oil still adheres to strict purity standards. Extra virgin oil must contain less than 1% acidity.

Considering that one liter of olive oil requires about five kilograms of olives, about an entire tree, it is amazing that the oil has remained so prolific, such an integral ingredient in Mediterranean cooking. However, olive oil was not only used as a food source. The oil was used to make ointments, aromatics, and cosmetics in ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome, and the Middle East. Thomas Pellechia, in his book Garlic, Wine, and Olive Oil, suggests putting low grade olive oil on the scalp as a treatment for head lice (171).

Both olive oil and garlic are mentioned in ancient texts, including the Bible. Pliny raved about garlic. In his first century text Natural History, he provides a recipe/medicine combining boiled crushed garlic with milk and soft cheese. Today, a slew of cooks use garlic to enhance the flavor of their foods. Often garlic is the basis of an entire recipe. Similarly, olive oil can be an adjunct to cooking, as a subtle ingredient in cooking or salad dressings. Olive oil can also be the primary ingredient in some food or medicinal items. Interestingly, olive oil as a dip for bread was not common until recently. In Cato's time, olive oil was peasant food; the elite liked their bread dry (Pellechia 91).

Today, almost all of the world's olive oil comes from Spain and Italy, but northern California has a small market share. The olive was introduced to California by the Franciscans. Olive groves were planted in Southern California, which has a Mediterranean-like climate and soil. However, land values skyrocketed, making large-scale production there unfeasible.

It is impossible to imagine a world without garlic or olive oil. Garlic is especially abundant throughout the world, and is ubiquitous in cuisines as diverse as East Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean. Olive oil is more uniquely Mediterranean. Its versatility and its flavor complement Italian cooking. Olive and oil and garlic are gifts from the Fertile Crescent that are as delicious as they are nutritious.

Works Cited

Brothwell, Don, and Patricia Brothwell. Food in Antiquity: A survey of the Diet of Early Peoples. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Grieve, M. "Garlic." Botanical.com: A Modern Herbal. 18 Apr. 2003. http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/g/garlic06.html.

Pellechia, Thomas. Garlic, Wine and Olive Oil: Historical Anecdotes and Recipes. Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 2000.

Olive Oil History." Global Gourmet. 1997. The Electronic Gourmet Guide. 18 Apr. 2003. http://www.globalgourmet.com/food/egg/egg0397/oohistory.html.

The Olive Tree." Sophim. 18 Apr. 2003. http://www.sophim.com/html/history.html.

Simon, Philipp W. "The Origins and Distribution of Garlic: How Many Garlics are there?" 18 Apr 2003. http://www.hort.wisc.edu/usdavcru/simon/garlic_origins.html. [END OF PREVIEW]

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