Olive Oil Origins

A look at the history of olive oil production.

Wild olives originated in Asia Minor (majority of modern day Turkey) approximately 6,000 years ago. Historically, olive oil was used for many purposes including religious rituals, medicines, fuel in oil lamps, soap-making, and skin care application.

According to Reviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology, the modern olive tree likely originated in ancient Persia and Mesopotamia, then spread towards Syria and Israel in the Mediterranean Basin, where it was cultivated and later introduced to North Africa. Some scholars have argued that olive cultivation originated with the Ancient Egyptians. Olives have also been found in Egyptian tombs from 2,000 years BC.

Roman olive oil presses in the city of Sufetula, Tunisia

The earliest surviving olive oil amphorae date to 3,500 BC, though the production of olive oil is assumed to have started before 4,000 BC. By 3,000 BC in Crete, the olive was widely cultivated and a highly prized commodity. The cultivation of olive trees in Crete became prevalent in the post-palatial period and played a significant role in the island's economy, as it did across the Mediterranean. Olive oil entered its golden age with the Greeks, as they used it for food, fuel, skin lotion, contraceptive, detergent, preservative, pesticide, perfume and adornment. Olive oil was also a major export of Mycenaean Greece (c. 1450–1150 BC). Scholars believe the ancient olive oil was produced by a process where olives were placed in woven mats and squeezed, with the oil collected in vats.

Later, as Greek colonies were established in other parts of the Mediterranean, olive farming was introduced to locations such as Spain and continued to spread throughout the Roman Empire. The importance of olive oil as a commercial commodity increased after the Roman conquest of Egypt, Greece and Asia Minor, which led to more trade along the Mediterranean. As olive production continued to expand in the 5th century AD, the Romans began using additional production techniques such as the olive press.

Greek olive oil amphorae, 3500 BC

Olive trees were introduced to the Americas in the 16th century AD when cultivation began in areas that featured a climate similar to the Mediterranean. As Spanish missionaries marched north, establishing missions in California, they also planted olive groves. Southern California saw the first olive trees, and by the mid-19th century, there was a thriving olive oil industry in California. Today, the California olive oil industry has emerged as a worldwide leader. Brightland sources our olives from a family-owned California farm, then mills and crafts them into custom-blended extra virgin olive oils on-site. We believe in the California sun and soil, and the beautiful olives they yield.


Kapellakis, Iosif Emmanouil, "Olive oil history, production and by-product management". Reviews in Environmental Science Biotechnology, 2008

Riley, F.R., "Olive Oil Production on Bronze Age Crete: Nutritional properties, Processing methods, and Storage life of Minoan olive oil", Oxford Journal of Archaeology 21:1:63–75

Foley, Brendan P., et al, "Aspects of Ancient Greek Trade Re-Evaluated with Amphora DNA Evidence," Journal of Archaeological Science 39.2 (2012): 389–98, Print

Mueller, Tom, "Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil," 2011