Israel is renowned for many things, and arguably one of its most notable is its olive oil. Israel’s olive trees have dominated its landscape for centuries … perhaps millennia. According to estimates, of the 800 million olive trees worldwide, 93% grow in the Mediterranean region. A major cash crop, olive plantations comprise approximately 85,000 acres in Israel, producing over 16,000 tons of oil annually. While most of its product is for domestic use, Israel exports nearly 1,000 tons, mainly to the United States.
In 2021, the olive tree was christened as the “national tree” of Israel, marking the 120th anniversary of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), Israel’s largest green organization. The olive fruit is used completely in Israel—there is no waste. Even the pulp left over from processing is recycled as fertilizer for the very trees which grew them.
Israel’s olive oil industry is at the center of its history, culture, and cuisine. Its biblical provenance gives it a spiritual significance for those who use and consume it. It was the only fuel used to light the menorah in the Temple in Jerusalem, and generations of kings in Israel—starting with King David—were anointed with consecrated olive oil.
It is highly touted as the ideal food, particularly for those who follow a Mediterranean diet. Rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, it is widely considered the healthiest fat on earth, lowering one’s risk of heart disease and stroke.
Israeli olive oils are treated with the same reverence and critical study as of fine wines. They are meant to be tasted and judged for their individual characteristics such as mouth feel, body, and flavor notes. It is also important to understand which varieties of olives are used, as well as how they were cultivated and processed, which makes pairing with different foods like bread and cheese an enhanced and delightful experience!
The prime time for olive harvest in Israel takes place between October and December. Olives start the ripening process in October and usually become overripe after the first frost in December. Modern orchards, as well as more traditional and family-owned orchards, harvest many varieties of olives, which produce wide ranging flavors. The production of olive oil and its subsequent bottling is supervised by the Israeli Ministries of Agriculture and Health to guarantee purity and quality. Olive oil is the only food in the world which is regulated by not only taste, but aroma. Because Israel only produces the highest grade of olive oils, known as virgin olive oil, producers must use only olives without defect.
When you are in Israel, you can visit many oil producers who welcome the public to their facilities and allow you to not only taste and purchase their product, but to also see how it is produced. You can also take part in the Olive Branch Festival, which is held every November.