Olive trees have been part of the Mediterranean flora for centuries, but not many have survived the test of time. The oldest ones are in fact scattered around the Mediterranean basin.
A similarly rich heritage exists in Tunisia where – to no one’s surprise, one of the oldest olive trees in the world is located.Location: “Echraf”, Nabeul region along the sunny coast of Tunisia, a short drive from Haouaria, one of the country’s many stunning beach towns. In this picturesque location, the oldest olive tree in the country was planted over 2,500 years ago during the Punic period.
When speaking about the origins of Tunisia’s agricultural traditions, olive harvesting, and olive oil production, we have two figures to thank:
The first one is Mago Barca, son of famed Carthaginian warrior and strategist Hannibal. Dubbed as “The father of agronomy”, Mago was at the center of agricultural structure and development, becoming thereafter the Carthaginian agronomist of the century. He revolutionized agriculture in his era, and his writings are a living treasure.
According to Tunisian prominent historian; Dr. Mhamed Hassine Fantar, when the Roman Empire invaded Carthage and destroyed the city, the only book they kept safeguarded was the Agricultural treaty Magon’s written in Punic language. He has become the main reference in history, thanks to his rare chronicle, kept at the Apollo temple in Italy since the end of Rome’s third war against Carthage.
The second figure to commemorate is Eshmun, whose temple is located on the hill of Byrsa-Carthage and is the Phoenician God of healing, who believed in the therapeutic use of extra virgin olive oil and described it as “the one that heals”.
According to historians, “Cretans” used olive oil as a currency in their trade with North African countries, and Romans introduced a detailed classification for different varieties of olive oils, for pricing purposes at the time. Olive trees were in fact considered as a sign of wealth, and olives as a “source of income” for civilizations throughout history.
With the rise of Carthage as a prominent economical force of the basin, olive trees were grown and cultivated with care, using then state-of-the-art irrigation systems, bringing prosperity and glory to Carthage.
To many at the time, extra virgin olive oil was a life partner. Actually, it was used in all sorts of things, such as:
● Home remedies for colds and sore throats
● Skin-care and therapeutic practices
● Artisanal soap-making
Above all, extra virgin olive oil was heavily used in cooking by Carthaginians and Romans alike, becoming a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. Its many health benefits contributed to their long lives.
Over the years, several varieties of olives emerged thanks to the adequate climate conditions and continuous cultivation that favored genetic diversity in specific regions, such as the center and the south of Tunisia. In fact, since the creation of the “Institute of the Olive Trees” in 1983, over 140 local varieties have been registered.
In addition to the effect of the soil composition, this resulted in an impact on the flavor of the olive oil. As a result, some varieties are on the softer side, with a slightly bitter and spicy taste and hints of cherry, almond, and vanilla. Meanwhile, others are more pronounced with an intense flavor profile, with lingering, noticeable spiciness and bitterness that rounds up the taste into a sensory stimulating experience, bringing notes of chicory, green almond, and chilies.
Generations of wisdom and expertise have also led to the growth of extra virgin olive oil as one of Tunisia’s most consumed food products. According to historians, it would be used abundantly in cooking, with a local yearly consumption average between 8 and 9 liters in 1929. This contributed to the creation of Tunisia’s large culinary repertoire.
Many farmers would rely on olive crops and olive oil yield as a primary source of income. So much so that they would grow attached to them, turning them into a sign of national identity and strong regional ties with their communities.
As for the harvest and production method, they would evolve over the years. From the introduction of sophisticated technology in the pressing stage to strict quality control, Tunisian extra virgin olive oil slowly but surely built a name for itself in the Mediterranean region as one of the best.
From the dawn of time, olive oil has been a staple of Mediterranean culture in many ways. Its usage was documented throughout history all around the Mediterranean basin.
Pulling from its mightiness, we created “2500 Years of Tradition”: a premium extra virgin olive oil expertly extracted from top-quality olives, awarded the Bronze medals at the Canada & London IOOC of 2021. Together with “Al Atika” and “Ifriqia”, we deliver to you the best of Tunisian extra virgin olive oil, nurtured over generations.
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