Turkish Olives & Olive Oils

Turkish Olives & Olive Oils

The oldest olive oil facility, dating back to 600 BC, can be found at the ancient settlement of Klazomenai in west Anatolia, in the Urla district near the city of Izmir. Like elsewhere around the Mediterranean, olive oil is a very important foodstuff in Turkey and takes pride of place in Turkish cuisine.
Towards the end of the summer touristic season in Turkey, thousands of families and factories gear up themselves up for the olive picking harvest. With more than 1,750,000 tonnes grown every year, Turkey is the fourth biggest producer in the world of olives, a staple ingredient in most kitchens.
Olives are an essential element of Turkish Cuisine. Whether as the star of the breakfast table or the base of olive oil, olives are always appreciated.

Turkey has grown to become one of the top 5 producers of olives and olive oils in the world. This can be attributed in part to the Mediterranean climate and because central Anatolia is rumoured to be the birthplace of the humble olive tree. With deep historical, cultural and manufacturing roots, it makes sense that Turkish cuisine is often built around the humble olive.

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Whether added to the simple Turkish breakfast, used in salads, bread, and appetizers or made into oil for cooking, the olive will always feature strongly in Turkish culture because there is not and will never be an alternative. Even in Ottoman cuisine, black and green olives were an essential ingredient in many dishes. Traditionally, they are either soaked in brine over a length of time to soften their skins or pressed into high-quality olive oil, but certain regions are more famous than others for their exceedingly delicious olives.

5 Common Olive Varieties in Turkey
Celebi: Originating from the Lake Iznik area, Celebi olives are small fruits destined for the table.
Domat: Found throughout the Aegean region, Domat olives are larger and therefore, considered the best green olives for stuffing (with garlic, almonds, peppers, cheeses).
Gemlik: Is widely produced due to the hardiness of the plant and its fruit. Gemlik olives have a high oil content, shiny black skin and a depth of taste and texture that makes them delicious for both the table and olive oil production.
Memecik: Also found throughout the Aegean region, green Memecik olives are mid-sized olives with a slightly oval shape. It offers a rich taste due to its high oil content.
Memeli: Grown largely in Izmir, Memeli olives are used as green olives typically preserved in brine, split green olives and black olives.

Turkish olive oil types

Olive oils for consumption can reach up to 3.3 percent acidity level – the lower the level, the higher the quality and healthier the product. Global acidity norms are set by the International Olive Oil Council.

Naturel sızma zeytinyağı – extra virgin 100 percent raw olive oil has the lowest level of acidity, at under 0.8 percent. Due to its high nutritional value it should be consumed cold. Some production facilities, such as Özgün in Ayvalık, offer taş baskı naturel sızma zeytinyağı – the highest quality oil pressed cold (27 degrees Celsius) using traditional stone presses.

Before olives ripen fully, they are often collected to make the first oil of the season, erken hasat naturel sızma zeytinyağı. Early harvest oils of bitter, peppery flavor, tend to be more expensive since more olives are needed to make the same amount of oil as later in season. If you want to make sure your oil was made this year, choose yeni hasat with the appropriate date.

Naturel birinci zeytinyağı – virgin olive oil with acidity level between 0.8 and 2 percent. Laleli, an olive oil manufacturer based in Taylıeli Köyü, Burhaniye, makes excellent yemeklik naturel birinci zeytinyağı of 1.5 percent acidity.

Naturel zeytinyağı is an equivalent of virgin olive oil with acidity not higher than 2 percent.

Rafine zeytinyağı is refined olive oil of acidity level higher than 2 percent, also referred to as ‘pure.’ In the old times, this type of oil was used in oil lanterns.

Olive Oil Soap
As a nation, Turks have always been incredibly resourceful. The small olive is widely eaten for breakfast or in appetizers dishes, and olive oil is a focal ingredient of the cooking process and as a salad dressing. However, Turks have really stretched themselves to the limit when it comes to making good use of this natural ingredient.

Handmade olive oil soaps are not only an attractive souvenir but also widely utilized in the Turkish bath culture. People with skin conditions or eco-friendly enthusiasts who prefer to avoid manmade chemicals so often seen in beauty products particularly favour these handmade soaps. Although the original recipe existed since the Babylon times, Arabs replaced the ingredient of animal fat with olive oil and natural scents, so we see their version as it is today.

While not synthetically pleasing to the eye, the rustic appearance of real handmade olive oil soap lends weight to its authenticity. The south-eastern region of Gaziantep enthusiastically uses and produces olive oil soap, mainly to deal with skin problems such as eczema and sunburn.