Olive oil has been part of the Spanish culture and economy for many years. The olive tree (Olea Europea) was introduced to the Iberian Peninsular during the 1st centuries BC by the Phoenicians and the Greeks. For the duration of the Roman empire, olive oil cultivation and technology was developed and extended. Olive oil became a significant trade and notably enriched the Mediterranean economy. Spain became the largest supplier of this prized oil, of which, was usually consumed in Rome and other parts of the Roman Empire. Spanish olive oil was considered to be of high quality during historical times and continues to hold its title.
The Arabs, during their occupancy in Spain, carried on perfecting olive oil production techniques.
Historically, olive oil was not only restricted to cooking, but was also used for medicinal, religious and nourishing purposes. For instance, it was used to massage Kings, athletes and babies, as a hygiene and beauty product, as fuel to light lamps in temples, as a lubricant for tools and equipment and much more.
Today Spain is the main olive oil producer and exporter in the world and is still recognised for its excellence.
Olive oil is a central part of the Spanish food culture and hugely represents its Agricultural industry. Spain is the first olive oil producing country in the world with an average annual production of 700,000-800,000 tons, even reaching 1,400,000 in recent seasons. With more than 300 million olive trees covering more than 2 million hectares, the cultivated surface area is more than 25% of the world's olive growing surface area.
Spain is also the first exporting country in the world, with annual average exports in the last 10 years of more than 300,000 tons, even reaching 600,000 tons in some seasons.
Spanish Olive Oil is exported to more than 100 countries in the 5 continents, although the main markets vary depending on whether it is exported in bulk (mainly exports to countries in the European Union) or in containers of less than 5 liters, which are marketed directly to consumers, restaurants, outlets and the best gourmet shops in the whole world: Italy is the main market of Spanish olive oil in bulk, followed by France and the United Kingdom. The main destinations of packed olive oil are: Australia, USA, Brazil, Japan and France.
Spanish olive oil is subject to strict quality controls and adheres to the quality requirements set out by the European Union.
Olive Oil Production: Distributed Regions
Due to the country’s advantageous microclimates as well as a great diversity and richness in soils , Spain is able to supply itself, along with the rest of the world, a broad spectrum of oils with assorted aromas and flavours. For this reason production in Spain is distributed by regions as follows:
- Andalucía (80%)
- Castilla de la Mancha (7%)
- Extremadura (5%)
- Catalonia (3.5%)
- Rest of Spain (4.5%)
Olive Oil Production: Distributed Regions
Andalucia (Region to the south of the peninsula) produces approximately 80% of the total olive oil produced in Spain. The Andalucian Community is composed of eight provinces, from east to west: Almería, Granada, Jaén, Córdoba, Málaga, Seville, Cádiz, and Huelva. Most of the production is concentrated in the provinces of Jaén and Córdoba. A remarkable fact is the province of Jaén produces more olive oil than the whole of Greece.
Main olive varieties are: Picual, Hojiblanca, Lechín, Verdial and Picudo.
Castilla La Mancha-(South of Madrid) produces approximately 7% of the total olive oil produced in Spain. The region is split into five provinces: Guadalajara, Cuenca, Toledo, Ciudad Real, and Albacete. Most of the production is concentrated in the provinces Toledo and Ciudad Real.
Main olive varieties are: Cornicabra & Picual.
Extremadura- (Located in the southeastern part of the country) produces approximately 5% of the total olive oil produced in Spain. The region is comprises of two provinces: Caceres and Badajoz.
Main olive varieties are: Cornicabra, Carrasqueña & Morisca.
Cataluña- (Northeastern part of the peninsula) produces approximately 3.5% of the total olive oil produced in Spain. The region is composed of four provinces: Gerona, Barcelona, Lerida & Tarragona.
Main olive varieties are: Fraga, Empeltre & Arbequina.
Nowadays the use of olive oil is not just confined to producing countries, its popularity and health awareness has spread throughout the world. Fortunately it is available all through the year to satisfy
taste buds and promote good health.
Cooking with olive oil
Olive oil can be used for a variety of cooking experiences. Depending on the grade of olive oil, its usage may vary. In Spain, it is used on a daily basis and applied to all types of recipes. Please check out our “How to use olive oil” page for great tips.