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Greek olive oil the best in the Med

- by Dabs Banner

Olive oil is one of Greece's best products so why do we see so little in UK shops and supermarkets?

The answer appears to be the failure of the Greek government to promote the product, not only to benefit overseas sales but also to help boost tourism.

Unlike Greek wine, olive oil has enjoyed little backing in recent years despite it being acknowledged may many cooks as the best olive oil on the market and despite it being sold more cheaply than rival products from places like Spain and Italy.

Now industry leaders want Greek olive oil to get the same treatment as Greek wine and Greek feta cheese.

Giorgos Economou is director of the impressive sounding Association of Greek Industries of Olive Oil Standardisation. He complains: "Olive oil is lagging behind other products, such as the wine ... We want to develop the oil tourism. We want to establish the 'olive oil roads' and open the olive mills for people to visit them."

Known as the 'green gold' of the Mediterranean, groves of olive oil are found just about everywhere in Greece and its production is linked closely to everyday village life in rural areas.

Despite its ubiquity, Greece has does little to promote the product among the thousand of annual tourist visitors to the Greek islands.

Making olive oil is very much a family affair in Greece and olive mills were once dotted all over the countryside. Many have fallen into disuse and are now little more than ruins.

However there are a few that open their doors to tourists such as those on Lesvos and but it's a national asset that has been left to wither,

The potential for development as tourist attractions is significant, especially since olive oil production in Greece is enjoying something of a revival.

According to latest figures, Greek olive oil production was up a phenomenal 127% last year to top 300,000 tonnes. And more than 70% of the total Greek olive oil production is of extra-virgin quality.

Ironically, much Greek olive oil is shipped to Italy where it is bottled and exported to other countries such as the UK.

The problem seems to lie in the non-standardisation of Greek olive oil, and Greece needs to lift its game if it is to compete against rivals with Greek branded products.

Only a third of Greek olive oil production gets an official seal of approval for quality yet every holiday visitor to the Greek islands knows just how delicious the home-grown product is.

That said, there is still the irritating Greek habit of leaving large bottles of olive oil on taverna tables in the hot summer sun where it quickly degrades.

There are even moves to force taverna owners to serve small bottles of olive oil that each diner can open for themselves, thus preserving the unique flavour and taste of Greek extra virgin olive oil.

Olive oil contains no additives or preservatives and is high in mono-unsaturates, which means helps to control cholesterol levels as part of a healthy balanced diet.

The Greeks consume more olive oil per head than any other country, and Greek olive oil is noted for is fresh, grassy flavour, often with a slight hint of pepper.

Greek olive oil is excellent with salads, especially drizzled over feta cheese but it is also an important base for many Greek dishes, such as moussaka and kleftiko.

One of the problems in promoting olive oil tourist trails in Greece is that the traditional olive harvest starts in late autumn, well after the tourist season has ended.

Olives are usually picked between November and January and cheap flights to Greece can be hard to find at that time of year.

But with plans by the Greek government to extend the tourism season, olive oil trails present an ideal opportunity to both boost winter tourism and promote one of Greece's best products.