Olive oil, used in cooking, cosmetics, soaps, and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps.
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Olive oil from Italy.
Olive oil is a fruit oil obtained from the olive (Olea europaea; family Oleaceae along with lilacs, jasmine and ash trees), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. It is commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps. Olive oil is healthier than other sources of alimentary fat because of its high content of monounsaturated fat (mainly oleic acid) and polyphenols.
Over 750 million olive trees are cultivated worldwide, about 95% of those in the Mediterranean region. About 93% of global production comes from European Union and European Union candidate states; of the European production, 93% comes from Spain, Italy, Turkey, and Greece; Spain alone accounts for more than 30% of world production, which was 2.6 million metric tons in 2002. In 2006 Turkey acounted for over 25% of world production.
In olive oil-producing countries, the local production is generally considered the finest. In North America, Italian olive oil is the best-known, and top-quality extra-virgin oils from Italy, Spain and Greece are sold at high prices, often in "prestige" packaging.
Greece devotes 60% of its cultivated land to olive growing. It is the world's top producer of black olives and boasts more varieties of olives than any other country. Greece holds third place in world olive production with more than 132 million trees, which produce approximately 350,000 tons of olive oil annually, of which 82% is extra-virgin (see below for an explanation of terms). This makes Greece the world's biggest producer of extra-virgin olive oil, topping Italy (where 40–45% of olive oil produced is extra virgin) and Spain (25–30%). About half of the annual Greek olive oil production is exported, but only some 5% of this quantity reflects the origin of the bottled product. Greek exports primarily target European Union (EU) countries, the main recipient being Italy, which receives about three-quarters of total exports. Olives are grown for oil in mainland Greece, with Peloponnese being the source of 65% of Greek production, as well as in Crete, the Aegean Islands and Ionian Islands.
The Italian government regulates the use of different protected designation of origin labels for olive oils in accordance with EU law. Olive oils grown in the following regions are given the Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Denomination of Protected Origin) status: Aprutino Pescarese, Brisighella, Bruzzio, Chianti, Colline di Brindisi, Colline Salernitane, Penisola Sorrentina, Riviera Ligure, and Sabina. Olive oil from the Chianti region has the special quality assurance label of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Controlled Origin; DOC) as well as the DOP.
Among the many different olive varieties used in Italy are Frantoio, Leccino Pendolino, and Moraiolo. Demand for Italian olive oil has soared in the United States. In 1994, exports to the US totaled 28.95 million gallons, a 215% increase from 1984. The US is Italy's biggest customer, absorbing 22% of total Italian production of 131.6 million gallons in 1994. Despite shrinkage in production, Italian exports of olive oil rose by 19.2% from 1994 to 1995. A large share of the exports went to the EU, especially Spain.