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Olives of Cyprus  

Harvest of Black Gold...

6th International Kyrenia Olive Festival, North Cyprus (5-10 October 2007)Olive oil is a humble yet vital part of the diet of millions of people around the world, and especially is this so in the Mediterranean region of which North Cyprus is a part. Many people see olives and the rich oil extracted from them as some sort of wondrous elixir that guarantees a long and healthy life. The amazing qualities attributed to eating olives and drinking the oil appear so beneficial, so important for health and strength that for many people they are the difference between life an death!

This is the time of the olive harvest in North Cyprus and all the figures thus far suggest that the harvest this year has been particularly good. Harvest time usually begins sometime in October, when the early green olive first fruits are gathered either by shaking the branches over sheets spread on the ground around the tree, or by individually picking the olives by hand.

Pressing the olives for oil or treating them for consumption as black or green olives at the breakfast table usually lasts until around the month of March. This year the harvest of "black gold" as olives are sometimes described is unlikely to reach the record crop of 1999, when 8,000 tonnes were harvested, but growers are happy that despite poor rainfall during the year, their trees have again produced well.

Complaints that lack of proper marketing and sales technique reduces profits have in part been dealt with by bringing in new pressing equipment from Italy. This means that processing will go faster, helping growers to reach their markets quicker. Most growers in North Cyprus sell their olives to be pressed, feeling that there is a better market for the oil rather than for the familiar black or green olives that adorn the tables of most Mediterranean families.

Magical Olive Oil  

Olive oil is also hugely versatile
A drop of extra virgin olive oil on a warm bread with cheese and olives make simple but delicious lunch
So what is it about olive oil that makes some people drink down a glass of it with their breakfast every morning? The high consumption of olive oil around the world makes it clear that for countless consumers it has become more than an indispensable part of their diet. Most food experts, dieticians and health-conscious agree that olive oil contains elements that fight cholesterol, help to reduce blood pressure and by reducing fats in the blood, lower the risk of heart attacks. These almost miraculous qualities of olive oil have long been recognised by people living in the Mediterranean countries, and the diet they follow has come to be seen as a vital contribution to health. 

Olive oil is also hugely versatile. In the past, the oil was used for cooking, lubricating, medicinal purposes, cosmetics and fuel. Often mixed with exotic perfumes, olive oil was frequently used as a balm for the skin, applied after bathing or after long hours spent under the sun. History tells us that being anointed with the oil was an honour worthy of kings. In fact, olive oil was once so valuable that it was used as a form of currency, or given as an expensive gift. The soothing qualities of olive oil eased the pain of minor wounds and the bruises of everyday life. It was used in the embalming and preservation of the bodies of the rich and the famous.

Even in this modern era, olive oil has lost none of its usefulness. It is still used in cosmetics and some lubricants. The residue after processing is often used as cattle food. It is still a major source of vital vitamins and other essential trace elements. Further, olive oil is used in detergents and in the textile industries. Its popularity has grown worldwide and is recognised as a vital food in regions far beyond the Mediterranean countries. Especially as its high vitamin E content is thought to reduce the ravages of the passing years. Even the wood of the tree is still valued as a high quality hard wood with a fine grain that is ideal for turning, with cut-offs and small branches used for fuel.

Olive oil addicts are warned however that olive oil is not the total answer to all their health problems. It is still one hundred percent liquid fat and every tablespoonful contains about 125 calories. Whether "light" or not, olive oil can be very fattening and is unlikely to have more than a fairly limited role in maintaining the overall health of our bodies.


It seems that the often gnarled and gray branches and trunks of the fairly small olive tree were first cultivated for their olives about six thousand years ago in areas of the Middle East. They have been cultivated on the island of Cyprus for four thousand years or so. This slow growing, but long living evergreen takes about ten years to grow to maturity, but after that it yields olives for perhaps hundreds of years. 

Small black olivesFor maximum production the tree needs stringent pruning every ten years or so, cutting right back to the main branches. This rejuvenates the tree and crops can be expected to increase to full capacity within three years. 

In North Cyprus, as in other Mediterranean countries the olive tree can be seen everywhere, in the wild and under cultivation. Usually favouring well drained sunny hillsides, olive trees can nevertheless thrive in backyards and flat plain lands.

The nurture and care of olive trees is a matter of some skill. Although olive trees can live and produce olives for hundreds of years, they do need skilful pruning and without attention they can soon die off. This has been the case in North Cyprus, but now that young trees planted and have started to produce, growers are hoping once again North Cyprus region will be a serious Mediterranean producer. Some estimates suggest that there are about 800 million olive trees under cultivation around the world, and nearly all of them are in the Mediterranean countries. 

Green, Black and crushed Chakistes olives at a market stall

The first light pressing of the olive yields the best oil, high quality "virgin" oil. "Extra virgin" oil has a very low acid content and is eagerly sought after. Apart from the growers, people in North Cyprus who have their own trees also like to process their own olives. The traditional ways are still followed. Sometimes, the olives are individually nicked with a knife to help in the soaking process before salting the olives to preserve them. Often the olives  are given a sharp blow with a stone and these crushed olives (called Chakistes) take on a special flavour of their own mixed with olive oil lemon juice, garlic cloves and coriander seeds. Other methods produce the familiar salty black olives that add so much flavour to meals and snacks.

For centuries, olives have enjoyed a never failing popularity, one that continues to grow as more and more people come to appreciate this source of `black gold' and come to enjoy the richness that olives bring to their diet. Olives have long been recognised as a symbol of good living and their miraculous oil can indeed restore us in some measure that elusive good health which we are all searching for.



Dining Out in North Cyprus - Cafe, Restaurant, Bar Guide

Articles - Makaleler
Making the World Taste Better - Cyprus
Kuzey Kıbrıs'ın Dünya Mutfağına Sunuşu: Lalangı  
       (Lalangı: A Contribution of North Cyprus to World Cuisine) TR now online!

Vegetarian dishes have been marked with sign  
Albrecht, M (1994), Turkish Cypriot & Mediterranean Cookery 
       Salaman, R., (1991), The Cooking of Greece and Turkey.

        Jemal, H., Cyprus Today, various.




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