By Abdellatif Cherqaoui
Taounate, Morocco – Every year, and precisely at the end of autumn most families in Taounate celebrate the coming of a new olive season by which they have been earning their livings for decades. Usually, the preparation starts early.
Families get themselves ready by buying needed materials like long sticks (with which they hit the olives to fall down from their mother trees) as well as big empty bottles that can be filled with the oil after being grounded.
The season is deemed to be an opportunity to strengthen family ties by the coming of other family’s members living in the adjacent cities (Fez, Meknes, etc.) to have their own share of the olives inherited from their grandfathers.
During an early morning and after having breakfast with the olive oil as usual, family members get themselves ready to kick off a new day by calling each other to get out to the field, and coming back at the evening with burdened mules.
The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean basin; wild olives were collected by Neolithic peoples as early as the 8th millennium BC. Olive oil was common in ancient Greek and Roman cuisine. The city of Athens obtained its name because Athenians considered olive oil essential, preferring the offering of the goddess Athena (an olive tree) over the offering of Poseidon (a spring of salt water gushing out of a cliff).
In the north of Morocco, mainly in Taouante, olive oil is an important ingredient for cooking and cosmetics. This is due to the vitamins it contains as well as its honorable place in Islam. Oive oil is mentioned in the Quranic verse: “God is the light of the Heavens and the Earth.
An example of His light is like a lantern inside which there is a torch, the torch is in a glass bulb, and the glass bulb is like a bright planet lit by a blessed olive tree, neither Eastern nor Western, its oil almost glows, even without fire touching it, light upon light.”
The Quran also mentions olives as a plant of significance: “By the fig and the olive, and the Mount Sinai, and this secure city.” Olive oil is also reported to have been recommended by prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in the following terms: “Consume olive oil and anoint it upon your bodies since it is of the blessed tree.”
According to recent findings, olive oil reduces the risk of coronary heart disease as it lowers total cholesterol levels in the blood.
Olive oil is also used for moisturizing the skin by regenerating skin cells and softening the tissue. It’s used as well to reduce ear wax buildup. It was also found to reduce oxidative damage to DNA and RNA which may be a factor in preventing cancer.
Extracting the oil is a long and tedious process. The ripe fruit of the olive tree, similar to argan, are ground into paste using millstones (traditional method) or steel drums (modern method).
The taste of the oil is influenced by the moment when the olives are harvested and grounded (less ripe olives give more bitter and spicy flavors which is a positive attribute; ripe olives give a sweeter sensation to the oil).