Israel is described in the Bible as “a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey” (Deut 8:8). Indeed, olive trees were well established in the land before the Israelites entered under Joshua (Deut 6:11). It is therefore not surprising to find that today Israel has a significant olive oil industry.

Olive orchards in Israel produce between 15,000 and 16,000 tons of extra-virgin olive oil every year, with about 81,000 acres currently in production. 1[1] Most Israeli oil is produced for the dowmestic market, while about 1,000 tons are exported, mainly to the United States. Yad Mordechai is one of the larger producers, but in recent years, some boutique brands based mainly on small moshavim, or cooperative farming villages, have emerged. Some of these small growers, who do not have their own label, sell to the larger producers.

According to Zohar Kerem, a food chemist specializing in olives at the Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition of the Rehovot agricultural campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, several features set Israeli olive oil apart.

Oil is extracted immediately after the fruit is picked and this improves the quality of the product. Most Israeli olives are irrigated with salty (brackish) and purified wastewater. Th is is not only environmentally benefi cial, but does not diminish the fruit’s quality. It also reduces the need for fertilizers. Because olives are irrigated, they can be grown densely and therefore yields are greater. Trees that depend on rain need considerably more area to thrive.

Israel has also brought in olive varieties from other countries and, with the right irrigation, pruning and agriculture, has learned how to grow them successfully. Careful research has meant that Israeli growers are able to use cultivars that are suited to their regional conditions. Some olive varieties have been found to grow better in the Negev, while others grow better in the Golan Heights.

New methods of harvesting olives are also being introduced. Conventionally, fruit is harvested by several people using a vibrating machine, but now some producers are using the same complex machine used for grapes and operated by one person. This of course lowers harvesting costs.

Today, many Israeli families enjoy activities over two weekends in late October and early November that include tours of oil presses, olive-picking events and olive oil tasting.

The olive is first mentioned in the Bible when the dove returned to Noah with an olive branch (Gen 8:11). Olive trees flourished in Israel in ancient times and have given their name to the Mount of Olives as well as the garden of Gethsemane to the east of Jerusalem. Gethsemane means “oil press”, and in early times it was evidently a place of olive oil production.[2] However, it is doubtful that the olive trees growing in Gethsemane today date back to the first century, as the trees surrounding Jerusalem were destroyed by the Romans in the siege of 70AD. [3]

Olive oil was used widely in ancient Israel. It provided fuel for the light of the Lampstand in the tabernacle (Exod 27:20) and was an ingredient of the holy anointing oil (Exod 30:22–25). It was also associated with healing and recovery of health (Luke 10:34, James 5:14).

Very importantly, the olive tree is a symbol of Israel’s return to favour with Yahweh (Hos 14:6), when they shall be grafted back “into their own olive tree” (Rom 11:24).