When you live in the Mediterranean, you take your Olive oil seriously. And when you live in Tunisia, where the diversity of food is phenomenal, well… be prepared for something spectacular.
Tunisia’s historical location has served as a crossroads for numerous glorious civilizations, from its original Berber population to the Phoenicians who settled coastal towns such as Carthage, to the Romans, whose legacy stretches across the north and eastern coasts of Tunisia. Then, in the seventh century, new Islamic influences came, followed by the French, whose legacies left their mark on language, architecture, and cuisine. The Mediterranean served as the connecting point for all these historical players, facilitating the movement of people and ideas, which resulted in the natural flow and intersection of political, cultural, religious, artistic, and historical doctrines.
Tunisia is viewed as the Mediterranean basin’s beating heart. Tunisians are the direct descendants of diversified successive civilizations: Berbers, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Turkish, or French. The diversified civilizations have shaped their personalities across generations. Tunisians are not just pacifists and maritime, they also have a spirit of hospitality, generosity, adaptability, creativity, and above all, will to succeed. This historical melting pot is what separates Tunisia and its people from other countries in the southern Mediterranean and North Africa and the Middle East.
Tunisia is the Cradle of Mediterranean Culture
Tunisia’s accessible Mediterranean Sea coastline and strategic location have attracted conquerors and travelers throughout history, and its proximity to the Sahara has brought its population into contact with African interior dwellers. The history, art and traditions of our north African country go back to three thousand of years, making it one of the most interesting areas of the entire Maghreb area in Western North Africa. The conjunction of African, Asian and European cultural backgrounds witnesses the richness, diversity and uniqueness of the Tunisian cultural heritage.
Tunisia’s 3000-year history bears traces of succeeding civilizations resulting in a rich mosaic of cultures. Archaeological ruins, fortified medinas, tranquil oasis, elegant mosques—and UNESCO World Heritage sites—were all stamps of the Phoenicians, Berbers, the Romans, the Turks, and the French after three thousand years of rule. This testifies the rich diversity of its historical heritage.
Tunisia’s Agricultural Heritage Recognized as “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage”.
Tunisia bears the name of the “prosperous agricultural province of Africa Proconsularis”, because the yields of its soil are fertile, diversified, abundant and known for their exceptional quality that used to feed the entire roman empire. The impact of the roman reign is demonstrated in the roman mosaics at the prominent centers of ancient Hadrumetum (now Sousse) and Thysdrus (now El Jem, where the Amphitheatre of El Jem — the world’s largest Roman amphitheaters — is located), which display treasures from Roman Empire settlements in North Africa.
In 2020, Tunisia’s traditional Ramli agricultural systems in the lagoons of Ghar El Melh and its Djebba El Olia hanging gardens were awarded as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), a classification administered by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
This is the second time Tunisian sites be recognized by the GIAHS, following Gafsa Oases in 2011. Both locations demonstrate strong ties between produced crops and the natural ecosystem, as well as indigenous animals and flora, and the preservation of traditional knowledge and conservation of biodiversity. Because of the centuries-old wisdom of farmers enables them to manage lagoon plots by supplying sand and organic matter to ensure that the crops reach the proper height, crops can be grown all year round, even in dry conditions, without the use of artificial water sources.
Tunisian traditional food is influenced by local agriculture. It emphasizes wheat, in the form of bread or couscous, olives and olive oil, dates, meat, fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and sea food. Couscous, semolina wheat cooked particularly with mutton meat and vegetables) is the national meal, and most Tunisians consume it daily, on special occasions, and in family gatherings.
Tunisia is aware of its responsibility to preserve the country’s valuable natural landscapes, historical and cultural diversity, but also its agricultural heritage.
History: The history of Olive Oil is Our History
In Tunisia, the cultivation of olive trees dates to thousands of years — back to the 8th century BC. The Phoenicians introduced this tree to North Africa initially. Throughout history, numerous Mediterranean civilizations, including the Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, and Arab, took turns cultivating olive trees. By the time the proto-Greeks inhabited the Greek peninsula, olive tree farming was already widespread in North Africa. In the Carthaginian period, olive production began to flourish, bringing various benefits to olive producers.
Carthaginian/Punic era farmers took great care of olive oil orchards and were considered among the greatest agronomists in the Mediterranean basin. Hannibal is said to have made his soldiers plant olive groves. The first and oldest olive tree —2,500 years old— planted by Hannibal soldiers is located near El Haouaria on the peninsula of Cap Bon.
The Romans greatly expanded the orchards, and further revolutionized the olive oil cultivation with the introduction of innovative irrigation systems and olive oil extraction techniques. Under Roman reign, olive cultivation and olive oil extraction extended. For centuries, the Romans saw it bloom and prosper, erecting magnificent monuments throughout Tunisia: magnificent palaces, villas, the vast amphitheater in El Jem, cities, and aqueducts. Discoveries of Roman mosaics in Sousse and archaeological digs in Sbeitla (the site of the Roman city of Sufetula) and El Jem (the site of the Roman city of Thysdrus) witness that olive tree cultivation was historically widespread throughout Tunisia.
Olive oil has been used for a variety of purposes throughout history: athletes used it to massage their muscles, while women used it to maintain strong skin. Additionally olive juice is a toning stimulant that helps prevent baldness, and is used for cosmetic purposes.
The study of archaeological and anthropological artefacts, particularly utensils found on the land, demonstrates the heavy use of olive oil in the daily lives of those who lived there. Now, Tunisia’s olive oil industry is fundamental to Tunisian culture, history, and cuisine.
Tunisia, the Organic Land — One of the World’s Biggest Producers of Olive Oil
Tunisia is one of the fastest-growing markets for organic food in the world, and one of the world’s largest exporters of organic olive oil. It has a sterling reputation for providing superior quality olive oil, and has won prestigious medals at several international competitions.
Mediterranean climate in Tunisia is perfect for cultivating the best quality of olive oil. Tunisia’s aridity and sun have been ideal for olive growing. Olives are one of the seven organic products native to Tunisia, along with dates, wheat, figs, pomegranates, honey, and oranges. Olive oil is a culinary treasure that has an abundance of uses including cooking, medicine, cosmetics, and home cures. Just like in ancient times, the residual pulp is used as fertilizer for the olive trees that produce the olives. Scientists generally agree that Mediterranean countries’ long lifespans can be attributed to their high consumption of olive oil.
In Tunisia, olive groves encompass one-third of the country, and olive oil is a vital part of ‘‘our’’ daily lives and cuisine. Many of extra virgin olive oils are organically produced on family-owned farms using traditional production methods.
Tunisian Olive oil — A Food Staple for So Many Cultures Over Millennia
Tunisia is an olive-growing country, where the olive tree has become inextricably linked to the nation’s culture, economy, food, customs, rhythms, and seasons throughout millennia. As a staple food for many civilizations and a source of medicinal and religious importance throughout history, olive oil has provided significant benefit to people globally in a variety of times.
If you have ever savored a tasty salad dressing, gently seasoned meat with olive oil, or olive oil blended with spices for bread dipping, you may have had a fleeting thought about olive oil’s illustrious history. Olive oil was a popular culinary item throughout the Roman Empire and other ancient cultures. Today, the history of olive oil is as varied as its evocative flavor. It comes in a variety of exquisite kinds that delight the senses, and families from Tunisia cultivate fresh olives to produce the finest olive oils.
Olive oil is part of the Tunisian Culture. It has always been an integral part of the culinary and medicinal traditions of the civilizations. Every home has its own stock of olive oil.
Tunisian Organic Extra virgin Olive Oil — Awarded for its Outstanding Quality
Tunisian olive oil’s superior quality has been recognized with numerous prestigious awards – it actually secured a record number of awards. Tunisian olive oil producers received gold medals at international olive oil contests held in Los Angeles, London, Athens, Italy, New York, and Japan.
On December 21, 2021, Tunisia won the EXTRAGOLD Medal at the Biol Novello 2021 competition in Italy. The competition, organized by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, is one of the most prestigious worldwide events, bringing together more than thirty (30) tasting experts and hundreds of farmers and olive oil producers of organic olive oil from across the world. Tunisia was the only Arab country to win this gold medal in this global competition among 30 countries, including Spain and Italy.
An olive oil’s true quality can be determined by tasting it and then comparing it through the palates of olive oil lovers and top chefs in the world. At gourmet food shops and the restaurants of Europe’s best-known chefs alike, Tunisian olive oil now competes with Italian and Spanish oils for shelf space.
How is Organic Olive Oil Made? What Sets Tunisian Olive Oil Apart!
Tunisia has unique natural products typical of the North African region. These include olive oil and hot spices such as Harissa. Tunisia is also an attractive procurement market, notably for olives, olive wood, and olive oil. Tunisian olive oil is lauded for its buttery taste, delicate and light texture, and nutritional profile.
Suggested Read: Tunisia’s Harissa Gets UNESCO Heritage Status
Organic olives are those that have been certified as having been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents by an established organic certifying body. This means that to be organic, the olives cannot be grown using chemicals or pesticides. This fact is documented and guaranteed for consumers through the organic certification process. In general, olives are mechanically or chemically ground to extract their oil. Extraction of extra virgin olive oil is done mechanically or by hand.
Tunisia’s olive oil production will remain among the world’s greatest in the 2021/22 crop year, with 240,000 tons projected, per the Ministry of Agriculture statistics. Over the last two decades, the sector has been propelled by significant investment and steadily expanding global consumption of olive oil.
There are many varieties of olives that grow here, producing a diverse array of flavors. The Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture meticulously inspects what goes into every bottle of Tunisian olive oil to ensure constant quality and purity.
Extra Virgin organic Olive Oil
Tunisia’s extra virgin olive oil has the highest quality olive oil available, providing the greatest taste and all the health advantages associated with olive oil. The olives are crushed in a mill, and the oil is removed mechanically — as opposed to refined oil, which is extracted using heat or chemicals. Olives are smashed, the resultant paste is centrifuged to separate the oil from the water and sediment.
To achieve high-quality oil, olives must be healthy, harvested directly from the tree (not from the ground), and immediately transported to the oil mill for processing. Today, 95% of Tunisia’s olive groves are chemical-free. Olives are still harvested by hand in the fields. Take a stroll around the inlands and you will notice harvesters’ double ladders everywhere, armed with rakes or special gloves for picking the fruits branch by branch. Hand-picking olives stops them from rapidly degrading due to damage and bruising. Producers with on-site processing mills can transport freshly harvested olives within a few hours to avoid fermentation. Olives are harvested within a tight and specific timeframe.
After sorting, cleaning, and washing the olives in cold water, olives are crushed. Crushing the olives within few hours is the gold standard. It is the most critical phase in ensuring the highest organoleptic attributes (aromas, flavor, color, and chemical properties) throughout the olive’s life. There are also several traditional oil mills. The olives are usually crushed beneath a millstone drawn, and the resulting olive paste is pressed between esparto fiber discs. In hot regions like Djerba and the south-west, subterranean oil mills provide natural cooling.
Tunisian Olive oil: “The best dish in the world is a piece of bread dipped in freshly pressed olive oil!”
Try out gourmet olive oils in garlic, black olive, and chili pepper flavors. These make great gifts for people enjoying lunch or dinner at home.
Consider it to be freshly squeezed fruit juice. (Yes-Olives are considered fruits!)
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