Spain has a population of 47 million people but is home to around 340 million olive trees.
The southern European nation is the biggest producer of olive oil in the world. Their high-quality products are exported far and wide. And with good reason!
For thousands of years, it has remained a key ingredient in Spain’s famous gastronomy. Continue reading to learn why Spanish olive oil stands apart from the rest.
The History of Olive Oil in Spain
It’s hard to imagine Spanish cuisine without olive oil. More than 3000 years ago, olive trees made their way to Spain.
In approximately 1050 BC, the Phoenicians brought the olive to Spain.
The Romans later started producing olive oil on a mass scale when they invaded Hispania in the 2nd century BC. They recognized the perfect olive-growing climate in the Iberian Peninsula and exported much of it back to Italy.
Olive trees were abundant when the Moors arrived in Spain in 711. However, the North African Muslims revolutionized the processing techniques with new irrigation technology.
The Moors helped put Spain on track to become the frontrunners in the olive oil industry. And their significance is highlighted by the Spanish word for olive oil, aceite, which is derived from the old Arab-Hispanic world azzáyt, meaning “olive juice.”
Today, olive trees are found in 34 regions of Spain. The province of Jaén in Andalucia stands out, providing 70% of the country’s olive oil.
What is Special About Spanish Olive Oil?
In every region of the world, people search for cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil from Spain. Their olive oil is consistently recognized as the crème de la crème by the non-profit organization WBOO (World’s Best Olive Oils). In 2021, the ten best olive oils all hailed from Spain.
Olive trees are best suited to the Mediterranean-type climate. Spain’s extensive mountain areas – combined with hot, long summers and mild winters – make for an ideal olive-growing environment.
More than 250 olive varieties are found in Spain, but only 24 are suitable in the oil-making process. Olives harvested in different regions of Spain vary in flavor and color. Thus, it’s impossible to offer a single description of Spanish olive oil.
Spain produces almost half of the world’s olive oil, and it’s no wonder that many people choose to buy Spanish oil in bulk quantity.
The most common varieties of Spanish olives are adored worldwide and offer unique flavor profiles.
This is the most widespread olive in Spain, and it’s also regarded as one of the healthiest. Picual olives are packed full of antioxidants.
Picual olive oil is often used for frying because it naturally resists oxidation in high temperatures. It tends to be aromatic and fruity, with a slight bitterness.
Hojiblanca olive trees grow in the Southern state of Andalucia. The flavor is slightly sweet and smooth, and is consumed both as table olives and olive oil with moderate intensity. It has notes of freshly cut grass, artichoke, and aromatic plants.
This variety originated in Catalonia but has since spread far and wide, throughout the globe. Arbequina oil is fluid and sweet and it’s characterized by its fruity aroma of olives, apple, banana, and almond.
Cornicabra olives are grown in central Spain, and the oil is aromatic with notes of fruity olive and apple. They range in intensity but have a slightly bitter taste due to the high levels of polyphenols.
Which Olive Oil is Better: Spanish or Italian?
Ultimately, it’s a matter of preference and depends on the individual oil.
Spanish producers usually top the list of best olive oils, but Italy also produces outstanding extra virgin olive oil. Italian olive oils are produced in different environmental conditions and tend to have a more grassy and herbal taste.
Interestingly, Italy is far and away the biggest importer of Spanish olive oil. The Italians are also passionate about extra virgin olive oil and imported 491,000 metric tons of olive juice in 2020. To put that number in context, Spain was Europe’s second-biggest importer at 140,000 metric tons, with France at number three, importing 88,000.
Portugal, Tunisia, Greece, and Morocco have entered the world of olive oil production, but their combined production is only half of Spain’s output.
With olive oil deeply ingrained in their culture, Spain and Italy stand tall as the two major players. You cannot truly say which is better, but both nations produce olive oil packed with vibrant and exquisite flavors.
Why Is Spanish Olive Oil So Affordable?
The high-quality end product is somewhat inexpensive because olive trees are so abundant in many regions of the country. Their bountiful nature means that farmers in Spain sell their olives for as little as 30 cents a kilo.
Many farmers were struggling to make a profit in 2019. Thankfully, the situation has since improved in the Iberian Peninsula. Before it’s exported, the average price for olive oil in Spain has risen to approximately $3.49 per liter in 2022.
Packed full of health benefits, olive oil with 100 percent olive juice will cost much more than most other oils in the grocery store.
Spain Reigns Supreme
According to the experts, the best olive oil in the world is found in Spain. The country has a rich history of olive oil and boasts the perfect climate.
The smell, taste, and texture of their famous olives are a significant part of their national identity.
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Spanish olive oil. You can also take a look at our new extra virgin olive oils from Australia and Chile while you’re here!