How to Make Olive Oil Like the Ancient Egyptians

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Sometimes my friends and I play a little game (rather uncreatively) titled “Which would you give up?” It’s a simple premise, you propose two items in a similar category and then everyone has to pick which one they could live without. For example, “Which would you give up: onions or garlic? salt or pepper? lemon or lime? butter or olive oil?” The butter vs. olive oil is always particularly tough and I find myself changing my answer each time. Today, after reading this fun bit of history from Gastro Obscura about some of earliest olive oil production methods, and the oil’s various uses, I’d have to give up butter and stick with olive oil (for now anyway).

One of the earliest, if not the first, methods of pressing substances to produce a liquid such as wine or oil was by torsion.

This method involves filling a permeable bag with the crushed fruit, inserting sticks at either end of the bag before twisting them in opposite directions. This compresses the bag, and liquid filters out.

The torsion method is depicted on various Egyptian wall paintings, from the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The earliest known example is in the tomb of Nebemakhet from around 2600–2500 BCE.

This method lasted millennia. There is evidence for the use of the torsion bag method from pre-industrial Venice, Spain, and Corsica, and it is illustrated in early 20th-century Italy.

Read more.


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