About Olives and Olive Oil in Palestine
from PFTA & Canaan Fair Trading

The olive harvest is a spectacular event in Palestine. Traditionally, olive harvesting in Palestine is a family affair. The entire family participates in harvesting the crop and collectively benefits from it by obtaining their olive stock for the year and selling some for the family income. The olive harvest constitutes a main source of income for a large sector of the Palestinian population. Eighty percent of the farmed land in Palestine is olive trees. Palestinian olive orchards are nurtured as part of the family legacy and passed on through generations. Some of the trees found in Palestinian orchards date back as far as 2,000+ years.

Olive orchards are grown on hand-built terraces on the hillsides. Farmers work year round to build and maintain these ancient terraces that hug the mountains and hillsides throughout the landscape and prevent land erosion. Palestine is considered the native home of the olive tree. Traces of the olive tree in Palestine date back six thousand years. There are mechanical presses found that date back to 1,000 BCE and stone presses found in olive orchards believed to be from the Stone Age.

Palestinian olive oil is known around the world for its distinct taste and flavour. The overall quality and taste of Palestinian olive oil is affected by many factors, including the type of the tree, the region and climate, caring methods, handling methods, and the level of ripeness of the olives.

Most of the Palestinian olives are from the Palestinian native tree, the baladi or nabali. There are also the souri and the mallisi. These three types give some of the highest quality olive oil in the world. There is a small percentage of what is called the nabali muhassan, or improved nabali, which produces a better looking olive but lower quality oil and a lower yield. Most farmers who tried this kind of tree are now cutting the trees and putting back the native baladi on the trunk.

Climate is another factor that affects the quality and taste of the olive oil. The Palestinian landscape offers one of the most diverse landscapes in a small area. Such diversity is reflected in the varieties of olive oil produced. Palestinian olive oil may differ in taste, color, and yield from valley to valley. In fact, it can differ from one side of the mountain to the other. The southern side of the mountain is normally exposed to more sunlight and winds than the northern side, which affects the quality, taste, and yield of the harvest.

Different regions produce different varieties of olive oil. In the North, the Jenin area produces flavourful medium bodied olive oil with a greenish color. The Arraba valley that includes some the main olive producing villages in the Jenin area like Arraba, Yabad, Berqin, and Qabatya give an average yield of 22%, while the villages east and northeast of Jenin give an average yield of only 15-18%. Olives in the Jenin area ripen in late October or early November.

The Nablus area has two main producing areas: Salfit and Asira el-Shamaliya. Asira has the highest level of production in Palestine for a single village, producing an average of 750 Tons of olive oil a year. These villages and surrounding areas also produce a greenish, full bodied olive oil and give an average yield of 25%. These regions ripen mid to late October.

In the Ramallah area, the Arroura valley which includes the village of Arrura and ten other smaller villages, produces a high quality, lighter bodied olive oil with low acidity. It is yellowish with a green tint and has a lighter consistency, though flavourful and aromatic. The olives in this area ripen in early October and give an average yield of 27%. The eastern Ramallah region villages of Taybeh, and the Turmus Ayyah area produce a more medium bodied greenish oil. The Hebron and Bethlehem area produces a darker, heavy bodied olive oil with an average yield of 25%. This oil is characterized by heavy consistency and strong flavour.

The majority of Palestinian farmers use traditional methods in caring for the olive tree. Palestinian olive oil is mostly organic, naturally extra virgin, not processed. The Palestine Fair Trade program supports and encourages the traditional caring methods which produce the highest quality oil and best flavour. The program does not accept oil other than from the indigenous tree under natural care.

Olive oil connoisseurs around the world favour Palestinian olive oil. It offers full flavour texture that is very smooth and flavourful.  Italian olive oil connoisseurs are among the highest European importers of Palestinian olive oil.

It comes back to home. Palestine is the home of the olive. Treat yourself to the authentic taste.