ATHENS, April 3 (Xinhua) -- For the seventh year running, more than 100 producers from across Greece gathered here this weekend to promote the nutritional value of Greece's traditional "liquid gold," and exchange views on the challenges of production in times of crisis, innovation, and future prospects.
Under the auspices of the agriculture and food ministry, cultivators displayed a rich variety of olives and olive oil and offered lectures on olive-related knowledges, while 40 chefs prepared traditional recipes from regions based on the renowned oil.
During the festival, the largest of its kind in Greece, producers and experts talked to Xinhua about the history of olive oil production in the country and the unique characteristics of the excellent Greek olive oil.
With a special position in Greek history, olive trees have been seen as sacred by Greeks. The olive wreath made of a olive branch was the prize for the winner at the ancient Olympic Games.
Since the 20th century, Greek olive oil has been among the top worldwide in both volume and quality standards.
Nikos Bounakis, CEO of Proactive, a Cretan company specializing in quality management, talked about what helped the Greek "liquid gold" stand out from its competitors.
"Greek olive oil is characterized by very high quality thanks to the special varieties of olives cultivated, the country's geographical position, the climate conditions, and the huge experience Greek producers have," Bounakis said.
"Ninety percent of Greek olive oil is characterized as extra virgin compared to the 45 percent produced by other rival countries. Extra virgin oil is the one with the highest quality standards regarding acidity, aroma, and taste," he explained.
In recent years, Greece has been producing an average of 300,000 to 350,000 tons of olive oil per year. The small Mediterranean country is the third largest producer in the world behind Spain and Italy. Greece is also the second biggest country in table olive production worldwide with 200,000 tons on average each year.
Half of Greek olive oil is consumed in Greece, while the rest is exported. For decades, Italian producers have been using Greek olive oil to enhance their blends, Bounakis noted.
Greece has been in the debt crisis since late 2009, which has forced many Greeks to turn to cheaper products of low quality.
But the financial pinch did not prevented Greeks from pursuing premium olive oil, which drove the producers to improve their products constantly.
Nikos Krimnianiotis harvests olives from his organic groves off Kalamata in the southern Peloponnese peninsula, to produce olive oil of high nutritional value.
"The olive oil is categorized in extra virgin oil, but also in terms of the percentage of phenols it contains, meaning how beneficial it is for the human body. The presence of phenols is linked to the variety of the olives used, the micro-climate in the land where it is produced, as well as processing and maintenance," he explained.
According to the list of permitted health claims made on foods under a 2012 European Commission regulation, the minimum threshold of phenols required is 250 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg).
But the total phenolic content in the olive oil Krimnianiotis produces is as high as 1,582 mg/kg.
Thomas Lazanas, president of the Club of Chefs of Peloponnese and Central Greece and member of the festival's organizing committee, underlined the extensive use of olive oil in Greek cuisine in almost all dishes.
"The Greek diet is interwoven with olive oil. Those who know about history know that olive oil has been used for at least over 3,000 years," he told Xinhua.
But Greek olive oil producers are still seeking innovation of their products.
Olive oil added with domestic fruits and herbs or exotic spices is a new attempt.
"We have seen extra virgin olive oils combined with essential oils, as well as olive oil with spices. It is a new trend. We have seen olive oils which contain curry, wasabi, chocolate or vanilla," Lazanas said.