The origin of olive oil remains a mystery, but evidence of cultivated olives dates back over 6.000 years.
The ancient Greek and Romans both told tales of olives and their creation by gods and subsequent cultivation by humans; Roman mythology ascribes the birth of olives to Hercules, who struck down the ground where sprout an olive tree.
In Greece, olives were said to have been created by the goddess Athena, and were considered so esteemed that only "virgins and chaste man" could tend the groves.
Olives were a rare and precious commodity to lovers of fine foods.
Among the first written records of olive oil there were inventory logs carried by ancient trading ships, which brought olive oil along their many routes through the Mediterranean.
Introduced to Greece as a luxurious import, olive oil was prized not only as a food, but also as a beauty treatment, and as a lightly scented fuel for lamps.
The Roman Empire spread civilization – and the cultivation of olive groves – throughout southern Europe.
At the same time the importance of olive oil was so great that the Empire's southern regions were organized around oil provinces.
When the Roman Empire collapsed, the cultivation of olive groves fell into disfavour, and for hundreds of years olives survived only in a few fortified regions high in the hills of Tuscany.
Around 1100AD, olive groves began once again to flourish in Italy, and Tuscany became a renowned region of cultivation of the olive tree.
Some of the strict laws issued during that time, regulating the cultivation of the olives and the commerce of oil, are still followed today.
By 1400 Italy had become the greatest producer of olive oil in the world, offering an extraordinary oil that graced Renaissance tables across Europe.
And while olive oil production slowed briefly during the late 1600s due to taxation issues, in the long run it continued to grow through the century as civilization spread around the globe.
In the 1700s, Franciscan missionaries brought the first olive trees to the new world.
One hundred year later, olive oil made its commercial debut in the Americas, as Italian and Greek immigrant began demanding its import from Europe.
Initially an ethnic specialty, olive oil was soon embraced by American cooks.