Portuguese Olive Oil - Amongst The Best Of The World

Posted by Marianne Hoesen on Wednesday, July 8, 2015 Under: food and drink

Portugal is not a giant producer of olive oil like neighbouring Spain, but the traditional production of olive oil goes just as deep here.  During the last couple of years Portuguese producers have improved the quality and polished their brands to shine among the world’s best olive oils.  

Now some of the world´s best olive oils are coming from Portugal.  Brands like Oliveira da Serra, Saloio and Gallo have some oils that won prestigious international awards. Another winner is Monterosa olive oil Maçanilha from a producer in Moncarapacho in the Algarve. 

Olive oil tasting

It is possible to visit the plantation and the mill of this price winning producer of olive oil. You can participate in an olive oil tasting, discover the olive tree culture, production process and the origins of the mill, dating back to roman times. Have a look at their website to make a reservation for a tour.

Olive trees

The olive tree is the oldest cultivated tree in the world. It flowers in springtime and the fruit can be harvested in the fall - depending on the weather.  If you want to use the olives for the oil, you should pick them just before they are fully ripe, because it is then when they contain most beneficial anti-oxidants and least acid.  If you like to cure olives, you should pick the green ones (look for the recipe at traditional food and recipes), especially the big round ones that look like mini apples (Maçanilha).

Production of olive oil already exists since around 3000 BC, but it were the Arabs who occupied this area in the 17th century, who expanded the olive culture in Portugal. The Portuguese word for olive oil is azeite, originally an Arab word for olive juice.  Olive oil is really a natural fruit juice. 


Fruit fly trap

Last year I could not use any of my beloved Maçanilhas because the olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae) had a party with them. This fly is the worst enemy of the olives and it can destroy 100% of your harvest. But for next year I will be prepared. I found out how to trick this nasty little bugger with a trap.  This is how you do it:

Get some empty 1,5 liter PET bottles. Drill or melt 5 mm wide holes around the "shoulder" of the bottle. Fill the bottle with 1 liter of ammonium bicarbonate solution (pharmacy) or, alternatively fill it with white wine vinegar and screw the cap on. Hang 1 per tree in a shady spot. That should do the trick. 


To get a good harvest it is also necessary to prune you olive trees yearly in late winter or early spring (before flowering).  Pruning helps to keep the tree a manageable size - important when you start to harvest - and removing old wood encourages new fruiting wood to emerge and keeps the tree youthful. Also, encouraging light and air into the centre of the tree helps prevent pests and diseases from taking hold.

Start by removing everything around the trunk on the ground and all small shoots on the lower part of the trunk. Then make sure that enough sunlight and air can reach all the fruit. That is why you need to open up the centre of the olive tree. Remember that the energy of the tree is stored in its leaves, so do not cut too dramatically. When in doubt, less pruning is better!  A manageable olive tree should be between 3 and 7 meters high.

If you prune a young tree, select 3-5 branches that grow in a 45 - 60 degree angle up from the trunk. The other branches should be cut away, close to the trunk.



An olive tree can survive a summer without water, but it is beneficial to the fruit if you give some water when the olives start swelling (August).  100 Liter per tree is recommended. Then, somewhere in the fall, when the fruit is starting to turn purple and black, it is time to harvest.

Before harvesting an olive tree, there is a net put under the tree. Then people climb ladders and carefully start raking the olives from the branches. 
Once the olives are picked they have to be processed as quickly as possible to maintain the beneficial characteristics of the oil.

It takes around 1000 - 3000 olives (5-7 kg) to produce 1 liter of oil. The oil obtained from the first - still green - olives is less in quantity, but higher in quality. The more mature (black) the olives get, the more oil they contain, but the quality is becoming weaker as well.

Storage of olive oil

Flavor and aroma of the 
oil deteriorate within 2 years. The fresher you use the product, the better the quality is. So please do look at the "best before" date on the bottle in the store.

The best place to store your olive oil is in a dark glass bottle or in a stainless steel, ceramic or tin container. If using a clear glass bottle, this should be kept in a dark spot. Keep it away from air, light and heat. Proper storage will keep the quality of your oil for up to 2 years. Once a bottle is opened you should use it within 2 to 3 months  Avoid using plastic containers and other types of metal, since the chemical reaction between the olive oil and the material can create toxic compounds.


Olive oil qualities

Olive oil is classified into three categories: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Virgin Olive Oil and Olive Oil. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Also called 
“the king of olive oils”, is made from healthy olives, gently harvested at their optimal ripeness and pressed exclusively by mechanical means, without heat. It is pure fruit juice, so to speak. The oil is tested by a panel of trained tasters who have to find no defects and the three attributes: fruity, bitter and pungent or peppery. It is also tested in a laboratory where it has to meet up to a dozen criteria to confirm that it is genuine. The acidity of this quality must not exceed 0.8%

Virgin Olive Oil - This oil is made in the same way as the extra virgin quality, i.e. only by mechanical means, but is less flavorsome and can have a slight defect. It has less durability than extra virgin olive oil.

Olive Oil This oil of lower quality is a blend between refined and virgin olive oil. The oil was refined because it had one or several defects which were removed in an industrial process involving heating, pressure, caustic soda and phosphoric acid. It lasts several years, but has lost most of its taste and aroma and some health benefits. Most of the olive oil produced worldwide is of this quality.

The best olive oil quality you can buy is extra virgin, but there are still huge differences in terms of quality, taste, aroma, color, health benefits, shelf life, presentation and price.  I believe in Jamie Oliver´s words: buy the best olive oil you can afford. But is of course mainly a question of taste. There are some qualities that are delicate and mellow and others that are quite bitter and pungent.  It also depends what you want to use it for. No point in buying an expensive oil for frying though, since much of the flavor and aroma will be destroyed in the process.


If you buy a quality oil, the acidity level is already low, at no more than 0.8%.  The acidity level is determined by the variety of olive and the production methods. An acidity of under 0.8% means very little, unless you have a medical condition where .5 - .8% would upset the stomach. In that case choose one under 0.5% 


Health benefits

More research is being done lately as to the numerous health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, including olive oil. Some of the most important benefits of using good quality Extra Virgin olive oil are:  
* it works anti-inflammatory
* it has cardiovascular benefits
* it is very good for the digestive health
* it is a great moisturizer for the skin
* it lowers the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative dementias

But above all it is, like a good wine, a pleasure to consume. Drizzle it over fish, meat, vegetables, potatoes, salads or bread and enjoy!

In : food and drink 

Tags: portuguese olive oil  azeite portugal  olive oil from portugal  pruning olive trees 

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About Me

Marianne Hoesen Born in the deep south of The Netherlands, I moved to the central Algarve in 2007, together with my partner and 2 dogs. In the meantime we added some goats and chickens and are living a peaceful life in the rolling hills of the rural south of Portugal. I invite you to read a bit in my blog and to leave a comment afterwards. Also check out the holiday accommodations mentioned elsewhere in this website.


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