An estimated 800 million trees worldwide are used for producing olive oil; 93% of them are in the Mediterranean area, the home of the olive.
The olive tree is a small, evergreen tree with many thin branches and averages six metres (20 feet) in height. Its leaves are about 55 millimetres (2 1/4 inches) long, a smooth, pale green above and silvery below. The bark is pale grey and the flowers numerous, small and creamy white.
The dark purple fruit is about 20 millimetres (3/4 inch) long, oval and often pointed, the fleshy part filled with oil. The thick, bony stone has a blunt keel down one side and contains a single seed.
The trees bear fruit in their second year and, in New Zealand, take eight to 10 years to come to full production. The yield per tree increases until the tree is nine years old when its production stabilises, usually at about 30 kilograms.
All fresh olives are bitter and the final flavour of the fruit depends on how ripe it is when picked and the processing it receives.
The quality of olive oil is tested by its taste and acidity; the higher the quality of the oil, the lower the acidity level.
Global demand for olive oil has grown by about 170,000 tonnes annually over the last five years. Olive oil consumption in New Zealand has increased from just under 295,000 kilograms in 1988 to more than 3.2 million kilograms in 2000 with trends continuing to grow.
Medical and health reports show that the Mediterranean diet, which includes olive oil, lowers the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. As more people become health conscious, there is a growing appreciation of better quality olive oil together with an increased demand.
Producers of fine New Zealand extra virgin olive oil