The Olive Route Map

 The History of Olives in South Africa

The Olive Industry in South Africa, is relatively young, compared to Mediterranean countries, where olives have been cultivated for centuries.

The first cultivated olive trees were planted by Jan van Riebeeck at his farm Boschenheuvel in the Cape, in 1661. The fruit of the olive tree, was never exploited for another 200 years. In 1907 a farmer from Paarl received the first gold medal for his olive oil at the London show.

The olive oil industry then started to develop under the guidance of Italian immigrant, Fernando Costa, who imported and propagated a number of different olive cultivars. Since then the industry has grown tremendously, and today we have over 300 olive growers and producers in the country.

Some of the South African olive oil producers have received many international awards, and compare very favourably to international producers.

The Western Cape is one of the most popular areas in South Africa for cultivation of olives, because of the climate which is very similar to the Mediterranean countries. Olive farming in the country is growing at a rate of at least 20% per annum, making it one of the fastest growing sub-sector in agriculture.

Consumption of olive oil in South Africa has increased tremendously over the past few years. Most of the olive oil is imported, although the local olive oil production has increased by approximately 140% since 2004.

Traditionally South African producers have concentrated on table olive plantings, but in recent years this has changed, as at present plantings consist of 75% - 80% oil varieties. The olive oil producers in this relatively new industry, has the advantage of being able to implement the use of the most advanced equipment, which ensures better quality olive oil.

There are numerous award winning producers in the Western Cape, so we would like to promote these olive oils to the South African and International markets. You can be assured of the freshness of these products, as well as the quality, unlike some of the imported olive oils which are difficult to verify. Most of South Afica's output is extra virgin olive oil, with less than 0.8% fatty acids.

In a recent international test, that was initiated by SA Olive, it was found that the South African Extra Virgin olive oils tested, achieved top honours in all the testing categories, as set out in specifications of the International Olive Council (IOC). For an oil to qualify as Extra Virgin, it must succeed in the chemical, organoleptic (tasting) and freshness tests. The freshness test is one of the most recent tests introduced for olive oil.

A random sampling of 7 South African, and 23 imported oils were tested, as imported oils still make up about 80% of locally available olive oils.

Compared to the locally produced Extra Virgin oils, from which not one showed any signs of being tampered with, 26% of the imported oils were incorrectly labelled as Extra Virgin olive oil.

SA Olive, which is a voluntary non-profit association, whose members are directly involved in the industry, represents the interests of the South African olive industry. When you buy a bottle of South African extra virgin olive oil, check to see if the label has the SA Olive seal, which confirms that the content is 100% locally produced. The year of the harvest will be prominently displayed, indicating the freshness of the oil, and the labelling will be honest and transparent – if it says that it is extra virgin, it is verified to be just that, and not virgin or a refined olive oil.