Torsion: An Ancient Method For Producing Olive Oil


How old is the torsion method? It is depicted on various Egyptian wall paintings, the earliest known example going back almost 5000 years. Moreover, the method lasted millennia. There is evidence for the use of the torsion bag method from pre-industrial Venice, Spain, and Corsica, and it is illustrated in early 20th century Italy.


Olive oil was used for a broad variety of purposes in antiquity: fuel for cooking, lighting, and heating; personal hygiene; craft; and within the daily diet. And so, it was a major commodity in the ancient Mediterranean along with wine and grain.


In The Deadliest Hate, Miriam gives us two glimpses into the ubiquitous use of olive oil. The first is when Phoebe accompanies Miriam to the baths: “Phoebe marched in like an overseer. She tested the temperature of the baths and inspected the fingernails of the attendants. She made sure the olive oil was warm, the towels fluffy, and the sheets clean.”


The second was when Miriam goes to the gaudy home of Eran, Judah’s half-brother: “The tops of the chests were strewn with statues and busts, vases and jeweled hand mirrors, figurines and marble plaques, censers and primitive masks, and cut glass lamps that spread the cloying scent of rancid olive oil throughout the room.”


No wonder the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, a contemporary of Miriam, said: “There are two liquids that are especially agreeable to the human body: wine inside and oil outside… the latter [olive oil] being an absolute necessity.”


So, take Piny’s advice: Read The Deadliest Hate with a glass of wine and then, to relax from the suspense, massage some olive into your skin. For other equally good books to read, just click here.


Note: Thanks to Sari Goldman for the research for this blog.


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