Here's How Olive Oil Became Popular In The US

Olive oil has existed as a quintessential component of Mediterranean cuisine throughout the ages. It is even told that the citizens of Athens chose to name their city after the goddess Athena only after she offered them up the very first olive tree in existence. That's how important and popular olives and olive oil have been over the centuries. However, in the United States, its prevalence has a little bit of a different story. According to Taste Cooking, the popularity in olive oil is actually due to a major marketing campaign by the olive oil industry.

Up until about the 1990s, olive oil was still a bit of a foreign agent in American households. It wasn't until a certain politician/restaurant owner named K. Dun Gifford took a trip to Italy, and decided he wanted to change the way Americans were eating that the oil came to the States in force. In 1990, he founded a non-profit focused on public health which sent prominent members of the food community — chefs as famous as Bobby Flay, nutritionists, cookbook authors — on free trips to the Mediterranean, which just happened to be sponsored by the International Olive Oil Council. Through these early food influencers, the Mediterranean diet was popularized.

Olive oil consumption and why it's stuck around

While K. Dun Gifford's intentions were likely in good faith, in order to promote a healthier diet for Americans, it no doubt paid off well for olive oil companies. According to Statista, by 2019 the amount of olive oil consumption in the States nearly doubled in less than twenty years. At the very start of the millennium, the US was consuming 209,000 metric tons of olive oil, while by 2019 it was up to 406,000. And for good reason.

Just because the olive oil industry threw millions into popularizing it in the States doesn't mean it's a scam. In fact, according to Eating Well, the Mediterranean diet, and olive oil, specifically, does wonders for your body, as extra virgin olive oil is packed with fatty acids which helps to rid your arteries of bad cholesterol. So, be it a genius scheme from big olive oil, or simply a ploy to get the country's bodies on the right track, you might want to pick up a bottle of olive oil if your kitchen is lacking.