The olive tree probably originated in the Middle East, where its fruits have been used since prehistoric times. Along with the vine, the olive tree was one of the first plants to be cultivated and the practice spread from Central Persia and Mesopotamia to Egypt and Phoenicia and then to Greece. The Minoan Greeks of Crete were the first to engage in the full-scale cultivation of the olive, and from 2000 BC olives played a primary role in the island's economy.
The ancient Greek philosophers and physicians soon discovered the curative properties of olive oil. This knowledge is being "rediscovered" today as modern scientists seek to determine why the Mediterranean Diet is so healthy.
There is an enormous range of tastes and flavours of olive oil, and much like wine, this depends on its place of origin, and whether the oil has been produced by traditional or mechanised means.
Although it would be wrong to assume that all the oils from one area taste the same, Greek oils have generally been described as being consistently herbaceous in character, varying from fresh and grassy to dry and hay-like depending on the growing conditions and extraction method. The degree of pepperiness varies form oil to oil.