Olive oil is fundamental in the culture and gastronomy of Portugal. Internationally recognized, Portuguese olive oil is present in many traditional and contemporary recipes. It is essential for the Mediterranean diet and highly valued for its unique quality and flavor.

In this article, we will talk about the History of Olive Oil in Portugal, the main olive oil-producing regions, the variety of olives you can find in Portugal, and explain the Portuguese olive oil production process.

Additionally, we will cover the classification and quality of olive oil, health benefits, examples of olive oil usage in Portuguese cuisine, and the state of Olive Oil Tourism in Portugal.

Shall we?


The History of Olive Oil in Portugal

The history of olive oil in Portugal dates back to ancient times with the introduction of olive trees by the Phoenicians and Romans. These civilizations brought the first olive trees to Portuguese territory, laying the foundations for a millennia-old tradition. Olive trees found an ideal climate and soil in Portugal, allowing for their growth and spread.

During the Middle Ages, olive oil production became an activity of great economic and social importance. Monasteries and convents played a crucial role in maintaining and expanding olive groves, using olive oil not only for culinary purposes but also for lighting and medicinal uses. Cultivation and extraction techniques were quite rudimentary at the time but gradually improved.

With the Renaissance and the increase in trade, Portuguese olive oil began to gain recognition beyond the country's borders. During the 17th and 18th centuries, technological innovations allowed for greater efficiency in production, and the areas of cultivation expanded significantly. Olive oil mills, which were once simple structures, evolved into more sophisticated facilities capable of producing high-quality olive oil.

In the 19th century, with the Industrial Revolution, new production techniques and machinery further transformed the olive oil industry in Portugal. Modernization allowed for increased production quantities and improved quality. The introduction of hydraulic presses and more advanced filtration methods ensured a purer and more flavorful final product.

Today, Portugal is recognized as one of the world's leading olive oil producers. The regions of Alentejo, Trás-os-Montes, Beira Interior, and Algarve are particularly famous for producing high-quality olive oil. The combination of traditional and innovative methods continues to ensure the excellence of Portuguese olive oil, celebrating a heritage that spans millennia.

Olive Oil Producing Regions

Portugal has several regions known for producing high-quality olive oil. The main ones are Alentejo, Trás-os-Montes, Beira Interior, and Algarve.

  • Alentejo: It is the largest olive oil-producing region in Portugal. The hot and dry climate is ideal for olive cultivation. Alentejo's olive oil is known for its smooth and fruity flavor.

  • Trás-os-Montes: This mountainous region produces intense and complex olive oils. The climate and soil give the olive oil unique and appreciated characteristics.

  • Beira Interior: Known for balanced olive oils with herbal and spicy notes. The cooler climate influences the flavor profile.

  • Algarve: Olive oil production in the Algarve is smaller but of high quality. The proximity to the sea and mild climate result in smooth and aromatic olive oils.


Portuguese Olive Varieties

Portugal is rich in olive diversity, each with distinct characteristics that give Portuguese olive oil a wide range of flavors and aromas. Understanding the main varieties helps appreciate the uniqueness and quality of oils produced in different regions of the country. Here are the main olive varieties produced in Portugal:


Galega is the most traditional olive variety in Portugal. This olive is widely cultivated, especially in the Alentejo and Trás-os-Montes regions. The oil produced from Galega olives is known for its smoothness and balance. It has a light fruity touch, making it perfect for those who prefer a more delicate and versatile oil. It is often used in fish dishes, salads, and for finishing dishes to enhance flavors without overpowering them.


Cobrançosa is a variety that produces oils with an intense and spicy flavor. This oil is highly appreciated by those who enjoy robust and striking flavors. Cobrançosa is cultivated in various regions, including Trás-os-Montes and Beira Interior. The oil from this variety is ideal for accompanying strong dishes like grilled meats and roasted vegetables, where its spicy and complex flavor can shine.


Cordovil is known for producing fresh and aromatic oils. The oil from this variety has a slightly bitter and spicy flavor, offering a rich and interesting sensory experience. Cordovil is widely cultivated in the Alentejo region. This oil is perfect for seasoning salads, pastas, and soups, giving dishes a touch of freshness and intensity.


Verdeal offers green and fruity oils, with distinctive notes of apple and fresh herbs. This variety is valued by those who appreciate oils with a complex and fresh aromatic profile. Verdeal is mainly cultivated in central and northern Portugal. The oil from this olive is ideal for accompanying light dishes, such as salads, grilled vegetables, and fish, where its fruity flavor can be fully appreciated.

Olive Oil Production Process

The production of olive oil is a complex process that involves several stages, from the harvesting of olives to the storage of the oil ready for consumption. And each stage is crucial to ensure the quality and flavor of the final product.


Harvesting olives is the first stage of the olive oil production process. Olives can be harvested manually or with the help of machines. Manual harvesting is more careful and allows for the selection of only the olives in perfect condition, but it is more time-consuming. Mechanized harvesting, on the other hand, is faster and more efficient but can cause damage to the olives if not done carefully. Harvesting must be done at the right time, usually between October and December, to ensure the highest quality of the oil.

Washing and Crushing

After harvesting, the olives are taken to the mill where they are washed to remove impurities such as leaves and small branches. Then, the olives are crushed to form a homogeneous paste. Crushing is done with stone mills or modern metallic crushers, which crush the olives, including the pits, to release the oil contained in the cells.


Extraction is the stage where the oil is separated from the pulp and water. There are two main methods of extraction: cold and hot. Cold extraction is preferred by many producers of high-quality olive oil because it better preserves the aromatic and nutritional compounds of the oil. In this method, the olive paste is pressed at a temperature below 27°C. Hot extraction, although more efficient in terms of yield, can compromise some organoleptic qualities of the oil.

Filtration and Storage

After extraction, the oil still contains small particles of water and solids. Filtration is carried out to remove these impurities, resulting in a clean and pure oil. Filtration can be done with paper filters, rotating discs, or centrifuges. Once filtered, the oil is stored in stainless steel tanks, which protect the oil from light and air, preventing oxidation. Storage should be done in cool, dark places to maintain the quality of the oil over time.


Classification and Quality of Olive Oil

Olive oil is classified into various categories based on its quality.

  • Extra Virgin: The highest quality. Low acidity and perfect flavor.

  • Virgin: Good quality, but with slight imperfections.

  • Lampante: Not suitable for direct consumption. Used for refining or industrially.

The quality of olive oil is determined by acidity, aromatic compounds, and antioxidants. The acidity should be less than 0.8% in extra virgin olive oil.

Health Benefits

Olive oil has many health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. It helps reduce the risk of heart disease. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is good for digestion. Studies show that olive oil may help prevent certain types of cancer.

Olive Oil in Portuguese Cuisine

Olive oil is essential in Portuguese cuisine. Used in both traditional and contemporary dishes, it enhances the flavor of the ingredients.

Olive oil is also used in desserts, such as cakes and traditional sweets.

Olive Oil Tourism

Olive oil tourism is gaining popularity in Portugal, attracting visitors interested in learning about olive oil production and tasting this iconic product of Portuguese gastronomy.

Many farms in Portugal, especially in the regions of Alentejo, Trás-os-Montes, and Beiras, offer guided tours of their olive groves and mills. During these visits, visitors have the opportunity to learn about the various stages of olive oil production, from harvesting the olives to extracting and storing the oil.

Olive oil tastings are an essential part of these tours, allowing visitors to sample different varieties of olive oil and appreciate their unique characteristics, such as flavor, aroma, and texture.

It is undoubtedly a unique opportunity to discover the wonderful world of Portuguese olive oil!

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