The olive tree has long been treasured as a valuable harvest crop throughout multiple generations. The growing and harvesting of olive trees first begun in ancient Greece as far back as 2000 B.C. It was not long before the ancient Greeks found the many uses of the olive tree. The leaves of the olive tree were used to provide relief from malaria and fevers, the oil extracted from the fruit of the tree(the olives) used as a cleansing material, good source of calories, burning fuel for lamps, and a muscle soother for athletes.
It was olives that played the role of the major economic crop of ancient Greece. Many of the Enlightment discoveries that have put us where we are today were funded by the olive trade. Nevertheless, it was also the olive that contributed a good part to the downfall of Greece. When many food crops and coastal forests were cut down in order to plan olive tree groves, the nutritious top soil that is essential for food crops to grow was washed away due to the long taproot of the olive tree. Greece had to start importing food, which was a huge blow to the already declining economy.
Olive oil also ushered in the use of soap. It is thought that soap was first discovered when cooks realized that the olive oil dripping off of a pot and into ashes formed a substance that would produce a bubbly lather in water(an oil-olive oil- plus an alkaloid-the ashes- equals a soap). At first, the new soap was just used to clean dishes and wash cloths. A few people started using it to cleanse themselves when Spain and France made a creamy, shiny, perfected soap called castile, but soap did not truly come into use until it started being produced commercially in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. The improvement soap made for the slums of the IR were tremendous, and resulted in a significant drop in the previously high infant mortality rate.
Olive oil, along with all other fats and oils, is a triglyceride and consists of two parts: a molecule called glycerin, along with three fatty acid molecules. The glycerin molecule does not change; it is always the same. It is the fatty acids of which there are different varieties. The fatty acid molecules themselves are made up of an acid(COOH or HOOC) attatched to a chain of carbon atoms. The triglyceride is formed when a water molecule is removed by removing the HO off of the fatty acid and an H off the end of the glycerin molecule, joining the two molecules to form the triglyceride.
The state of matter that an oil or fat is in at room temperature can be explained by the molecular structure of their fatty acids. There are three main types of fatty acids: saturated, which contains no carbon-to-carbon double bonds, unsaturated, which contains one carbon-to-carbon double bond, and polyunsaturated, which contains two or more carbon-to-carbon double bonds. With each carbon-to-carbon double bond, the fatty acid molecule is bent. The more bent it becomes, the more disorganized the molecules become in the solution, and the more liquid the solution is.
I agree with the authors when it comes to the historical impact of the olive; it was an exclusive trading item, similar to the historically valued items such as salt, gold, spices, and chocolate. Usually when a country undergoes a period of discovery and Enlightment, it is due to an influx of funding provided from an exclusive good. It seems extremely plausible to me that olive oil was this good.
When it comes to providing cleanliness to the world, however, I tend to disagree slightly. It may have been olive oil that sparked the soap making culture, but there were also many other substances that aided in the development of soap. Many plants including soapwort, soapberry, and soap lily, along with different oils and fats were also found to produce soap. Rather than being the sole cause for the production of soap, I tend to think that olive oil was more of a small part of the whole evolution of soap. I.e I believe that people would have found another way of making it. If nothing else, the discovery of antiseptics, which had absolutely nothing to do with olive oil, would have stepped up to usher in the new age of cleanliness and sanitation.