The Mediterranean Triad
The end of Parshat Noach mentions two of the seven species of Israel, olives and grapes.
The olive branch is mentioned in Breisheet 8:11:
The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her mouth was a torn off olive leaf.
Grapes are mentioned in Breisheet 9:20-21:
Noach became a man of the soil and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became intoxicated…
We see from here that olives and grapes dated back to before the time of the Flood.
Twice a day, we recite the Shma Prayer which states (Dvarim 11:13-14):
And it shall come to pass, if you listen diligently to My commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give you the rain of your land in its due season, the early rain and the late rain, that you may gather in your grains, your wine and your oil.
If we fulfil the mitzvot, then we will have grains, wine and olive oil and we will be able to remain in the Land of Israel. If we don’t observe the mitzvot, nothing will grow and we will be exiled.
We see from here that along with grains, wine and olive oil were staples. The tithing of grain, grapes and olives is required by Biblical law (the tithing of fruit, legumes and vegetables was instituted by Rabbinic law).
Grains, grapes and olives were later known as the Mediterranean Triad. They are the most prominent crops in the classic Mediterranean diet and were central to the Roman menu.
Olive oil and wine were considered as essential as grains in the ancient world.
There are many similarities between olives and grapes and there are also many differences.
Olives and grapes resemble each other in the way that they are both considered fruits. They have hard seeds inside and a protective edible covering. They are both nutritious and can be eaten as a fruit but are more valuable when converted into a liquid. The liquid if made from the fruit itself, not from its seeds.
The wine and olive harvests are comparable as they only last a few weeks. In Israel, many volunteers come to help out with the harvests. The fruit must be kept in the best shape possible and made into olive oil or wine as quickly as possible.
The olive trees and grape vines are very distinct. Grapes are cultivated while olives grow wild. To get the olives down, one has to bang on the tree while the grapes are taken off the vine gently, one cluster at a time.
The process of making olives into olive oil is a much quicker and simpler process than making grapes into wine.
Both olive oil and wine are stored in a cool dry place. Olive oil has a much shorter life span than wine which improves over time.
Along with the rest of the Seven Species of Israel, grapes and olives are healthy. They have many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
The next time that you travel in Israel, check out one of the many wineries around the country to taste the wine and see how it is made or go up to the Galil or Golan and visit a boutique olive oil producer.