Fall 2019

Liquid Gold: The Science and History of Olive Oil

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-111

Moodle site: Course


Patricia B. O'Hara (Section 01)


For millennia, the olive and its precious oil have been fundamental to the Mediterranean region. This course will begin with the history of olive trees and their symbolic importance in ancient art, culture, and religion. We will explore methods of production, the chemical composition, and the biologically active nutraceuticals contained in the oil. Is extra virgin olive oil really the healthiest oil one can consume? We will critically read the studies that have led to these claims, particularly focusing on the Mediterranean diet. How does the chemistry of the oil affect its use in the preparation and tasting of foods? We will also consider uses of olive oil outside the kitchen and explore its ritual incorporation in the ancient world and its usefulness in the making of soap. Olive oil fraud is a major concern for modern consumers in the U.S. What are the parameters by which oils are graded and evaluated? Can we imagine ways in which the industry might be better regulated and consumers be better educated?

Fall semester. Professor O'Hara.


2020-21: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019