THE GOLAN HEIGHTS, Israel -- While the production of olive oil in the Middle East dates back thousands of years, a first-of-its-kind olive oil competition was held recently in Jerusalem, not far from the biblical Mount of Olives.
Olive oil is a key component in the popular Mediterranean diet. One Israeli group is promoting Israel's expertise in the making of top-grade olive oil.
"We are in the Middle East and we have a lot of olive oil, good olive oil," said executive chef Itzik Barak.
About 189 olive oil samples from 14 countries were submitted to the Terra Olivo Mediterranean Olive Oil Competition. The oils were judged on the basis of their taste, quality, low acidity, aroma, and color.
While an Italian olive oil won the grand championship, Israeli olive oils also won prestigious awards.
"The Israeli olive oil - it's more stronger than the other olive oil," Barak said. "It's similar to the taste of the Israeli. You know we're a strong country and people want to taste a strong flavor.
Kibbutz Gshur on the Golan Heights produce nine varieties of olive oil from olives they grow on the farm. The Kibbutz grows nearly 140 acres of olive groves and has its own mill to process its own olives.
Their olive oil was one of the competition's winners. Some experts said they even make the best olive oil in the Middle East.
Olive oil producer Ehud Soriano said the secret is that the olive oil production is completely in their hands.
"Only our olives go into this mill," he said. "So there's no other olives. There's no other producers. There's no other farmers in it."
Until the 1960s, olive oil was made using the same centuries-old process -- by crushing the olives and then pressing the olive paste to squeeze out the oil. Production has since been modernized.
Olive trees have been growing in Israel for thousands of years. Olives and olive trees are mentioned many times in the Bible.
The book of Genesis mentions that a dove brought an olive branch to Noah in the Ark when dry ground appeared after the flood. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, or "Gath Shemenim," which is Hebrew for "the oil press."
Today, there is a growing awareness of the health benefits of olive oil. Still, organizers of the recent competition caution all olive oils are not the same.
"You don't have any short cut with the olive oil," Barak said. "The cheaper is the lowest and the most expensive unfortunately is the best."
"It's very important to consume high quality olive oil - only extra virgin olive oil and competitions like that help us as producers and helps the olive oil industry around the world to bring it in mind," Soriano said.