January 27, 2024
Widely sustainable, in line with the most advanced organic standards, and based on a rich biodiversity, translating into more flavors, Tunisian olive farming is increasingly aimed at satisfying the demands of health-conscious consumers and those interested in exploring new sensorial experiences.
When it comes to deciding which extra virgin olive oil to select, the consumer has a world to choose from. Produced throughout the globe, each oil has different features that vary according to the region where it is produced – including soil and climate conditions and social and historical factors. Traditions and culture are also key in determining which olive varieties can be found in a region and which farming methods and production techniques are applied by farmers to obtain extra virgin olive oil. When referring to premium extra virgin olive oils, the terroir is key.
Besides countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, the world’s largest olive oil producers and exporters, Tunisia occupies a significant place as the world’s biggest producer of organic olive oil – with 1.96 million hectares of land planted, and over 107 million olive trees, including 256,000 hectares or 70 percent of overall organic cultivation in Tunisia.
Tunisian Organic farming has a sustainable approach to fight the climate crisis
In Tunisia, the largest olive oil production areas are located in Sidi Bouzid and Sfax. Tunisian farmers have developed thriving organic farming. The climate, characterized by mild winters, hot and dry summers on the coasts, and arid and semi-arid weather in the inland areas, reduces the risk of pest and fungal diseases, creating the conditions for Tunisian growers to manage the olive orchards in a very sustainable way.
In light of the global climate crisis and the need to reduce the environmental impact of human activities, organic agriculture becomes more and more relevant. The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) highlighted that agriculture is a major source of pollution, due to fertilizers and pesticide run-offs into soil, waterways and groundwater. Moreover, irrigated agriculture is the largest consumer of water globally, accounting for 70 percent of water use worldwide. Nonetheless, these impacts can be reduced through the implementation of sustainable farming, which, as estimated by the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), uses up to 56 percent less energy creates 64 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and allows for greater levels of biodiversity than conventional farming .
According to the European Commission, organic farming “tends to have a limited environmental impact, as it encourages the use of energy and natural resources responsibly, to safeguard biodiversity, regional ecological balance, improve soil fertility, and to maintain water quality.” With the goal of enhancing socio-cultural specificities and preserving natural resources, the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture has announced the creation of Eco-Regions, (organic territories) inspired by the same principles as the “Bio-Districts” in Europe.
Tunisia is the first African country to have implemented organic agriculture regulations. Currently, it is the only African country that applies a mutual recognition of equivalence of organic products with the European Union and Switzerland. According to CCPB, one of the certification companies authorized by the EU, the existing agreements assure consumers and operators that the rules adopted for organic products are applied and verified at every stage of the production, transformation, and marketing chain, and they are therefore equivalent to EC Regulation 834/2007.
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Tunisia’s rich terroir provides unique sensorial experiences
There is no doubt that organic farming has preserved the wealth of olive biodiversity in the country. Today, Tunisian farmers can draw from over 200 autochthonous varieties to produce their extra virgin olive oils. Their germplasm is conserved at the National Gene Bank in Tunis and at the Boughrara Collection of the Olive Tree Institute in Sfax.
The most widespread olive variety of the country is Chemlali, mainly cultivated in the center and south, followed by Chetoui grown in the north. Extra virgin olive oils obtained by Chemlali may be medium or light fruity with notes of almond, artichoke, apple, and herbs. Scents of artichoke and almond can also be expressed by the Chetoui variety, which usually has more intense fruitiness and boasts a high polyphenol content.
Among the many Tunisian varieties, Oueslati is typical of the central areas and usually gives medium fruity oils with balanced bitterness and pungency, and notes of green almond.
The Zalmati variety is mainly grown in the south, often characterized by pleasant bitter notes and a lighter pungency, with hints of almond, green apple, and grass. Gerboui, cultivated in the north, often expresses notes of apple and other ripe fruits with bitterness and pungency of mild intensity. All of these varieties are exclusively cultivated in Tunisia and can be both consumed as table olives and used to produce extra virgin olive oil.
Tunisia’s olive growers have also started to experiment with other cultivars native from different countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain. Therefore, new groves of Koroneiki, Arbosana, and Arbequina, with a higher planting density, have been recently introduced in addition to the traditional orchards.
Research shows Tunisian Olive Oil is very healthy
It should be noted the autochthonous varieties are more resilient to the effects of climate change, especially given their resistance to drought, since they naturally need less water. Currently, the majority of Tunisian olive groves are not irrigated and depend entirely on rainwater. For this reason, research into this area has greatly increased and new studies have become available on minor and rare Tunisian varieties. Researchers found that many of these fruits, which are widespread all over the country, are rich in phenols and other compounds beneficial for health.
It is interesting to note that groups of researchers have evaluated the influence of irrigation on the phenol content of the Chemlali and Chetoui varieties and found that non-irrigated trees give oils with higher phenol amounts.
Tunisian farmers’ pursuit of quality places them on the world stage
Over the past decades, several factors, including increased knowledge, the evolution of production technologies, and greater consumer awareness have encouraged extra virgin olive oil producers worldwide to adopt a quality approach – Tunisian olive growers are no exception. Their participation in the most prestigious competitions dedicated to the world’s best extra virgin olive oils and the high-quality recognitions received by panels of experts, continues to grow. Tunisian producers are becoming increasingly committed to producing high-quality extra virgin olive oil and to providing a guarantee of its origin as well as its ethical and sustainable production principles. Some companies such as Terra D’elyssa are making use of the latest traceability technologies to implement this further guarantee for consumers.
The extra virgin olive oils produced in the land of Jasmine can be found today in the kitchens and on the tables of foodies. Tunisian olive oil provides a unique sensorial and organoleptic profile while committing to sustainability. We welcome you to give it a try!
Feel like trying Tunisian olive oil? Shop in our store today!