Sasso olive oil can

Olive Oil

By Elizabeth Zanoni

By 1910, Argentina imported more Italian olive oil than any other country in the world. Italian immigrants supported this trade because olive oil was an essential ingredient, as a source of flavor and fat, in their food culture. Olive oil’s popularity among Italians and Argentines shows connections between the food traditions of Italy, Spain, and other Mediterranean countries. Histories of colonialism and migration in Argentina produced these connections while also providing Italian exporters a large market.  

For centuries, olive oil has been an essential ingredient in the food cultures of many Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, Greece, and Tunisia. In the mid-nineteenth century, olive producing regions began manufacturing olive oil for export, especially to countries where migrants from these same countries had settled, including Argentina. Immigrants and Argentines of various backgrounds used olive oil to cook, sauté, and fry ingredients, and as the basis of a variety of dressings. Olive oil provided an important source of fat and flavor in immigrants’ diets. Argentina became Italy’s number one export market for olive oil.

Sasso-brand olive oil, founded in 1869 in Liguria, was one of the most successful Italian brands tp be sold in Argentina. However, Argentina also imported olive oil from other Mediterranean countries, especially Spain. Olive oil was a key item in the pantry of Italian immigrants as well as many other people. The fact that both Italians and non-Italians consumed olive oil in large quantities in Argentina points to commonalities in food cultures that this group of immigrants encountered. These similarities were created by Spain’s connections to Italy in the early modern period, and to Argentina, during Spanish colonization.

Industrial-scale olive oil production in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East created fierce competition among merchants, and this led Italian merchants to seek to protect their industry against imitation oils made from different plants or olive oil falsely labeled “Italian.” Advertisements regularly called out to Italian immigrant consumers, especially female consumers in charge of cooking, to guard against such fraud by buying only authentic Italian olive oil. Later in the twentieth century, Argentina developed a commercial olive oil industry using European olive varieties, especially the Arauco variety, which has been cultivated in the country since the colonial period.

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