Tunisian Olive Oil
First published October 2015
The term “terroir” gets bandied about with frequency in the food world but for certain products, such as olive oil, the climate, soil, and other environmental factors do have a considerable impact. Tunisian olives and their oil benefit from rich soil, a warm Mediterranean climate, and bright sunlight, and even amongst a broad field of competitors the oil is distinctive. As with any type of olive oil flavor can vary depending on how different brands cultivate, harvest, and then extract and process olive oil, but eaters can expect bright, fruity notes with a certain lightness on the palate.
As with all cold-pressed olive oils, which do not benefit from the application of heat, Tunisian oil is best suited for drizzling or being sopped up with crusty bread. A splash on top of high-quality imported canned tuna shines a light in the darkness, and seeing a hearty spoonful of thick, Berber-style harissa spreading crimson tendrils of chili and spice across a rimmed plate of golden oil will transport you to dappled olive groves spreading under North African skies.
Once difficult to find in the United States, these days Tunisian olive oil is being imported in larger quantities and is enjoying a surge of popularity. It can be found in specialty food markets and ordered online. Costco has carried it and Trader Joe’s has its own brand, but if you’re a frequenter of speciality food stores (or have a Middle Eastern market willing to custom order products for you) Les Moulins Mahjoub makes particularly excellent and well-regarded oils.
Tunisian olive oil is also a purchase you can feel good about. As the starting point of the Arab Spring, and as a neighbor to Libya, Tunisia plays a prominent role in Northern Africa and represents a seat of burgeoning democracy in a part of the world where political freedom is in short supply. The olive oil industry in the country is supported in part by the government and your purchase helps to support democracy, freedom of speech, and stability within the country and by extension the region.
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