It is believed that Olive Oil is one of the healthiest oils available, with a wide range of uses that span far beyond just cooking. The popularity of Olive Oil has spiked in recent years as more and more evidence mounts up of its effectiveness for numerous health benefits.
Olives are not native to the Indian subcontinent, but you will find olive orchards growing in the deserts of Rajasthan. The plants were flown from the Mediterranean region in 2007 and are growing to produce flavorful olives in the country.
In a country where edible oils play an important part, Olive Oil is making its way into the hearts of consumers.
India has always imported Olive Oil from Mediterranean countries, but with the government's recent initiative to cultivate olives and produce Olive Oil, the production and consumption have both ramped up.
Rajasthan is now the hub for all olive lovers. The state of Rajasthan has the biggest olive orchards and nurseries in India. The first olive saplings were imported from Israel in 2007. Olive Oil cultivation has gained immense popularity in Rajasthan due to the global market's high demand for Olive Oil.
In 2006, a delegation under the leadership of Mr. Sharad Pawar, Minister of Agriculture, visited Israel, whereupon they realised that the conditions in deserts of Rajasthan were suitable for cultivation.
The proposal was shared with the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, but was turned down on account of the failure that was met with in Himachal Pradesh in 1985. Despite this, the Government of Rajasthan decided to proceed with the olive cultivation project.
The project kicked off with the incorporation of Rajasthan Olive Corporation Limited on 19th April 2007. The State Government provided one hundred and eighty-two hectares of land to plant 112,339 saplings of 7 different olive varieties - Barnea, Arbequina, Cortina, Koroneiki, Picual, Frantoio, and Picholine – all from Israel.
The saplings started flowering in 2011 and yielded fruits in 2012. This marks the first production of olives in India. Unfortunately, only three of the seven imported varieties bore fruits. The first production yield was only 10 tonnes.
After that, the government ordered an oil extraction machine from Italy and established an oil refinery in the Bikaner district of Rajasthan.
The Government of Rajasthan then planned for the machinery to extract oil the traditional way, marking the beginning of Olive Oil production in India. At the infancy, the production of olive oil was nominal but due to increased production of olives in eight orchards across the state, this seemed to change and things started looking better.
India has always relied on imported Olive Oil for consumption. Even though India is actively producing Olive Oil, the import is not slowing down. In 2019, India imported nearly $9.13 million worth of Olive Oil for consumption. This accounts for 2.43% of the total Olive Oil imports of the world.
Majority of the Olive Oil is imported from Italy and Spain. Nearly 58.5% is imported from Italy, while 38.8% is imported from Spain. The remainder is imported from Turkey and Tunisia.
In 2010, India only imported 3,373 metric tons of Olive Oil; but it has been importing about 11,000 to 12,000 metric tons annually for the last five years.
There was a slight drop in imports from 2018, but the imports are expected to pick up in the coming years.
Olive Oil is becoming popular due to the focus of Indians on healthy food habits. Moreover, the challenges of the pandemic have brought to light the importance of health and healthy food habits.
According to Euromonitor International, Olive Oil is a significant player in the edible oil market in India. The Indian Olive Association reports that India consumes about 12,000 metric tons of Olive Oil annually. That accounts for 0.6% of total edible oil consumption in India.
Majority of the Indian population is unaware of the numerous benefits of Olive Oil. With the majority of the population focusing on a healthy lifestyle, the importance of Olive Oil is sure to be increasing in India.