Oil and fat have always been an essential part of the human diet because of the energy they provide. Obtaining oil and fat from plants is a characteristic of many ancient cultures. There is evidence of the cultivation of plants that produce vegetable oils such as poppy seed, rapeseed and linen even in the Stone Age. The first oil presses were found on Crete from 3500 B.C. and Chinese sources from 2800 B.C. show that soy and hemp plants were used to produce oils.
As vegetable oils and fats were goods in very short supply, they gained an almost mythical reputation and were of immense commercial importance. Edible oils along with salt were among the first goods to be traded over long distances. A large part of the prosperity of the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean was based on the production of olive oil, the first widely used vegetable oil in Europe.
Europe to the north of the Alps was not able to produce oil from native plants on a large scale for a long time, so it was difficult to feed the population and there were frequent famines. It was the development of agriculture and the industrial extraction of oil from plant seeds that made the huge increases in the population of Europe possible in the 18th and 19th centuries. The basis of the industrial revolution was actually an agricultural revolution. Historically, edible vegetable oil is one of the dietary pillars, along with grains and sugar, on which western civilisation stands.
The development of refining, the procedure for purifying the pressed oil, has made possible the production of odourless edible oil with a neutral taste as we know it today. The further cultivation of plants that produce edible oils, as well as the development of oil presses and refineries has led in the last few decades to oils of better quality and less environmental pollution resulting from the production and refining processes. Refining is today usually carried out using a...