It was a chilly late afternoon and the venue was full of attendees eager to indulge in the unique experience of unraveling the wonders of a greenish wonder of nature.
The occasion was the celebration of the fourth edition of the World Week of Italian Cuisine which started on 2 December, concluding today, Sunday.
To mark the occasion, The Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo held 5 December an event that hosted two of Italy's acknowledged names in the fields of health, food and the biological sciences.
Stefano Predieri, senior researcher in the Agricultural, Food and Biological Sciences Department, and Roberto Volpe, senior researcher in the Biomedical Department, both at the National Research Centre of Italy, came especially to introduce an Egyptian audience to an exquisite olive oil tasting experiment and a seminar on its benefits and how it creates a gustatory and culinary balance that triggers flavours and aromas.
Panel at the Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo on the occasion of Italien food week
Italian gastronomic specialties represent a part of the Mediterranean diet, which is an intangible cultural heritage of humanity recognised by UNESCO.
This diet essentially uses extra virgin olive oil for a wide range of recipes on which the mouthwatering tastes of Italian cuisine depend.
Save your heart
Dr Roberto Volpe talked about the Mediterranean diet and how it prolongs the lives of those who strictly follow it, in comparison with other Western diets.
Volpe explained in detail how the Mediterranean diet is rich in ingredients that are low in saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, while rich in fibre, vegetal proteins, antioxidants, and mono-saturated and omega-3 fatty acids.
Ingredients include whole cereals, legumes, fruits, fish, nuts and, above all, extra virgin olive oil.
The latter is a typical ingredient of Italian cuisine, consisting mainly of mono-saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, Vitamin E polyphenols and phytosterols.
The lecture detailed how science shows that adhering to a Mediterranean diet counteracts age-related cognitive decline, protects against cardiovascular diseases and helps evade many kinds of cancers.
A common heritage of humanity
Dr Stefano Predieri then took the podium talking about the interesting aspects of extra virgin olive oil that have to do with taste and culture.
The attention of those present at the event was raised when he spoke of the link with ancient Egypt, and how olives were found in Egyptian tombs from 2,000 BC, in the tombs of Amenoteph in Luxor (1,450 BC) and the tomb of Sennefer.
Different kinds of olive oils revisited( all photos by Ingy Deif for Ahramonline)
Predieri mentioned that olives were native to Asia Minor and spread from Syria, Iran and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean basin 6,000 years ago.
Even in Greek mythology, olives stood out, as the goddess Athena's gift to Zeus for "light, heat, food, medicine and perfume."
In the present time, cultivating olives is beneficial not only because of the health and savory qualities of the crop, but also because it is environmentally friendly and convenient, requiring a minimal amount of irrigation.
Predieri explained the different kinds of the oil and how their characteristics vary between fruity, fresh, buttery, sharp, peppery and sweet.
The seminar was concluded with an exquisite olive oil tasting experiment that saw attendees understand ways to differentiate between different kinds of oils produced in Italy as well as those famously produced in Egypt's Siwa oasis in the Western Desert, appreciating their quality.