What happens when a successful teacher of ancient languages, owner of the Synchrono private tutoring schools in Athens, ventures into the olive oil world? He takes Homer’s description of olive oil as ‘liquid gold’ literally and adds gold flakes to the extra virgin olive oil that has long engaged the hearts and minds of his ancestors and his country.

One of the world’s most expensive olive oils, Ioannis Kampouris’s E-La-Won Luxury olive oil with edible flakes of 24-carat gold – an EU- and US-approved food additive – harkens back to past eras when gold was consumed by the wealthy and powerful.

Advertised by a Dubai distributor as ‘a symbol of success and perfection’ and ‘a true elixir of youth and longevity,’ it is popular in the Middle East. Kampouris has also sent it to five billionaires, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos as gifts.

That €610 (AUD$902) limited edition luxury olive oil is not all that Kampouris created when he felt a longing to turn back to nature, following the footsteps of five generations back to olive farming. He also produced a premium extra virgin olive oil that many could enjoy; Green Fresh extra virgin olive oil and E-La-Won Traditional. Recently, Kampouris and his team have added other new products: four types of me-Li E-La-Won, or honey (thyme, orange blossom, chestnut, and fir), as well as two E-La-Won flavours: Sundried Tomato Pesto and Parsley Pesto.

Years ago, Kampouris planted olive trees near ancient Mycenae in northern Peloponnese. The first olive oil from those trees was consumed by his friends and family.

In 2013, seeking to communicate the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and promote Greek products abroad, he responded to the Greek version of the Great Depression by starting a company with his wife, philologist Olga Bountala, and close friends Vassilis Magoulas and Maria Nika.

Using the name E-La-Won which comes from Mycenaean Linear B syllabic script and means ‘olive oil’ (1400 BCE), and developing packaging inspired by ancient Mycenae, they began exporting to other European countries and the Middle East. “We looked back to go forward,” says Kampouris.

That was not the first time Kampouris had adapted to a challenging situation, and he has not forgotten the challenges faced by Greeks in the land of his childhood. He grew up in the village of Agridia on the island of Imbros, Turkey (officially called Gökçeada since 1970), which had been predominantly inhabited by Greeks from ancient times until the 1960s.

Kampouris moved to Athens with his family when he was 18 and began studying literature at the university, working in a factory and selling flowers and sandwiches on the street to make ends meet.

He fondly remembers the island where he grew up surrounded by olive groves and orchards, taking part in the olive harvest, enjoying the aroma of the freshly milled oil and its flavour on toasted bread.

So he recently organised a fundraiser to benefit the Greek grade schools in Imbros which had been closed for many decades, donating E-La-Won olive oil and encouraging others to donate their products as well.

Although he continues to teach, Kampouris is a hands-on olive oil producer who is present during every step of the process, aiming for environmentally-friendly practices that respect nature and protect the ecosystem for coming generations. Taking advice on cultivation, harvesting, and olive oil production from the Institute of Agricultural Sciences of Greece as well as Italian and Greek experts, he oversees an early harvest, while the olives are still green and the flavours and nutrients are at their peak.

The E-La-Won team handpicks the olives and transports them to the mill immediately in plastic boxes to avoid damaging them. Olive oil is extracted at controlled temperatures and conditions and then stored in stainless steel tanks with nitrogen to avoid oxidation and maintain health benefits, low acidity, a fruity aroma, and a spicy flavour.

In the few years they have been competing, E-La-Won extra virgin olive oils have received a long list of awards that recognise the care that goes into their production, including two gold medals at the TerraOlivo International Olive Oil Competition in Israel, Great Taste Awards, and two silver medals at the largest, most prestigious Asian competition, Olive Japan.

In addition to honorus for its flavour and quality, E-La-Won has been recognised for its creative packaging, its achievement as a business start-up, its collaboration in gastronomy developments, its support of scientific research on olive oil and health, and its health benefits (the latter in Olympia, Cyprus, and London).

At the 2017 Aristoleo® Awards in Cyprus, for example, E-La-Won received a silver award as one of the extra virgin olive oils with the highest phenolic content, indicating that it offers protection against the oxidation of blood lipids as well as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cardioprotective, and neuroprotective properties.

Aristoleo Ltd patented the invention of a test kit to measure the combined phenolic compounds oleocanthal and oleacein. Eligible to make a health claim according to EU Regulation 432/2012, E-La-Won also received a gold award at the 2017 London International Olive Oil Health Competition, the first mainstream international competition to add a health category.

Kampouris demonstrates his love for Greek culture, history, and his homeland as he explains E-La-Won’s links to the past and the present:
“My memories come from the blue colour of the Aegean sea and sky. This is my paradise on the edge of the Mediterranean, and it is painted with the silver colour of the olive tree, a symbol of peace and civilisation, as old as human history. A gift from the gods to the people since the times of Athena and Poseidon, rooted in our past for thousands of years. In this blessed Peloponnesian land, near ancient Mycenae, we produce the extra virgin olive oil E-La-Won from the Koroneiki olive variety in our private olive groves. Our traditional recipe is combined with today’s technology to create an extra virgin olive oil ‘opos palia’ (like in the good old days).”

* For more Greek olive oil stories by Lisa Radinovsky, visit greekliquidgold.com