The Jiffet Process

Amman, Jordan

It’s that time of year when I’ve got olive trees on my mind, and all the uses to which they are put here in the Arab world. The felaheen, the Arab peasant class, invest in olives as they invest in their children, and an olive tree can produce benefit for the family for hundreds of years.

From Olives, Olives!

The obvious uses are for eating and as olive oil, but this is only the beginning. Olive oil is a popular cosmetic ingredient. It can be made into soap, as they do at the Orjan Soap Houseand many other places. It can also be used in lotions. Many young men use olive oil instead of hair gel, and Wijdan even said her son’s doctor reccomended it as healthier for the hair and scalp.

From Orjan Soap House

After the olive harvest, the trees are trimmed, and the branches sit on the ground for a few days while the sheep and goats strip them of their leaves. Then the wood can be used for heating, but it’s not the only way olive trees contribute to household heating. Many villages are heated by jiffet, what’s left over from the pressing of olives for their oil.

From Olives, Olives!

If you take your own olives to the press, you can get a discount on buying a truckload of the leftovers to be dumped in your front yard.

From Olives, Olives!

This sludge is mixed with water and formed into balls, which are left for several days to dry in the sun, turned over, and left several more days to bake on the other side.

From Olives, Olives!

These balls, about the size of a softball, will burn for about 15 minutes each, and much hotter than wood because of the residual olive oil in the jiffet.

From Olives, Olives!

Altogether, a family can heat their home for the 4 months of the winter for about JD100, which is far less than if they used propane, kerosene or diesel, and with a much more pleasant smell, in my opinion. The government also pushes for more use of jiffet in communities where olives are grown, because it is an eminently renewable resource, making use of what would otherwise be a waste product of a major Jordanian industry.

Jiffet is also prevalent in the Palestinian territories, where olive trees and all their byproducts are similarly integral to the felaheen way of life. That’s why images like these from Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem make me so angry and anguished.


  1. You'll see plenty of olives when you come to visit! Especially if we go up north to Jerash and Umm Qais (which are not to be missed!) where there's more water for agriculture.

    An olive off the tree is hard as a rock. You wouldn't want to eat one. In last year's olive post, I mention that one way of preserving them so they can be eaten fairly quickly is to crack them open with a rock before soaking them in water for a few weeks.


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