Discovering our food: Olives

Hello my dear readers,

A few years back I went to a plants exhibition back home in Italy and I bought a small olive tree full of good smelling flowers. I loved it because was so little. 

And to my surprise it did olives too. In the first year it did around 10 olives and the second year around 20. Then we’ve relocated to Singapore and I’ve passed it to my mother-in-law.

She changed its place but I guess it did not like it as after only one year sadly was gone.

But even for a short while, I still had a change to have my experience of growing and make edible olives.

Good to know is that the colour of the olive is not necessarily related to its state of maturity. Many olives start off green and turn black when fully ripe, which was my type of olive. However, some olives start off green and remain green when fully ripe, while others start of black and remain black. Some olives are picked unripe, while others are allowed to fully ripen on the tree.

As you may know, you can’t eat the olives straight like this, as have a very bitter taste. So even if my production was very little I decided to cure and marinate them in order to be able to taste them. The processes by which olives are made edible and delicious, vary with the olive variety, region where they are cultivated, and the desired taste, texture and colour. They can be water cured, brine cured, lye cured, oil cured, dry cured or sun dried, like tomatoes. 

Preserving them in brine which is salted water, is the most common way to eliminate the bitterness, so I have started my process of making my olives edible with brine. Important thing to know is that you need to have a lot of patience as this process may take from six weeks or up to nine months or longer. The curing time varies depending on the variety of olives, and the desired texture and taste. 

First thing was to soak the olives in plain water for ten days, then changing the water every day for a month or so. Then, boil a solution of salt water, 1 cup of salt to each quart of water, for a few minutes, and store the olives immersed in this cooled solution in sterile glass jar for six months or so. I must say that I was impressed! I may only had a few and the process was pretty long, but my olives were absolutely delicious.

Nowadays, there are still thousands of households that cure their olives as they have done for generations, each family believing that they hold the secret to the perfect way of curing and preserving their olives.

I believe more attention has been given to their delicious oil than their whole food delights, but still olives are one of the world’s most widely enjoyed foods.

Everything you need to know about olives_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Pixabay, Peter H, edited by Popsicle Society

Olives are classified as fruits of the Olea europea tree, an amazing tree that typically lives for hundreds of years.

Generally, when we think about olives we don’t think about fruits but as a vegetable that can be a delicious addition to salads, meat and fish dishes and of course pizza, foccacie, pasta, spreads…and so many dishes.

But from where the olives come from?

Olive origins_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Pixabay, mac231, edited by Popsicle Society

Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean, as well as different parts of Asia Minor and Africa. 

There are hundreds of varieties of olive trees, but all of them belong to the same scientific category of Olea europea, “Olea” being the Latin word for “oil,” and reflects the high oil content of this food and “europea”, highlights their Mediterranean origins, since countries bordering the north shore of the Mediterranean Sea are typically considered as parts of southern Europe. 

The domestic and cultivated olive tree that we know today derives from the wild or oleaster olive tree that grows in rocky and isolated places, or in a wooded form, and from whose tiny fruits a bitter oil is obtained whose use has, however, always been limited.

The transformation of the oleaster tree into a domestic olive tree seems to have been the work of people in Syria. Very early the use of growing olives passed from Asia Minor to the islands of the archipelago, and therefore to Greece and to the rest of the Mediterranean basin 6,000 years ago.

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Photo credit: Pixabay, Ilona

Curiosities

  • The olive tree it is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world, being grown before even the written language was invented.
  • 90% of all Mediterranean olives are crushed for the production of olive oil, with the remaining 10% kept in whole food form for eating. 
  • Olives contain 115–145 calories per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), or about 59 calories for 10 olives.
  • Authentic Kalamata olives come from Kalamon olive trees in southern Greece and get their name from Kalamata, their city of origin. European Union (EU) law provides Kalamata olives with Protected Geographical Status and Protected Designation of Origin and does not allow product labeling as “Kalamata” unless the olives have come from this specific area. But, and there is a big BUT, outside of the European Union countries, there are no binding legal standards for labeling of Kalamata olives, and such many canned and jarred olives are referred to as “Kalamata-style” or “Kalamata-type” olives but these olives are not authentic Kalamata olives grown in the Kalamata area of southern Greece. The genuine Kalamata olives are usually allowed to ripe fully before harvest and different methods of curing can be used during production of Kalamata olives. Some Greek producers use dry-curing as a method of choice. In dry-curing, olives are covered directly in salt rather than soaked in brine. Dry-curing is often used for olives that will be stored for longer periods of time, and Kalamata olives that have been dry-cured can often be identified by their wrinkly skin. Kalamata olives can also be cured in a salt brine or in water, and in both cases, red wine vinegar and/or red wine are typically used to give the olives their delicious flavors. Most “Kalamata-style” and “Kalamata-type” olives have been cured in this way. 
  • You may find authentic Kalamata olives from southern Greece in many groceries, especially those groceries that stock specialty foods. If you want the authentic and genuine Kalamata olives, look always for the ones labeled as “imported” and may also be labeled as “PDO Kalamata” to reflect their compliance with European Union regulations.

Olives in history

Athens is named after the Goddess Athena who brought the olive to the Greeks as a gift. Zeus had promised to give Attica to the god or goddess who made the most useful invention. Athena’s gift of the olive, useful for light, heat, food, medicine and perfume was picked as a more peaceful invention than Poseidon’s horse that was touted as a rapid and powerful instrument of war. It seems that Athena planted the original olive tree on a rocky hill that we know today as the Acropolis. The olive tree that grows there today is said to have come from the roots of the original tree.

For most Mediterranean people, the olive tree has been seen throughout history as almost holy, a symbol of peace, victory, and the endurance of life itself, evoking feelings of harmony, vitality, and health. 

These ancient olive trees have had a huge impact on all the important civilizations of the Mediterranean for at least 6,000 years, providing food, medicinal potions, and the most nourishing of oils. 

Cultivation 

Olive cultivation_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Pixabay, Peggy Choucair, edited by Popsicle Society

Today there are 800 million olive trees growing on Earth, and no less than 500 different “cultivars,” or varieties of olives.

Even though olive trees may produce more olives in lowland terrain, they are comfortable growing in mountainous, rocky conditions and often thrive along the hillsides of Spain, Italy and Greece.

The olive tree is one of the heartiest of all trees of our world being able to survive salt water, adapting itself to almost any sunny and temperate environment, able to thrive in most soils, being an evergreen tree, and living for more than a thousand years.

Olives constitute one of the world’s largest fruit crops, with more than 25 million acres of olive trees planted worldwide. Think that on a worldwide basis, olives are produced in greater amounts than either grapes, apples, or oranges. 

Spain is the largest single producer of olives at approximately 6 million tons per year. 

Italy is second at approximately 3.5 million tons, followed by Greece at 2.5 million. 

Turkey and Syria are the next major olive producers. 

In the United States, California’s Central Valley is the site of most olive production, on approximately 27,000 acres.

How long does an olive tree live?

Olive trees can have a remarkable longevity. Most live to an age of several hundred years.

The oldest olive tree in the world is located in the village of Vouves on the island of Crete. Its age is between 2000 and 4000 years!

I’m not sure if you’ve seen any ancient olive trees but they grow in wondrous, tangled ways, with trunks resembling characters in fairy tales.

olive-tree-3579922_1280_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Pixabay, guentherlig

How olives are harvested?

The harvesting of the table olives, meaning those intended to be eaten, is a slow, labor intensive work, almost always done by hand, without mechanical devices of any kind except perhaps a rake, because the olives are easily bruised and must be handled gently, contrary of the ones that are crushed into oil.

olives-253264_1280_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Pixabay, Artvision-So

From where does the olives that we eat come from?

Olives belong to a very special group of fruits called drupes or stone fruits. Drupes are fruits that have a pit or stone at their core, and this pit is surrounded by a larger fleshy portion called the pericarp. Other drupes commonly known worldwide include mango, cherry, peach, plum, apricot, nectarine, almond, and pistachio.

Most of the table olives that we eat come from Italy, Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and California. 

The varieties of table olives harvested in the Mediterranean area are particularly rich, such as the Picholine from France; the Kalamata from Greece; and the Gaeta, Taggiasca and Bella di Cerignola cultivars from Italy. For me the Kalamata olives and Taggiasca are the best.

Depending on the cultivar, the shape and texture of olives vary greatly from tiny spherical orbs like Taggiasca olives to large, plump ovals like Gordal or Queen olive.

How to select and store the olives

Most of the time we find the olives sold in jars and cans, but nowadays I’ve noticed many stores are now offering them in bulk in large barrels or bins, with a wide variety of color options and textures. It’s common to find a color varieties of olives that include green, yellow-green, green-gray, rose, red-brown, dark red, purplish-black and black, and in several different textures, including shiny, wilted, or cracked. The size of olives may range from fairly small to fairly large or jumbo. 

Buying bulk olives allows us to purchase only as many as we need at one time and will allow us to experiment with many different types with which we may be unfamiliar.

olives-2251260_1280_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Pixabay, Michael

Whole olives are very common, but I love also the ones that have been pitted, as well as olives that have been stuffed with either peppers, garlic or almonds. 

One important thing though, if you purchase olives in bulk, make sure that the store has a good turnover and keeps their olives immersed in brine for freshness and to retain moistness and select olives that still display a reasonable about of firmness and are not overly soft or mushy.

Whatever kind of olives, brine-based, acid-based, or water-based, in cans or glass jars, if you are purchasing them and don’t use them immediately after opening, they can usually be safely stored in sealed container in your refrigerator for one to two weeks, just transfer the fluid along with the olives into your sealed refrigerator container.

Cuisine

Olive recipes_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Pixabay, Matthias Böckel, edited by Popsicle Society

Lucky enough, today olives are available in the market worldwide in a huge variety: natural and pitted, seasoned with a range of herbs, spices, hot peppers and even lemon and orange zests. 

Olives are a natural product, a guilt-free nutritious food with an exotic, sophisticated taste and because of their rich, salty flavor complements so many alcoholic beverages, wine and aperitifs, and, most famously of course, vodka and gin, oh I love the olive from my gin. 

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Photo credit: Pixabay, Erwin

Olives are very common at cocktail hours and celebratory gatherings. Furthermore, olives stuffed with cheese, peppers, anchovies, or almonds provide a special panache to such occasions.

The intense and varied colors of olives beside flavour add also a decorative flair to Italian antipasti dishes featuring cured meats, such as prosciutto, coppa and salami. Black olives, such as Gaeta and Kalamata, are particularly well paired with goat and sheep cheeses, such as pecorino and feta. Who doesn’t love a good feta cheese with Kalamata olives? 

But olives are not limited to appetizer platters and salads. When you sprinkle them on top of pizzas or foccacie or baked into breads, il pane alle olive (bread with olives) is magical, they add a palpable depth of flavor and texture. 

But of course the possibilities for baking and cooking with olives doesn’t end there. The inimitable taste that olives gives also makes them important elements in many meat and fish recipes, but especially pasta dishes. 

In short, the versatility and range of culinary pleasure olives provide make it easy to understand why they are considered one of the greatest gifts that this world gave us.

Benefits

Benefits olive_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Pixabay, Ulrike Leone, edited by Popsicle Society

Olives and olive oil have a long history of reported health benefits, and there is a growing body of scientific evidence to back up these claims.

As we all know, olives and the healthy fats from the olive oil are a staple of the healthy Mediterranean diet, being particularly rich in antioxidants and very high in vitamin E, iron, copper, and calcium.

Olives are low in cholesterol and a good source of dietary fiber, which the body needs for good gut health. 

Studies show that they are good for the heart, may reduce blood pressure, and may protect against osteoporosis and cancer. Olives can fight inflammation, reducing the microorganism growth.

Is very easy to incorporate olives and olive oil into your routine and makes a great addition to a healthy, whole-foods-based diet.

olive-oil-968657_1280_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Pixabay, Steve Buissinne

Research shows that following the diet can help people live longer. One study of almost 26,000 women found that the Mediterranean diet, which involves a daily intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, meat and fish, could cut the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by up to 28% compared with a control diet.

Generations of people have enjoyed olives and olive oil for their health-promoting qualities.

Honestly, I never did any diet but my daily lifestyle includes all these goodies and so far I can’t complain. I’m getting older this is true but I’m feeling good and my exams are always normal, can I call it Mediterranean diet? Maybe….

A tablespoon of olive oil it has 119 calories. While it’s the healthier choice when faced with regular olive oil and other processed vegetables oils, still don’t start drinking it and dousing food with it because it’s healthful.

But be careful as they may also contain high amounts of sodium if packaged in saltwater.

Olives benefits_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Pixabay, Artvision-So, edited by Popsicle Society

Is extra virgin olive oil better than olive oil?

“Virgin” or “extra virgin” olive oil, refers to the process that made the oil. For example, extra virgin olive oil means it’s been touched lesser. Is this important? Well, vegetable oils are pretty fragile and diverse, which is why we have different types of oil and we decide to use them depending on what we are cooking and at what temperatures. 

Certain oils will go rancid when stored at the wrong temperatures or for too long, and others will become unstable when cooked at higher temperatures, losing nutrients and flavor.

When oils are processed, they’re cleaned with chemicals and then heated. These things prolong the shelf life, which is great for the food industry is true, but not so great for our body. These processes also strip away a lot of the oil’s flavor.

Honestly I prefer to buy the fresh, unprocessed extra virgin olive oil because:

  • It tastes better
  • The olive fruit flavour is stronger
  • It’s higher in antioxidants than olive oil
  • It’s full of good fats which are very helpful
  • And has fewer chemicals and free radicals than the normal olive oil because has been touched lesser

If an oil is metallic, flavorless, or musty, it’s gone bad or was overprocessed so better get rid of it.

So maybe next time, you’re at the supermarket or doing your groceries, choose extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) instead of the normal olive oil. Yes, it will cost a little bit more but believe me is well worth it. If you don’t know which EVOO to choose, check the label and look for “cold pressed/extraction” and/or “unfiltered” or check that there isn’t heat added to the process.

Extra virgin olive oil_Popsicle Society
Photo credit: Popsicle Society_extra virgin olive oil_cold extraction, unfiltered

However your choices may be, avoid processed oils and remember to use EVOO in moderation. Yes, the types of fats in EVOO are good for us, they can lower our risk of heart disease and help control oour blood sugar levels, but even the highest quality EVOO is still high in calories and low in nutrients when compared to actual vegetables.

Light extra virgin olive oil?

Don’t be fulled and read very careful the label, as in this context, “light” doesn’t mean lower in calories but it means lower in color, which means lower in flavour and higher in process. 

As we know, processing makes the oil last longer and is often able to be heated at a higher temperature, but this also adds chemicals and strips out nutrients.

Olive oil in cooking and smoke point

Olive oil can’t reach high temperatures so if you’re planning to sear something at high temperatures, don’t use olive oil and go with another healthy oil options, like avocado oil.

Olive oil storage

As with lots of things also the oil must be stored in a cool, dry, and dark place. Keep it away from the radiant heat, either from appliances or the sun and it will stay flavorful and healthful longer.

The olive has such a long and beloved history in the Mediterranean that, to Mediterranean people, olive trees almost seem holy.

From the olive’s place in early mythology to its current culture, its many varieties, colours, flavours and curing methods, and its perfect versatility on the antipasto board, and so many dishes, the olives are a “noble fruit”.

Olive’s taste, virtues and mystique have been praised in various religious texts, and have been extolled by philosophers, poets and writers down through the centuries.

Do you like olives? One thing that is not missing from my kitchen are the olives and extra virgin olive oil 😉 You never know 😉

Thank you all for reading! Until next time, cheers 🍸

 

 

62 thoughts on “Discovering our food: Olives

  1. I like olive fruit, but the problem is i can’t eat more of it, 😉 Lovely post on one of my favorite Olive, i use Olive oil (not often as it is very pricey here) , Olive in my salad only from subways 😉 :D, This Olive comes with a package of good health benefits. Wonderful and knowledge post again, Someone said “Knowledge is wisdom” be it food or life or studies, Knowledge is wisdom indeed 😉 have a beautiful day Ribanna

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Simon, thank you very much for your time! I’m glad you like olives…honestly I could eat a lot…even one entire jar at a time 😅
      Olive oil can be very pricey in some countries but a salad seasoned with normal oil or olive oil is so different!
      True! Knowledge is wisdom no matter the subject 😉
      Have a wonderful day Simon!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I looooooove olives but I now make sure they are organic or from a local seller I can trust 100%.
    Recently French tv documentaries explained that green olives are sometimes dyed black. The journalist showed that you can use components, such as LYE, to get black colored olives in a few days. The goal of the operation is to be able to obtain “black” olives very quickly, while the ripening normally lasts several months.
    You can’t trust anyone anymore! 🥴

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my…really? This is sad to hear 😓
      I’m so sorry when I hear that people are doing such things just to sell quickly! But what about the people they sell them to? Why they don’t think about it? Would they eat them like this? Sick people driven by money 🥴

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing another interesting and informative post regarding ‘The Olive’. Today I have learnt so many things I did not know about the humble olive. It will make my eating of them even more deliciously tasting! Happy Olive Day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amazing! I’ve always wondered who decided it would be a good idea to brine or use lye to make olives more edible. Who did all the experiments to learn it was an almost year-long process? I love the fascinating trunks of olive trees.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People can be very inventive sometimes and through a lot of processes of trial and error were born a lot of things including foods 😉 And especially in food, as years go by, we’re keep improving and perfecting our ingredients and dishes 😉
      Yes, the olive trees can be really magical 😉
      Thank you very much for stopping by and for reading! Very appreciated!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Back when we lived in Beniarda a small village in Spain. There were olives everywhere. Wild one too, it took me 8 months to pickle a fresh olive but I did it. Simple but long. My husband loved it, me not so, for cooking yes.

    I bet that olive plant loved you and was not happy to get a new owner.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fascinating to read all of this. I didn’t think I liked olives at all until I started travelling around Portugal and I have come to love them. I really enjoy black ones, I have had some very bitter green ones.

    Liked by 1 person

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