From pizza, salads, pickles, spreads to bread, to garnish in a glass of martini, all can be dishes that involve olives, and at least one of which is your favorite dish. Thus, has it ever crossed your mind to find out more about the fruit of “the Gods” and why it is called so? What are the varieties or types of olives? Are they a type of fruit, anyway? Get the answers here.
The Origin of Olives
Olives come from olive trees that grow in the regions of the Mediterranean, Africa, South America, and Central Asia. Unprocessed ripe olives contain about 80% water and 15% oil. The rest, it contains carbohydrates, calcium, protein, iron, vitamins A, B complex, C, and D.
Historically, the first olives were harvested by humankind more or less 8,000 years ago in the Mediterranean territories, especially in the areas where the climate was subtropical and relatively warm. The soil was typically stony at the seashore. The fatty fruits used to be plucked from low shrubberies by native Syrians (Assyrians). They later found that oil with sharp taste and smell could be squeezed from the fruits.
Nowadays, we can find hundreds (around 700) of olive varieties grown all over the world from which the hearty and tasty oil is produced. Not to mention that there are more to be produced from the fruits.
Interesting Facts about Olives
Below are some interesting facts about the fatty fruit that you might have never heard of.
- Is an olive a fruit? Even though cured olives are salty, they are considered a type of fruit. Olives are a type of berry, considering their fleshy pulp, big hard seeds, and hard outer skin.
- Another question frequently asked about the fatty fruit: what is the difference between black olives and the green ones? The only difference between them is their ripeness. Green olives only mean the fruits are not ripe yet while the black ones are otherwise.
- So, why is olive called the fruit of the Gods and Goddesses? It is all about mythology. The Greeks believe that olives were a gift from Athena—a Greek Goddess—to mankind.
- The biggest olive oil producing country in the world is Spain (with approximately 215 million olive trees grown on 5,000,000 acres of land), followed by Italy and Greece.
How Do They Cure Olives?
Do you think you can eat olives fresh from the trees? If you think so, then go ahead try to taste one. Freshly-picked olives are extremely bitter due to its rich oleuropein substance—a strong polyphenol—that makes the fruits seem to be inedible. That is why curing process exist. So, if you think olives are picked only to produce olive oil, you might have to keep reading this.
The following are types of curing methods you need to know:
This method is specifically used to cure black olive varieties. It begins with mixing the olives with salt or covering them in a salt solution. It takes about a month or more to cure the olives with this method, depending on the fruit’s shape and size.
This curing process consists of long-term olive soaking in the water and bringing the fruit for preservation (soaking fruits in salt water).
This is a basic method for curing olives. The fruits are put into jars before they pour salt water into the jars and left them for curing.
The curing method involves lye, alkaline solution—caustic soda is more familiar. It takes only seven days of curing with this method even though it will make the aftertaste chemical.
What Types of Olives Known All Around The World?
As mentioned before, there are a hundred types of olives in the entire world, but here are some of the well-known ones.
As one of the olive varieties from Italy, Cerignola is relatively big. That is why the fruit is usually filled with many kinds of ingredients. One of its features is its bright red color when it reaches its ripeness.
Exported by France, these green olives are cured with salt and a little bit citric acid (in the U.S.).
Manzanilla olives are harvested in Spain, usually stuffed and brined with lactic acid.
The Greek olives are picked from their trees when they reach their ripeness before they are cured to mild, fleshy, and delicate fruits. Amphissa olives are generally served with pungent-tasted side dishes like cured meat and cheese.
Kalamata is one of the well-known olive varieties harvested in Greece. The almond-shaped olive turns into deep purple when it is ripe. It is usually stuffed with a large variety of ingredients like feta cheese.
Harvested in France, Nicoise olives are smaller than any other types of olives. The nutty fruit is generally packed with leaves and stems.
Dry Greek olives are obtained with dry curing process: the olives are covered with salt for over a month. Then, before packaging, the fruits are covered with olive oil (this is why Dry Greek olives are also known with “oil cured”).
As one of the Italian olive varieties, Sicilian olives are soaked in lactic acid and salt at least for a year. This process is also used on other types of olives such as Kalamata, Niçoise, Cerignola, and Amphissa, only without the lactic acid.
This olive is one of the types of olives picked when it is still unripe and green. Lye curing method is used on Spanish Whole to get rid of its bitter taste. The next step is, soaking the fruit in strong brine (salt water solution) for over three months, making it fermented before it finally gets bottled in brine and through the pasteurization process.
Green ripe olives are cured with a little lye to get their mild flavor naturally. To add that, there is also oxygenated water bath for several days in the curing process. It ended with neutralization using Carbon dioxide and steaming as soon as the fruits are bottled.
Just like the green one, black ripe olives also get through the same curing process, only with the addition of iron for stabilizing the fruit color.
Having been hand-plucked and unripened, the Spanish green olives get through the same process as the Spanish Whole, only with a variety of fillings. They are also bigger in sizes.
Cultivating and Harvesting Olives
Thousands of years ago, it began with low bushes before evolving to olive trees—or botanically called Olea europaea—you see today. The hearty trees are not grown from the fruit’s seeds, but from some cut branches or roots grafted underground onto the other olive trees.
Each of olives reaches their maturity differently so you cannot pick them all at the same time. For oil production, olives are picked once they are ripe optimally. Even though nowadays farming equipment is getting more sophisticated, many farmers remain using the traditional farming method.