The Olive forms a major part of Mediterranean cuisines, and is eaten only after it has been pickled, cured or pressed. It is the fruit of the Olive tree (Olea europaea).
Here are some of the more popular olive varieties:
- Manzanilla: Spanish green olive, available unpitted and/or stuffed, lightly lye-cured then packed in salt and lactic acid brine
- Picholine: French green olive, salt-brine cured, with subtle, lightly salty flavor, sometimes packed with citric acid as a preservative in the U.S.
- Kalamata: Greek black olive, harvested fully ripe, deep purple, almond-shaped, brine-cured, rich and fruity flavor
- Niçoise: French black olive, harvested fully ripe, small in size, rich, nutty, mellow flavor, high pit-to-meat ratio, often packed with herbs and stems intact
- Liguria: Italian black olive, salt-brine cured, with a vibrant flavor, sometimes packed with stems
- Ponentine: Italian black olive, salt-brine cured then packed in vinegar, mild in flavor
- Gaeta: Italian black olive, dry-salt cured, then rubbed with oil, wrinkled in appearance, mild flavor, often packed with rosemary and other herbs
- Lugano: Italian black olive, usually very salty, sometimes packed with olive leaves, popular at tastings
- Sevillano: Californian, salt-brine cured and preserved with lactic acid, very crisp.
The olive (Olea europaea) dates back to 17th century B.C where it first appeared in print in Egyptian records and was mentioned numerous times in the Bible. The word comes from the Latin olivea which first appeared in English around 1200 a.d.
Since the olive is native to the Mediterranean area, it's no surprise to learn the largest producers in the world are Italy and Spain, where olives are a diet mainstay. Olive trees were introduced to California circa 1769 by the Spaniards, where they flourished. California now provides almost 200,000 tons of commercial olive crops per year.
Types of Pickled and Cured Olives
The only difference between green olives and black olives is ripeness. Unripe olives are green and fully ripe olives are black. Olives are cured or pickled before consumption, using various methods including oil-cured, water-cured, brine-cured, dry-cured, and lye-cured. Green olives must be soaked in a lye solution before brining, whereas ripe black olives can proceed straight to brining. The longer the olive is permitted to ferment in its own brine, the less bitter and more intricate its flavor will become. Green olives are usually pitted, and often stuffed with various fillings, including pimientos, almonds, anchovies, jalapénos, onions or capers. Black olives are graded into sizes labeled as small (3.2 to 3.3 grams each), medium, large, extra large, jumbo, colossal, and supercolossal (14.2 to 16.2 grams). Black olives contain more oil than green. Unopened olives can be stored at room temperature up to two years. Opened olives should be refrigerated in their own liquid in a non-metal container and will last up to several weeks after opening.