A major agricultural and historical aspect of the Mediterranean, the olive is a widely-loved savory fruit that can be found on the olive tree.
The Olive And Its Tree
The olive tree is evergreen, which means that it typically lasts year-round. It’s native to Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean, and usually grows to between 26 and 49 feet in height.
Different types of olive trees grow in different regions. For example, the Pisciottana olive comes from only about 40,000 trees that are unique to the Pisciotta area of southern Italy.
When the olive tree flowers, it produces small white flowers that are feathery to the touch. Olives ripen after flowering, starting out at a green color and moving all the way to a dark purple.
Varieties Of Olive
There are six natural species of the olive tree, each producing different types of trees and olives.
- Olea europaea, the “wild” olive of the Mediterranean
- Olea cuspidate, which can be found in regions between South and East Africa, as well as Southwest China
- Olea guanchica, found in the Canary Islands
- Olea maroccana, found in Morocco
- Olea cerasiformis, local to Madeira
- Olea laperrinei, found in Algeria, Sudan, and Niger.
The variety of trees that come from these subspecies is wide-ranging and can impact the color, size, and shape of olives, as well as any subsequent olive oil that’s made from the fruit.
Those olives that are used for eating are usually referred to as table olives, much like table grapes.
A Bitter Fruit
When eaten fresh or raw, olives tend to have a very bitter taste. However, they’re typically cured to remove most of the bitterness.
The Dessert Olive
Based on its salty and bitter flavor profile, you might not jump right to dessert when you think about olives.
However, there are ways that the fruit can be used in Mediterranean-inspired dessert dishes! Take the recipe for Candied Black Olive Cake, for example. With the use of candied olives, a unique sweetness and bitterness are used to cut the profile of a flan-like cake.
Long Cultural History
Because of its importance to the Mediterranean region, olives have been of cultural significance for hundreds – potentially thousands – of years.
It’s considered to be sacred in many different cultures and religions, from Ancient Greece to Ancient Israel.
Olives were a staple of ancient Israel dishes, and the oil was frequently used for lighting candles, giving sacrifices, and even as ointments to treat injuries.
The ancient Greeks took to rubbing olive oil on their hair and bodies, and it was considered the pinnacle of grooming practices at the time. Olive oil was also used in special ceremonies, such as the burning of sacred lamps and the appointing of kings.
Olives And Olive Oil Today
Today, the fruit and its famous oil still have several uses. In fact, it’s believed that the oil does have anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s often used as a home remedy for such ailments.
A Fruit Used In Many Ways
Thanks to the cultural and historical prominence of olive oil, olives remain one of the world’s most popular fruits!