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5 Facts About Olives

When one thinks of the Mediterranean, olives come to mind. For some, olives are their favourite fruit (yes, olives are a fruit!); for others, they’re nothing more than an ingredient. Find out all about them with these five facts.

1. Millennium tree

Olive trees have been grown and cultivated in the Mediterranean for thousands of years. They were first introduced on our side of the globe in the 18th century, in California, by Spanish missionaries. Today, the main producers are Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Morocco. Each year, almost 3 million tonnes of table olives are harvested by hand, contrary to the olives that are transformed into oil.

2. Chameleon fruit

There are hundreds of olive varieties in existence, from small to very large, such as Cerignola, Mission, Kalamata, Picholine and Sevillano. When it comes to colour, it doesn’t pertain to the variety of olive, but rather its stage of ripeness. When an olive ripens on the tree, its colour gradually goes from green to dark violet, and then black. Its texture changes also: when you bite into a green olive, its flesh is firm, whereas black olives are more tender.

3. The transition

Fresh olives are sour and must be treated to soften their flavour. Salt, sodium hydroxide and water are used to extract oleuropein, the substance that gives olives their bitterness. The salt treatment takes many weeks, whereas a sodium hydroxide base requires less than 24 hours. Olives are then kept in a brine or in oil.

4. Black magic

The black olives that are sold in cans have nothing to do with olives ripened on a tree. They’re simply green olives treated in sodium hydroxide, aerated and agitated in a vat. The result? An oxidation reaction that quickly blackens the olives. They’re then canned in a brine that contains ferrous gluconate, an iron-based compound that sets their colour. Try them on bruschetta or in linguini with tuna!

5. Taste of sunshine

Much like their oil, olives contain good fats, like monounsaturated fats, a bit of vitamin E and antioxidants. Canned black olives? A bit of iron and, not surprising, lots of sodium. No matter which you choose, we don’t enjoy them solely for their nutritious qualities, but also, simply for the pleasure of heightening the flavour of our dishes. Whether in a snack, a cocktail or even in bread, olives will never let you down!

Christina Blais

For Christina Blais, explaining food chemistry to the masses is as simple as making a good omelet. Holding a Bachelor and Master degree in Nutrition, she has been a part-time lecturer for over 30 years in the Department of Nutrition at the Université de Montréal, where she teaches food science courses. She has been sharing the fruits of her experience with Ricardo since 2001, during his daily show broadcast on ICI Radio-Canada Télé. And diehards can also read her Food Chemistry on our website. You can follow her on Facebook at @Encuisineavecchristinablais.