History of Olives
If there was a list of the oldest cultivated trees, olives would sure be among the top.
Here is what scientific data reveals – the earliest olive tree domestication occurred between the present day Turkey and its border with Syria.
With time, cultivation spread to the Mediterranean regions, Middle East regions as well as Europe. In the 18th Century, Spanish missionaries introduced the trees to America. Currently, most of the olive groves in the U.S.A are found in California.
Scientifically known as olea europaea, the olive tree bears significant symbolism in ancient folklore. For instance, ancient Greeks associated it with fertility, prosperity and peace. It is also widely mentioned in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, along with other favorites like pomegranates, honey and grapes.
Why are Olives Bitter?
Despite its popularity, the olive tree has some bitter connotation to it. Did you know that a fully ripe olive is actually unpalatable? Olives are generically bitter.
They owe this bitterness to a compound known as oleuropein. For the olives, this compound is beneficial. In fact, it works as a protective barrier against invasive microbes and pests.
It is for this bitter reason that olives are popularly used in oil form. As a matter of fact, olive oil extraction is as ancient as the sun.
Additionally, over 90% of cultivated olives go to oil extraction. This leaves the remaining percentage for consumption purposes.
In order to become palatable, olives undergo curing. The traditional curing techniques that have been borrowed up to date entail – harvesting unripe olives which are green and curing them in any of the following: lye brine, salt or fermentation.
The ancient Romans are attributed to using lye obtained from wood ash. Lye expedited the curing process. This was in contrast to how olives were cured prior to that – soaking the olives in water for several months.
Varieties and Uses
Besides the usual green or black olives that you are used to, there are thousands of olive cultivars grown throughout the world. Quite baffling, isn’t it?
In fact, olives change from green to dark purple or black as they ripen. However, some black olives are actually green olives that have undergone chemical curing processes.
In your local store or market, you are most likely to find olives packed in brine solutions. Brine can be made from vinegar, salt, lemon juice, lactic acid, oil or lye.
Additionally, you will find both whole as well as pitted. Some are also stuffed with pimientos.
Common varieties include: Greek Kalamata, Manzanillo, Ascolano, Cerignola, Gordal, Arbequina, Picual, Leccino and Frantoio.
Olives form a crucial component of the Mediterranean diet. They are versatile and add a zesty tang to any dish. There are countless ways you can use them.
Munch them on their own. Throw in a few on pasta dishes, stews, salads, pizza toppings, dips, artisan breads, sauces and sandwiches.
Stuff olives with various types of cheese, pimientos, sausage meat, minced meat, leafy greens as well as chopped vegetables. Not to mention olive garnishes on Martini.
Despite their minuscule size, these tiny fruits are touted for being nutrient-packed. It is no wonder they are part of the Mediterranean diet. This is highly lauded for its low to zero caloric properties.
They are rich in the following:
It is a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin E helps in the following: red blood cell formation, blood clot formation and strengthening of the immune system. Additionally, it aids in vitamin K synthesis.
Plant compounds like Quercetin, Oleanolic acid, Tyrosol and Oleuropein.
These powerful antioxidants contain numerous health benefits. For instance, oleanolic acid helps in regulation of cholesterol levels.
On the other hand, quercetin aids in lowering of blood pressure. Oleuropein is broken down into hydroxytyrosol during ripening. These two are renowned for causing anti-aging effects. They help in intercellular oxygen absorption.
There is no denying that olives are salty. This is due to brining. As such, they are excellent sources of sodium. As such, you don’t need to add salt to foods containing olives.
Olives are synonymous with oleic acid, which belongs to monounsaturated fats. This fatty acid plays a crucial role in reducing inflammation. Furthermore, it helps in fighting free radicals in the body.
Minerals like Iron, Calcium and Copper
These trace minerals are vital for the body. They facilitate healthy bones, collagen and teeth development. Apart from that, they support nerve function. Additionally, adequate copper intake is attributed to mitigating heart diseases.
Shelf Life of Olives
In as much as olives are brined, poor storage conditions can cause spoilage. Given the fact that you will buy them in glass jars, cans or bottles, exercise caution when storing commercially packaged olives.
Never leave unopened cans at room temperature. Cover the cans tightly after each use.
Moreover, such cans usually come with a ‘best by’ date. However, the olives remain in good quality after this date.
For instance, well refrigerated cans or bottles keep well for up to 2 years. Store unopened cans in the pantry for up to 2 years.
As for opened cans or bottles, refrigerate and consume within 6 months.
Olives packed in oil deteriorate faster due to rancidity. At best, they last up to 4 months in the refrigerator.
- Store unopened cans away from direct light and moisture. Use the pantry or kitchen cabinets.
- Ensure the olives remain submerged in their liquids at all times. This prevents deterioration. In case the curing liquids run out, make your own brine solution.
Unless you have access to freshly harvested ones, most of the time we deal with jarred or canned types. So, how do you identify spoilage? Here’s how:
- Discoloration of liquids. Extremely dark liquid is not a good sign. Replace the olives.
- Cloudy appearance.
- Visible mold. Exposure to air or fresh water causes mold growth. Discard immediately.
- Off-odor on the canned contents. Anything out of the usual brine smell is alarming.
- Look out for white spots. Also, sunken, sticky flesh is a clear indicator.