Comparing Olives

Background Info:

  • Unlike many fruits, olives have a bitter taste and are rarely eaten raw

Curing:

  • Olives are often cured in order to be palatable
  • Oleuropein gives olives their bitterness and is drawn out during curing
  • There are a variety of curing methods
    • Water curing requires months of repeated soaking and rinsing
    • Brine curing requires immersing olives in a water and salt solution for 1-6 months and sometimes adds lactic, citric, or ascorbic acid
    • Dry curing requires olives to be layered with salt and placed in drums that are rolled weekly to aid dehydration, then olives are rinsed and coated in olive oil
    • Oil curing requires soaking olives in oil for several months or could refer to the final stage of the dry curing process
    • Lye curing requires washing unripe olives in a lye solution to speed the de-bittering process, then olives are rinsed and soaked in a brine solution

Color:

  • The variety of colors is mainly due to their stage of ripeness at the time of harvest
    • Olives start off green in color and as they mature become deeper shades or different hues entirely
  • Olive color can be affected by oxidation during fermentation which can turn olives brown or black
  • Color can also be affected by the addition of food-grade dyes or compounds such as ferrous gluconate

Flavor & Texture:

  • Primarily determined by the olive’s oil content, size, ripeness, and growing region
  • Also affected by how it ferments through the curing process
  • Dressings, herbs, and other ingredients can be added to olives to affect flavor

Nutrition:

  • Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs)

Health Benefits:

  • May help to reduce LDL cholesterol and lower risk of heart disease and stroke due to MUFA content

Types:

Alfonso

  • Background: Tacna province of Peru
  • Color: deep violet to eggplant purple
  • Curing: brine then soaked in either red wine or red wine vinegar
  • Flavor: vinegary, slightly sour
  • Shape: ovoid
  • Texture: soft and juicy

Amfissa

  • Background: Greek
  • Color: golden, green or black (depends on maturity)
  • Curing: brine
  • Flavor: mildly sweet and mellow
  • Pitted: often
  • Texture: soft flesh

Beldi

  • Background: Morocco
  • Curing: dry cured in salt then washed and packed in olive oil
  • Flavor: intense
  • Size: small
  • Texture: wrinkly
  • Eat: used in tagines and salads or on their own sprinkled with olive oil and hot pepper

Castelvetrano

  • Background: Sicilian
  • Color: green apple
  • Curing: brine
  • Flavor: buttery
  • Texture: meaty
  • Eat: popular as a snack
  • Tip: keep in the brine until ready to serve as they oxidize quickly and lose their bright color

Cerignola

  • Background: Puglia region of italy
  • Color: black or green
  • Flavor: mild and buttery
  • Size: large, size of a walnut
  • Texture: crisp
  • Eat: served whole or pitted and stuffed with garlic, salami, sundried tomatoes, or cheese, frequently found on antipasto platters

Gaeta

  • Background: Puglia
  • Color: purplish-brown to black
  • Curing: can be dry cured giving a wrinkled skin or brine-cured and dipped in olive oil making them plump and juicy
  • Flavor: tart and citrusy
  • Size: small
  • Background: most popular Italian table olive

Gordal

  • Background: Seville province of southern Spain
  • Color: green
  • Flavor: light, fruity, peppery
  • Size: jumbo
  • Texture: firm, meaty
  • Jumbo version of Manzanilla and Spanish Queen

Kalamata

  • Background: Greek
  • Color: shiny, dark purple
  • Curing: often slit to allow red wine vinegar to penetrate the flesh
  • Flavor: smoky, fruity
  • Size: almond

Liguria

  • Background: grown in Italy near the French border
  • Curing: cured in brine sometimes with stems attached and packed in olive oil and aromatics such as bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary
  • Size: tiny

Manzanilla

  • Background: Spanish
  • Curing: brine
  • Flavor: slightly smoky, almond
  • Texture: crisp
  • Eat: often stuffed with pimiento and well known for garnishing a martini, used in olive-loaf deli meat and the Spanish rice dish arroz con pollo

Mission

  • Color: starts green but curing, oxygenation, and addition of ferrous gluconate (a type of iron) makes them black
  • Curing: lye
  • Flavor: mild
  • Texture: semi-firm
  • Background: not fermented and typically processed within a week, the familiar canned olives

Nicoise

  • Color: purplish-brown
  • Flavor: light
  • Size: small and oval
  • Texture: plump and meaty
  • Eat: signature ingredient in French dishes such as Nicoise salad and tapenade or can eat on their own

Nyon

  • Background: south of France
  • Color: jet black
  • Curing: dry cured in salt then aged in brine
  • Flavor: mild, salty, and bitter
  • Size: tiny
  • Texture: plump and meaty
  • Eat: often tossed with traditional herbes de Provence

Picholine

  • Background: French
  • Color: harvested green
  • Curing: brine
  • Flavor: nutty with slight licorice undertone
  • Texture: crisp and crunchy
  • Eat: commonly eaten as a snack or hors d’oeuvre, used in martinis and cocktails

 Spanish Queen

  • Background: Spanish
  • Color: green
  • Curing: Spanish cure – washed in lye for de-bittering, rinsed, fermented in brine
  • Eat: often stuffed with pimiento but also available whole, pitted, or stuffed with ingredients such as almond, garlic, jalapenos, or blue cheese

References:

Neville, Kerry. “Mediterranean Marvels.” Food & Nutrition Magazine. January/February 2016. 30-31.

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