Olives have widely been consumed by humans for many years, long before martinis, grocery shops, or canning industries were invented. However, only a few years ago, people recognized only a few types—some were pitted, some were black, some were green, and the best were pimento-stuffed, and that was it.
Whether eaten straight out of hand, dumped into martinis, cooked in stews and sauces, put into salads, or minced into spreads and tapenades, olives are equally flexible and amazingly diverse. Their varied flavors of pungent, bitter, salty, sour, and sweet make them an indispensable tool in any home cook’s armory.
They’re also historically significant, with millennia of cultivation and a place in the Mediterranean culinary canon. Olive trees are among the oldest trees ever harvested by humans, with almost 8,000 years of history behind them. Olives are now produced for both their oil and their fruit.
The trees flourish in subtropical, warm climates, especially near the sea and on rocky soil. The first olives were gathered from low shrubs in Asia Minor and Syria. The Assyrians were the first to realize that this fruit could be used to extract pungent, tasty oil, and they set out to cultivate and harvest the shrubby trees.
The olive tree, or Olea europaea in botanical jargon, grew and evolved into the hardy tree we know today with time and care. Olive trees are developed from cut roots or branches planted in the soil and allowed to root, or grafted onto other trees, rather than seeds.
The Mediterranean rim and other subtropical zones, including Latin America and the United States, are now producing olives. The majority of our domestic olives come from California, where exceptional wine regions and weather are also conducive to olive tree growth. Olive trees, on the other hand, grow even more slowly and necessitate precise cultivation; in exchange, their longevity rewards several generations. They live millennia, if not millennia, in some cases.
There are many more olive kinds than most of us are aware of. Here’s a reference to some of the many fantastic types of olives available today, whether you’re preparing olive tapenade or another recipe with olives or simply offering a selection of the traditional green and black olives:
The most well-known Greek cultivar is the Kalamata olive. Kalamata olives are distinguished by their distinctive almond form and deep purple tint, making them easy to detect on any olive bar or antipasti spread. Despite being a Greek olive, the Kalamata has achieved international acclaim for its rich, meaty texture and deep, strong flavor—tart and fruity with a tinge of smokiness.
These popular purple olives are grown in Central and Western Greece and are named for the town of Kalamata, which is located in the Messenia Valley of Greece’s Peloponnese Peninsula region. Kalamata olives flourish in the Mediterranean climate, which features moderate winters, sunny springs, and hot summers. The olive trees would perish if the temperatures dipped too low.
Kalamata olives are a delicious table olive that may be eaten as an appetizer or snack on their own. They’re frequently served with feta cheese, hummus, roasted red peppers, other Greek olives, stuffed grape leaves, and pita. Their eye-catching look and powerful flavor make them an excellent addition to charcuterie dishes and cheese boards with specialty cheeses, cured meats, and other delicacies.
The Kalamata olive is not only a fantastic table olive for snacking and entertaining, but it’s also a fantastic cookery ingredient. Use the Kalamata in Greek-inspired salads, cold picnic pasta salads, handcrafted pizza pies, and flatbread appetizers. Make your own tapenade with the Kalamata for wraps, paninis, and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
Oil-Cured Olives are pleasantly bitter, briny, and chewy, excellent for adding a new dimension to a roasted chicken recipe or complementing with other Mediterranean antipasti. They’re known for their wrinkly, black skin and powerful olive flavor and were originated in Morocco.
Oil-cured olives are a deep color that ranges from dark brown to black, with a crumpled appearance because of being cured. To begin, the bitter chemicals in olives are reduced by alkalinizing them.
Despite the moniker “oil-cured,” olives are really cured in enormous barrels between layers of sea salt. For three months, these drums are rolled three times a week. Olives are cleaned and packed in olive oil after they have been cured.
Texture and Taste
Oil-cured Beldi olives have a chewy texture that reminds me of sun-dried tomatoes. Their flavor is rich and robust, with a pleasantly bitter aftertaste and a salty bite.
These salty jewels are ideal for mixing with bright citrus and sweet caramelized onions in culinary masterpieces. Serve them with ricotta salata, citrus slices, and a robust Cabernet Sauvignon for a ready-to-entertain antipasto.
Castelvetrano olives are a Sicilian green olive with an appealing buttery-sweet flavor and a crunchy, fleshy consistency. When purchasing this variety, search for dye-free natural Castelvetrano olives.
Harvesting and Growing Region
The Valle del Belice region of southwestern Sicily is home to Castelvetrano olives. This olive, also known as Nocellara del Belice, has one of the best climates in the Mediterranean, with scorching days, cold evenings, and cool sea breezes sweeping across the orchards.
When the olive fruits are fresh, ripe, and entirely green in color, Castelvetrano olives are typically picked between late September and October. This olive has a small production area, and the trees can only give fruit in their fifth year.
Pitted Castelvetrano olives with the milk cheese extracted from a sheep and a chilled white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc, are a great combination. When cut up and used to make a sauce, the crisp, sensitive flesh of this varietal is a fantastic compliment to poultry, fish, or lamb. In a chilled dirty martini, these olives are also delicious. Castelvetrano olives are adaptable because of their moderate flavor and texture, and they go well with most salads, pizzas, and charcuterie plates.
California Sevillano Olives
Sevillano olives from California are a large, crisp green variety with meaty flesh and a smooth, buttery, saline flavor. California Sevillano olives are perfect for stuffing with almost any item, including cheese, garlic, almonds, and peppers, due to their texture and ease of pitting.
Harvesting and Growing Region
California Sevillano olive trees are native to Spain’s Seville region. In the 1800s, when Spanish missionaries came to California, they brought olive trees with them and planted them in Northern California. Many Sevillano trees are over 100 years old, making them some of the oldest trees in the United States.
The weather patterns, average rainfall, and geography in the Sacramento Valley region of California make for optimum growing circumstances for Sevillano olives. With dry, hot summers and cool, wet winters, the Sacramento Valley’s weather is similar to that of the Mediterranean.
Although all olive varietals can be harvested at various stages of maturity (from green to black), the California Sevillanos are best harvested green. The olive harvest takes place in October most of the time.
Each Sevillano is chosen when it is ready to be harvested. All table olives are chosen, unlike olives collected for olive oil, because they bruise readily, and this flaw will show up in the final cured fruit.
Bella di Cerignola Olives
The Italian Bella di Cerignola is a “beauty” of an olive, immense in size and seductive in flavor, whether black, green, or red (yes, red!). For those who are new to the world of olives, we propose these mild, buttery olives. These olives were originated in Cerignola, Italy.
- These are enormous olives that come in both black and green varieties.
- A fast lye cure is followed by a 4-week immersion in organic brine.
- The red olives may not all be natural but have been dyed to provide a holiday touch.
- Arbequina olives are commonly utilized in the production of oil due to their balanced flavor and high oil content.
- Bella di Cerignola Olives are a D.O.P. protected variety that can only be grown in the Puglia region of Italy.
- Cerignola olives have a mellow, buttery flavor and are known for their enormous size and meaty bite.
Pair these buttery treats with sharp hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano or mild, creamy mozzarella and Genoa salami. The black varieties go well with smoked cheeses.
Black Greek Olives
This ripe Greek olive, a more matured brother of the green Amfissa, is a popular part of Mediterranean hospitality and a delectable gourmet addition to a variety of kitchen masterpieces, from pizza to pasta and everything in between. This variety was originated in Athens, Greece.
- The color of the fully ripened Amfissa olive ranges from a deep reddish tint to black.
- The thickness of table olives varies, but most are huge and robust, with a circle form.
- The feel is sub-soft and pliable after biting.
- Hand-harvested then preserved for three months in a natural sea salt brine.
Texture and Taste
The Black Greek (Amfissa) olive has an acidic, red wine flavor with a lovely bitterness to it.
Black Greek olives go well with garlic-y or lemon-y flavors, and they’re great with crunchy marinated garlic, smoky roasted peppers, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, and kasseri and manouri cheeses. Try them with flatbreads, salads, and other dishes as part of a Greek meze platter.
Cuquillo olives have a tiny size and a dark to blackened skin color. The flesh of the olive is thin and fragile, with a salty and delightfully bitter flavor.
Harvesting and Growing Region
Cuquillo olive trees grow along the Mediterranean coast in southern Spain. And although precipitation quantities can be minimal almost every year and so, the Mediterranean environment in southern Spain provides perfect conditions for producing olive trees. After treatment, Cuquillo olive trees create little black or brown fruits with a pleasant, somewhat smokey flavor. These olives are related to Niçoise olives cultivated in France.
Cuquillo olives, like some other table olives, are gathered by hand to prevent injuring the fragile fruits. After the fruits are perfectly ripe, this cultivar is picked in late autumn, between November and December.
Cuquillo olives have a salty, rich flavor that goes well with aged sheep’s milk cheeses or a peppery old blue and a robust red wine. Cuquillo olives in the form of Niçoise olives go well with anchovies or tuna, as in the eminent Salad Niçoise. On top of a pizza, in a salad, or in pasta, serve fresh old tomatoes along with briny Niçoise-style olives. Because the French Niçoise olives might be scarce, and the two types are alike, cuquillos are frequently replaced for them. These olives are still almost totally spherical, with a huge pit in comparison to the rest of the olive.
These straw-colored beauties, which originate in Sevilla, Spain, are plump and meaty green olives that are popularly stuffed and skewered in happy hour drinks. From light, straw green to yellow-green, there are a variety of colors to choose from. Manzanillas are available in a range of sizes in Spain.
This large green gem is a typical martini olive with a firm and meaty texture, a salty, sour flavor, and murky overtones of nutty almond. You can pair Spanish Manzanillas with aged Swiss, pepper-jack, or the popular Spanish Manchego cheese.
Olives are a high-fat fruit with numerous health benefits. With a long legendary history, they were said to be a present from the Greek goddess Athena to humanity. There are already numerous types cultivated all over the world, each with its own look, flavor, and feel. Most people, however, are only familiar with two types of olives: “green” and “black.”