Even though more attention has been sometimes been given to their delicious oil than their whole food delights, olives are one of the world's most widely enjoyed foods. Technically classified as fruits of the Olea europea tree (an amazing tree that typically lives for hundreds of years) we commonly think about olives not as fruit but as a zesty vegetable that can be added to salads, meat and poultry dishes and, of course, pizza. Most olives from California and the Mediterranean region in Europe are harvested from late September through November.
While some olives can be eaten right off of the tree, most olives sold commercially have been processed to reduce their intrinsic bitterness. Processing methods vary with the olive variety, region where they are cultivated, and the desired taste, texture and color. Some olives are picked unripe, while others are allowed to fully ripen on the tree. The color of an olive is not necessarily related to its state of maturity. Many olives start off green and turn black when fully ripe. However, some olives start off green and remain green when fully ripe, while others start of black and remain black. In the United States, where most olives come from California, olives are typically green in color, picked in an unripe state, lye-cured, and then exposed to air as a way of triggering oxidation and conversion to a black outer color. Water curing, brine curing, and lye curing are the most common treatment processes for olives, and each of these treatments can affect the color and composition of the olives.
While olives have been traditionally sold in jars and cans, many stores are now offering them in bulk in large barrels or bins (often called an "olive bar"). Buying bulk olives will allow you to experiment with many different types with which you may be unfamiliar and to purchase only as many as you need at one time. It's also not uncommon to find several different textures, including shiny, wilted, or cracked. The size of olives may range from fairly small to fairly large or jumbo. Each of these options among olive varieties can provide you with valuable health benefits. In general, regardless of the variety you choose, select olives that still display a reasonable about of firmness and are not overly soft or mushy. If you purchase olives in bulk, make sure that the store has a good turnover and keeps their olives immersed in brine for freshness and to retain moistness.
Olives provide numerous health benefits including:
For more details on olives' health benefits, see this section of our olives write-up.
Olives are a remarkable source of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Most prominent are two simple phenols (tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol) and several terpenes (especially oleuropein, erythrodiol, uvaol, oleanolic acid, elenoic acid and ligstroside). Flavonoids - including apigenin, luteolin, cyanidins, and peonidins) are typically provided in valuable amounts by lives, as are hydroxycinnamic acids like caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, and coumaric acid. The phytonutrient content of olives depends upon olive variety, stage of maturation, and post-harvest treatment. The phytonutrient content of olives depends upon olive variety, stage of maturation, and post-harvest treatment. Olives are a very good source of copper amd a good source of iron, dietary fiber, and vitamin E.
For more on this nutrient-rich food, including references related to this Latest News, see our write-up on olives.