Whether they’re on a pizza, in a salad or served as the perfect accompaniment to pre-dinner drinks, olives are a versatile little fruit that consumers can’t get enough of. Take Stock finds out more about how olives are grown, what makes them so healthy and some ways you can make the most of this ancient favourite.
From the Med to the plate
Olives have been enjoyed as a snack for centuries. The bible mentions an olive tree and the Egyptians, Ancient Greeks and Romans all gave thanks to their gods for this productive tree and its versatile fruit.
The majority of olives eaten in the UK come from Spain or Morocco but they are also grown in France, Greece and Italy. Spanish and Moroccan olives are generally smaller and often used as ingredients in stews, salads and as pizza toppings. Greek olives are larger and it’s often these you might spot at a deli counter or served as a bar snack.
A healthy option
With consumers becoming ever more health conscious, it’s worth keeping in mind that olives are a healthy alternative compared with many other snacks and appetisers. Samantha Higgins, from the UK’s largest importer of olives, RH Amar, says: “Olives are packed with cholesterol-busting mono-unsaturated fats, antioxidants, vitamins and fibre. What’s more, their low carbohydrate content means they contain far fewer calories than many other snacks like crisps or nuts, so are perfect for those following a calorie-controlled diet.”
There’s so much goodness bursting out of every little olive. Each one contains:
• high levels of mono-unsaturated fatty acids
• calcium and iron
• vitamins A, C and E
• natural anti-oxidants
• omega-3 essential fatty acids
How are olives grown?
Most of the olives we eat are green or black and the colour of an olive usually depends on how ripe it was when it was picked. As it ripens, the fruit changes colour from pale green, through rose and violet, to aubergine and finally black. They are harvested between October and December (the harvest starts in Spain and ends in Greece). Once they’re harvested, they need to be cured before they’re eaten as freshly picked olives are very bitter and completely inedible.
Natural vs oxidised
There are two ways to produce black olives – they can be ripened on the tree or picked as green olives then put through an oxidation process to turn them black. The back olives found in the UK have usually been oxidised rather than left to ripen on the tree. Natural black olives have a higher oil content, giving them a more mellow flavour and softer flesh. You can tell a natural black olive by its grey, dark brown or purple flesh, compared to the black flesh of an oxidised black olive.
- There are around 800 million olive trees in the world producing 7.8 million metric tonnes of fruit each year
- 80% of all UK olives are grown in Spain or Morocco
- 7.2 million tonnes are used to make olive oil and 600,000 tonnes become table olives
How can you use olives?
One of the best things about olives is that there are so many ways to use them. From a delicious salad nicoise, to comforting olive bread and bar snacks, here are a few firm favourites:
Give tomato-based pasta sauces a kick by adding black olives, chillis, capers and anchovies.
Finely chop pitted olives and a little garlic. Process until smooth, season, add some olive oil to loosen and lemon juice to taste.
Crush black olives and cherry tomatoes and spread on toasted ciabatta rubbed with garlic. Top with rocket and a drizzle of olive oil.
Experiment with a range of fillings for green olives including the traditional pimento peppers, anchovy paste, garlic and chilli or something more adventurous like sundried tomatoes, feta cheese and jalapeno peppers. Save time by buying pre-stuffed olives from Cooks&Co.
At the bar
Bowls of marinated mixed olives work well as individual portions or sharing using cocktail sticks.