They’re small. They’re round. They come in green and black. They’re tasty treats. What are we talking about? Olives, of course!
Although they may seem like vegetables, olives are actually the small fruits of the olive tree. Olive trees have long been known as the immortal tree. They grow slowly and can bear fruit for hundreds of years. Over time, their trunks wither and shoots develop that will grow into a new tree.
Olive trees grow well in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, southeastern Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. They’ve also been introduced to South America and California.
In the areas in which they grow, olives are a major agricultural crop. More than just a tasty treat, though, olives are primarily important as the source of olive oil.
Olives and olive oil have a long, storied history in western civilization. From the Odyssey to the Iliad and the Bible, the olive is cited frequently in western literature, dating back to ancient days.
The olive tree’s leafy branches were used thousands of years ago to crown the victors of contests and wars. They symbolized abundance, glory and peace. Some of them were even found in King Tut’s tomb!
Olive oil has been considered sacred by many people throughout history. The ancient Greeks used it to anoint kings and athletes. It was burned in the lamps of ancient temples. It even fueled the Olympic flame.
Olive trees have been grown for more than 7,000 years. Although they can be found all over the world today, most of the estimated 800 million olive trees in the world can be found in Mediterranean countries.
Olives are harvested from trees in many different ways. Machines are often used for olives that will be used to make olive oil. Table olives, however, are more difficult to harvest, since they must not be damaged. Table olives are often handpicked by workers with baskets.
The green and black table olives you might eat out of the jar or on a salad don’t taste that great straight from the tree. In their natural state, olives are quite bitter. To make them tastier, they are usually fermented or soaked in brine.
Olives can be made even tastier by soaking them in marinades of herbs, spices, lemon juice or vinegar. Olives are also often stuffed with other foods, such as feta cheese, pimento, garlic or anchovies.
Recently, scientists have learned that olives have health benefits that make them a good choice when you want a snack. In addition to good amounts of antioxidants, olives have also been found to have anti-inflammatory benefits.