Some love them; others not, and still others have never tried them… Supposedly it takes a long time to get used to the typical taste of olives, but then one can become addicted to their taste. Since olives are among the healthiest foods that nature has gifted us, then there is certainly nothing wrong with that. You only need to know how to choose correctly.
Olives are among the oldest foods in the world and the oldest cultivated plants. Olive trees have been cultivated roughly from the year 3000 BCE. Some truly beautiful examples are found among them; they are a slow-growing and relatively short tree with a notably thickened and structured greyish trunk.
The supposedly oldest examples of olive trees are cared for in the biblical Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem; they are, almost unimaginably, more than a thousand years old. Olive trees are characteristic in particular for the Mediterranean region, where beautiful and vast orchards of them can be seen. However, they are cultivated in other areas, too: in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The Greeks have the greatest taste for olives. They annually consume around 18 kg of olives per capita. They are followed by the Italians and Spanish – and the highest quality olive oils come from these countries. Residents of the Balkans and southern France also consume a lot of olives. Incidentally, olives are said to be a symbol of friendship. This is also the reason that we mainly eat them among company. When serving olives be sure to use a special narrow bowl and small fork with two prongs.
Olives taste wonderfully alone, unaltered, but in this case they need to be thoroughly soaked in brine. It is best to serve guests pitted olives or stuffed olives. Those with pits should be saved for common household consumption – many people can’t let them go and consider them to be the best. Olives need to quickly be consumed after serving, otherwise the dry out. If you want them to remain fresh and not wrinkle, dribble olive oil over them. A lot of people eat olives by themselves. They are suitable in particular with clear distillates and heavier wines. The reason is that they absorb the alcohol. Offering wine and a bowl of olives is a fine custom commonly found in gastronomy.
Incidentally, olives are said to be a symbol of friendship. This is also the reason that we mainly eat them among company.
It is little known that olives are able to satisfy all four basic tastes. Lovers of the untraditional combinations will like the fact that they go very well with various snacks. For example, with raisins or white chocolate, with which they create a truly interesting taste. They go great with salmon, arugula, pieces of cheese and pickled gherkins, and lemon and lime support their sourness. Some even consume them with oranges and others with pineapple and mango. The possibilities are endless, and as the old saying goes: each to his own. Olives, however, always remain the most important ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. They are suitable for preparing light summer salads, are a favourite ingredient in pasta and pizza dishes and can be added to risotto, fish and baked goods. Olive tapenade is a much-favoured dish in which olives are the major ingredient. They are often used in sauces, desserts, spreads and other foods.
Many think that there are many species of olives, and they differ by the colour of the fruits. They can be green, black, purple or brown, large or small… But the difference is only the degree of ripeness. The colour of olives thus depends on at what time of ripening they were harvested. In the unripe state they are green. In autumn they begin to ripen and change colour. By the end of the year they turn yellow to brown and in February become black. They are most often picked in the autumn, in September and October, usually manually or with a special comb. Green olives, which are the most favoured kind, are always saltier, because they soak in a salty brine for a longer time. Black olives are daintier, softer, less bitter and moderately sweeter. They have the highest oil content. Olives intended for consumption usually differ from those intended for olive oil. They are commonly filled after being pitted and they are also sold this way. In the country of origin of the olives, we find a huge offer of stuffed olives with various delicacies made from them. Spanish tapas, in which the olive plays an important part, are a chapter all their own. The fillings are often very untraditional, often adapted to the taste preferences of the given population. In Slovakia olives filled with anchovies, red pepper or cheese are most often found, along with those having lemon and capers. They are sometimes often filled with seafoods.
Good for Your Health
The fact that olives are literally a form of medicine is especially known in southern countries, where these pearls of the sun are grown. According to many scientific studies, eating olives and olive oil regularly helps prevent cardiovascular diseases and fatal incidents that can arise from them. Olives contain a lot of essential amino acids and minerals and are known for their higher content of calcium, potassium, iron, iodine, zinc, vitamins B, D, E and K and provitamin A. Olives allegedly slow the aging process, improve the functioning of internal organs and bodily functions, and reinforce the skin and hair, which is why their extracts are used in cosmetics, too.
Olives allegedly slow the aging process, improve the functioning of internal organs and bodily functions, and reinforce the skin and hair, which is why their extracts are used in cosmetics, too.
They support brain function, regeneration of damaged cells and notably reduce cholesterol content. They contain effective polyphenols and other biologically active substances that help liquidate bacteria and funguses in the body, improve immune system function and help protect DNA from damage. A lot has been said about the ability of olives and olive oil (obviously, with regular consumption) to prevent cancer. Many scientific studies are currently running in regard to this. Olives are surprising for their calorific value. One hundred grams of olives contains only about 150 kilocalories, and black olives have less than green olives. They are thus a decidedly better choice for a snack than the more favoured potato chips or crackers. Consumption of olives is therefore recommended even when on a reducing diet.
Shopping for Olives
Olives are not grown in Slovakia and never will be. They can be easily bought, however, all year round, and specialities can be gotten at various gastronomic festivals. You can buy them in bulk at delicatessen counters in the supermarket or packaged, and in this case several brands are available. If you have the opportunity, always buy olives in bulk, by weight. They are usually of the highest quality. But you must soon consume them. Among packaged olives, it is worth buying those packaged in glass or tins. The poorest quality olives are those in plastic sacks; they are often damaged, since this type of packaging doesn’t sufficiently protect them. The brine in which they are sold is saltier, and this can influence the taste of the olives.
Daniel Košťál, photo: author