Olives are very good for our health and can be used in many ways. Shockingly enough, when it comes to olives or even olive oil, people tend to have a lot of questions and curiosity about several topics. One of the questions I see arise frequently is straightforward. Is an olive a vegetable? After some research on the subject, here is what I can tell you.
So, is an olive oil a vegetable? No, an olive is not a vegetable. An olive is in the fruit family. Olives are small fruits that come from the “olive tree” or Olea eurpoea. The reason olives are classified as fruit is because they are formed from an ovary within the olive flower and are consider seed-bearing structures.
There is however a few more things to understand about olives. Stick around for just a moment or two, and I’ll break down the olive and give you a better full-scope view of how the olive works and how olives help to create everyday products we use every day such olive oil.
More About Olive Oil and Where They Come From.
Like I stated before, olive is a fruit and is derived from the olive tree. A fun fact about olives is that if you could take the olive itself and if you were to plant them correctly, they could turn into olive trees of their own.
Olives are typically picked when they are unripe and green in color. In some circumstances, olives are left on the tree for a more extended period to allow them to ripen further. When this happens, the olive will begin to turn purple or almost to a blackish color.
Once an olive is ready to be picked and used, they are not eaten immediately. This is because they would be a way to bitter straight off the tree. However, after the olive oil is pressed it is commonly used to create household items that we use for eating or cooking such as olive oil and salad dressings.
The History of Olives
Olives have been around for hundreds of years. Back to 8000 B.C. to be exact. The Mediterranean culture was some of the first individuals to begin eating olives raw or without pressing them to create them into other common uses we use olives for today.
Within the olives themselves, you will find glucoside which is what causes olives to be bitter for consumption straight off the tree.
The only time you would ever actually purchase raw olives is if you enjoy the process of pressing your own olives and creating your own recipes, but this movement is only popular in select ethnic markets.
How Do Olives Become Edible? When Do They Lose Their Bitterness?
Currently, you have two main methods for removing bitterness from olives. Number 1 is known as the brine method, and number uses salt to cure olives.
The brine method is known to draw out more bitterness during the processing phase, but it’s also known to ruin some of the flavors of the olive as opposed to the salt method.
Many experienced olive growers have gravitated towards using nothing but water to cure the olives. This takes a lot of additional time to go through the curing process, but bitterness can be removed without removing the strong, desirable flavors that all of us olive fans have grown to love over the years.
A More in Depth Look at The Harvesting Process of Olives
I previously gave you a brief overview of the two standard methods used to process olives, but I wanted to take the time to explain it a bit more in depth as well. Here’s a better look at the process.
Step 1- When Olives are harvested initially, they will be taken and placed in netting or plastic underneath the olive tree, and the individuals growing olives will manually climb into the tree and use rake type tools to remove or pull all the olives from the tree.
(some harvesters also enjoy hand-picking the olives but this time consuming and costly. Additionally, some commercial size olive harvesters have special machines to shake the trees instead of manually picking and removing them.)
Step 2- The olives are placed in a large bin and moved onto conveyors to move through a blower phase to ensure all dirt, grime and debris have been removed from the olives. Following this step, the olive is placed in water to begin the cleaning phase and curing phase.
Within the water itself, it will contain roughly 12-14% salt and live active brine that will be added to each barrel. The brine itself serves the function of creating enough yeast to begin the curing process of the olives.
Step 3- As the curing is taking place, measurements will be taken of the salinity of the water. Usually, green olives begin curing nicely at a 2% salinity level, and black olives begin curing around 8-9% salinity.
Over the course of this process, the salinity will be increased 1-2 percent every few weeks until it reaches a total level around the 23% mark.
Step 4- After the curing of the olives is complete, the barrels will then be emptied onto a “shaker style” table and cleaned with plain water. The table also serves the purpose of sorting the olives and inspectors are present to remove any damaged or poor looking olives through the process.
Step 5- The olives are then placed in a jar, and more saline solution is added. About 8-11% salinity mix is put into the jars. It’s flavored saline that uses herbs to add the desired taste to the olives that we have all grown accustomed to and grown to love over the years.
Step 6- Now that the jars have their proper mix, the area sealed tight to preserve the fruit and sent out to be packaged and delivered. This is when they arrive at stores and how we purchase olives to this day. Although that seems like a lot going on, that’s a very straightforward process.
Let’s recap it, pick them, sort them, add salt and water, give it time, and they are ready to go. When you re-phrase the process in that fashion, it seems like the process of harvesting and manufacturing olives is extremely easy.
Putting It All Together. Olives Are Not a Vegetable. They Are A World Favorite Fruit
As shocking as it may be to some of you reading, olives are absolutely 100% in the fruit family and fruit that has been around thousands of years. The process to create and harvest olives is simple in nature, and the health benefits olives can offer to individuals are extraordinary.
Are Olives Off the Tree Edible?
Yes, in theory, olives straight off the tree are edible. However, olives that come from straight off the tree are incredibly bitter and won’t likely bring much pleasure to the individual consuming them. Olives need to go through the curing process to remove the bitter flavor and to create the olives all of us are used to consuming in everyday life.
Which Is Better, Black or Green Olives?
Shockingly, there is no difference nutritionally between black and green olives. Olives naturally contain a high level of monounsaturated fats and other minerals including iron and copper as well as high levels of vitamin E, polyphenols amongst other healthy positive traits. Each olive contains the same positive, healthy characteristics.
Are Olives Bad for You?
No olives are not bad for you. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Olives are used so frequently for cooking aids such as olive oil and used for dressings due to the positive health effects they have for individuals. In addition, olives after going through the proper curing process have a very desirable taste. Olives are good for your heart and can even help fight against other common health problems such as osteoporosis and certain cancers.
How Many Types of Olives Are There?
The amount of olives worldwide is unknown as hundreds exist and olives can come in a variety of different taste, unique physical appearance, and even texture. For the average consumer, however, olives can be broken down into 2 major kinds of olives which we all know. Green olives and black olives.
How Long Do Olives Last?
Olives if they are kept sealed in their original container, can last for up to 2-3 years. However, olives that have been opened and placed in the fridge will likely only last 1-2 months. If you opt to keep your olives in brine while in the refrigerator, they can last up to 6 months.
Which Olives Taste the Best?
This will depend on preference. For the sodium lover, green olives will be the most appealing for you. Black olives will contain a bold taste but typically have less of a sodium-based taste to them. Clearly, it depends on the individual’s preferences to determine which olive oil genuinely taste the best.
Do You Have to Refrigerate Olives?
No, you don’t have to store olives in the fridge. Standard practice with olives is to store them in a cabinet out of direct light while the container is still sealed. After breaking the seal on the container, most individuals will store the olives in the fridge making them last a few months. This isn’t necessary, and other methods for storing olives after the seal is broken are possible, but this is the most common practice average consumers will use.
(Last Updated: July 24, 2020)