Other names: Unripened Olive, Uncured Olive
Availability: December and January - sporadic.
Source: Mexico and the United States.
Handling Tips: 45-50° F. Keep cool and dry.
General Information: Green olives are usually picked at the start of the harvest season, in September and October in the northern hemisphere. They have a firm texture and lovely, nutty flavor. Black(er) olives and olives that are sometimes red in color - are picked in November and December, sometimes as late as January, and they're softer, richer, and meatier.
The olive is technically a "drupe," a fruit with a single large stone inside. Olives are full of the compound oleuropein, which give them an intense bitterness. Compared with other drupes—stone fruits like peaches and cherries—olives have a strikingly low sugar content and a sky-high oil content (12-30%), both of which vary depending on the time of harvest and the variety.
What makes an olive an olive (and edible) is curing; olives need to undergo a curing process before they're ready to eat. There are five types of curing: Brine-curing, Water-curing, Dry-curing, Lye-curing and Sun/Air-curing. Like fermentation, each one of these methods converts the olive's natural sugars into lactic acid. Then the harsh tasting oleuropein and phenols contained within the fruit are leached from the fruit and the olives are made edible.
History: The history of the olive is a long one, dating back to Biblical times. The olive branch was the symbol shown by God to Noah to indicate the end of the flood. According to Greek mythology, the olive tree was a gift from the goddess Athena to the people of Athens. In fact, olive trees were cultivated in Crete and Assyria over 5000 years ago. And the olive itself has been eaten and enjoyed by all the peoples of the region for thousands of years. Throughout the Mediterranean, the olive has always been highly valued; olive oil was used as fuel; as a preservative; as an analgesic; and as a perfume. Olive wood was used for construction and decoration.