All About Olives: 5 Facts About This Unique Fruit

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Olives aren’t for everybody, but for those people that enjoy the intense saltiness and briny flavor of olives, there is no substitute. But, if you’re not an olive enthusiast, you may not know much about these little fruits. In fact, many people don’t even realize that olives are, indeed, a fruit! That’s why we’ve put together this list of 5 fun facts to teach you all about olives. Read on to become an all-around olive expert!


1. Olives are inedible before they are cured.


Many people don’t know that olives are actually inedible when they are first picked. Raw olives straight from the tree contain oleuropein, an extremely bitter compound that makes olives completely unpalatable. This is why, for many years, olives weren’t eaten at all! Instead, ancient denizens of the Mediterranean harvested olives for their oil, which was used to fuel lamps, as a hair and skin treatment, and to make offerings to gods. Olives weren’t really considered to be food until the dawn of ancient Rome, when a new process involving lye was invented to cure olives. Previously, it had been discovered that soaking olives in water could remove some of their bitterness, but the water had to be changed multiple times and the process was incredibly lengthy, often taking months or even more than a year. However, the Romans discovered that adding lye to the water bath could decrease the debittering process to a mere few hours, meaning that edible olives were much more attainable. Since then, olives have become a staple food in the Mediterranean diet.


2. Green and black olives come from the same trees, just at different levels of ripeness.


You may be surprised to learn that green and black olives are not different varieties. Instead, the terms refer to the ripeness of the olives when they were picked. Green olives are picked while they are green and not yet ripe. Black olives are picked and cured after they have already ripened. Because of this, olive trees often have both green and black olives hanging from their branches at any given time. Even though this is the only difference between green and black olives, you’ll still find flavor differences between green and black olives of the same variety. Green olives are typically firmer with more bitterness, while black olives are sweeter, slightly softer, with less bitterness and more complex, developed flavor.


3. Olives trees can live longer than 2000 years.


Olive trees can live incredibly long lives. In fact, the majority of olive trees in the Mediterranean area are estimated to be several centuries old. One tree, the Olive Tree of Vouves located in Vouves, Greece, may even be as many as 4,000 or 5,000 years old. The ancient tree is a tourist destination that attracts 20,000 visitors annually and even has its own museum and website! You can learn more about it here. There are several possible reasons that could explain why olive trees can live for so long, one being that the tree’s trunk and branches can die and regrow from the root. So, even if some of an olive tree’s limbs are destroyed, the tree can live on through its roots and regenerate again. Additionally, olive trees are self-pollinating, so they do not need genetic material from another olive tree in order to produce fruit and seeds. Some have theorized that this method can protect an olive tree from mutations that could be detrimental to the tree. Whatever the case, olive trees live incredible lifespans and have seen the rise and fall of ancient civilizations. We think that’s pretty neat!


4. Olives contain 30% fat, but it’s good for you!


When you’re craving something salty, you may want to forgo the potato chips and snack on olives, instead! Olives are high in healthy fats, specifically monounsaturated fats, which can reduce your risk of heart disease and decrease inflammation. Olives also contain important nutrients like iron, which is responsible for carrying oxygen to your red blood cells. High levels of antioxidants like vitamin E can also be found in olives, which can lower systemic inflammation and prevent heart disease. All in all, olives are pretty good for you! However, if you’re sensitive to sodium, be careful. The curing process that makes olives edible involves a lot of salt. Like, a lot. For most people, it’s okay to snack on olives on occasion or semi-frequently, as long as you mostly eat healthy, wholesome foods. However, if you’re trying to cut back on sodium or have questions about how olives could fit into your diet, talk to your doctor.


5. “Olive” our olives are delicious!


It’s true! With over 70 items, our Olive Pit at Jungle Jim’s has the largest selection of olives and antipasto in the region. We carry high-quality, authentic imported olives from around the world in a variety of seasonings and brines with unique, delicious stuffings! All of the items on our olive bar are available to try, just ask for a sample. And, if you need guidance on how to craft a great olive tray or are looking for something new, our experts are more than happy to help. Our Olive Pit employees have tasted and sampled almost every olive or antipasto that we carry and they love to make recommendations or share their personal favorites. Next time you’re visiting Jungle Jim’s, stop by and say hello at the Olive Pit!

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