Thursday, April 3, 2014

Olive, You Man! (All About Olives)

Recently we read a twitter exchange between some folks theorizing on how black olives become black when they start out green. One participant hypothesized that the olive was bruised. Seriously? Today we give you a bit of a olive education. After all, we can't have you Greek cuisine loving people out hypothesizing silly things with your Twitter friends.

First though, we have to tell you that the word olive refers to both the tree and the fruit of the tree. Much like the word pecan here in Texas. Olive trees are native to the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean and are of major agricultural importance in the region as the source of olive oil. Today olive trees are grown in temperate places all over the world, even California. In fact, the United States ranks as the twelfth biggest olive cultivator.

If you read any kind of western literature like Homer's Odyssey, or the bible, you'll find that olives are the most frequently mentioned trees and fruit. And you likely know that the phrase 'extend an olive branch' derives from the historic belief that olive leaves and branches symbolize abundance, glory and peace. In ancient times olive branches were given as offerings to Gods and powerful people. They even found olive branches in Tutankhamen's tomb.

Olives grow very slowly, which we think explains why we have so many colors of olives. You see, whether the olive is green, blonde or black, they are all grown from the same tree. They are just in different stages of ripeness. We suspect someone was a little impatient for a taste of olives and picked the fruit a little early. When that impatient picker discovered the tart and powerful flavor of the green olive they decided there was no need to wait for all the olives to ripen to black. Some could definitely be enjoyed sooner. Here at Zizikis we will be eternally grateful to that impatient olive farmer. We just can't imagine a world in which green olives didn't exist!

Olives should never be eaten directly from the tree due to their natural bitter flavor. Before eating, olives are fermented or cured to make them more palatable. Green olives are allowed to ferment before being packed in a brine solution. Black olives are not fermented, which is why they taste milder than green olives.

Generally, an olive's flavor depends on what type of curing or fermenting they under go. They can also be flavored by soaking in marinade or pitted and stuffed. Popular flavorings include herbs, spices, chili, lemon zest, lemon juice, wine, vinegar, and juniper berries; popular stuffings include feta cheese, blue cheese, pimento, garlic cloves, almonds, and anchovies. You can eat olives a million different ways...and here at Zizikis we do! Come on over the next time you get that salty olive craving. We know how to satisfy it! Opa!

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