As I wander around my local markets here in Queens NY, I always keep a special eye out for a new olive oil that I have yet to experiment with. Due to the versatility of most olive oils, I tend to keep multiple bottles and jars close at hand in my kitchen. At any given time, my pantry could contain six different bottles of all different shapes, sizes and qualities.
After collecting all of these bottles, it was becoming glaringly clear that my enjoyment of olive oils and the shopping attention given to them, had eclipsed the food pleasure of the olive itself. So I decided to delve a little deeper into the olive’s background, the olive that creates the oil which is such a intricate part of not only my cooking, but my overall diet as well.
Technically classified as fruits of the Olea Europea Tree, a tree that typically lives for hundreds of years, most all olives we as shoppers encounter come mainly from California, but also from the Mediterranean region in Europe. While some olives can be eaten right off of the tree during harvest months, late September through November, others find their way to the smaller cans and jars we have become accustomed to purchasing them in. As finding an olive tree with which I could harvest my own olives is not likely, leaving me the alternative of going to different neighborhoods beyond Queens to locate new and exciting olive options. Unfortunately, most olives sold commercially have been processed to bring down their intrinsic bitterness. These processing methods vary with the olive variety, region where they are cultivated, and the desired taste, texture and color the producer is looking to achieve .Some olives are picked unripe, while others are allowed to fully ripen on the tree.
To bust a quick myth that I have heard around my foodie circles is that the color of an olive is directly related to its state of maturity. It is true that many olives start off green and turn black when fully ripe. However, some olives start off green and remain green when fully ripe, while others start of black and remain black. In the United States,California more specifically, olives are typically green in color, picked in an unripe state, they lye-cured and then exposed to air as a way of triggering oxidation and therefore a conversion to a black outer color. Water curing, brine curing, and lye curing are the most common treatment processes for olives, and each of these treatments can affect the color and composition of the olives.
How beneficial to your health is it to eat olives?
Dozens of health protective nutrients have been identified in olives, yet recent studies that have taken a closer look at olive processing, recognize changes that take place in olive nutrients which are not necessarily health protective. However, the overall conclusion from these studies is that olive’s from the tree and preparation olives, provide valuable amounts of many different antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. This holds true for all varieties. From Greek style black olives to Spanish-style green olives to the more common Kalamata style olives.
Two quick top benefits:
1. Hofydroxytyrosol, is an olive nutrient that has long been linked to cancer prevention and it is now regarded as having the potential to help people prevent bone loss as well. As we all have been reading about over the course of the past few years, the consumption of a Mediterranean style diet has been associated with decreased risk of osteoporosis, and olives often find themselves on center stage in Mediterranean diet studies.
2. Olives supply anti-inflammatory benefits to our bodies, especially during circumstances involving allergy. Olive extracts have now been shown to function as anti-histamines at a cellular level. By blocking special histamine receptors (called H1 receptors) olive extracts may help to lessen a cell’s histamine response.
How can you locate the best olive options close to your home?
Olives have been traditionally sold in jars and cans, sitting up on an occasionally dusty and neglected shelf, today many stores offer them in bulk, sold in large barrels or bins. Buying bulk olives allows you the consumer to experiment with many different types of these health protective little fruits of a formerly far away land. Just keep in mind that if it looks unfamiliar, do not let that dis-way you from the purchase, buy two or three only if your not completely sure if they will be to your liking.
It’s not uncommon to find several different textures, including shiny, wilted, or cracked. The size of olives may range from fairly small to fairly large or jumbo. In general, regardless of the variety you choose, select olives that still display a reasonable firmness to pressure and are not overly soft or mushy. If you purchase olives in bulk, make sure that the store has a good turnover and keeps their olives immersed in brine for freshness and to retain moistness.
Go out and try some of the olives that are available in your area and if it looks good, eat it!