The olive, weather referring to the tree, oil or the delectable fruit of the Olea europaea, has had a stately history through out many centuries. Originating in the Mediterranean Basin (currently representing 95% of global production), cultivation of the olive has widely spread to the Eastern Mediterranean, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, North and South America and even Japan. California, as a quality producer, is a relative newcomer to the global scene despite an early introduction via Spanish missionaries in the 18th Century.
There are many varieties of table olives which are considered a basic ingredient in the trinity of Mediterranean cuisine (along with wheat and grape for wine 😊). Despite the ripeness, weather green, semi-ripe or black (fully ripe), all olives must be treated to become palatable. Curing and fermentation is applied to remove the bitter tasting phenolic compound oleuropein which is found in all olives in decreasing concentration as full ripeness or black color is achieved. Fermentation techniques vary based on origin, tradition, and need or degree of bitterness. There are at least seven recognized fermentation techniques all similar in that they are bacteria/yeast processes, some with the use of lye. Only water or salt-cured olive processing does NOT use lye. It must be noted that the California style olive (those tasteless, usually canned olive) is not fermented and is artificially ripened by multiple infusions of lye and oxygen. Thankfully, many California growers have turned to traditional means and are now offering excellent olives and olive oil to excited Americans.
See olive cultivation first-hand! For a fun weekend outing tour olive grove and ranch at
Temecula Olive Oil Company (Reservations required)
Where to buy quality olives and olive oil, at your specialty grocery store or
Wild Groves (Lucerno)
Where to buy top quality olives and olive oil from around the world.
This article has been contributed by our founder, Christina Coulourides.