Its origins are lost in antiquity. It supported a civilization that shaped the future of mankind. It has been used as a food, an ointment, and a symbol of peace. It is harvested from the most resilient fruit-bearing tree in nature. Yet, the olive remains a humble fruit that deserves our respect in order to unravel its nutritional and culinary glory.
The olive is basically inedible when plucked off the olive tree. But treat it or cure it naturally and you will be rewarded abundantly. Cold-press it and you can extract its liquid gold, proved to be the healthiest and tastiest vegetable oil in nature. Soak and wash it gently with water and then cure it simply with sea salt and you get a delicacy that no matter how you enjoy, you will be doing both your palate and your health a service.
Olives come in various colors, shapes, and sizes depending on the cultivar they originate from. Table olives - the formal name given to olives which have been cured and ready for consumption - achieve their color and are classified into three categories according to the degree of ripeness they have reached before they are harvested. In that respect we have Green olives, ranging in color from various shades of green to yellow, which are picked before the ripening has begun; Semiripe olives, with multicolor shades of red to brown, which are harvested during the ripening cycle; and Black olives, in assorted shades of purple to black, which are picked only when they reach full maturity.
With the help of modern technology, we can enjoy table olives which have been crafted in various ways. If you want to enjoy them without taking care to remove the pits, they can be ready-pitted for you. An added advantage of the ready-pitted olives is that they can be stuffed with an assortment of fillings, limited only by the imagination of the chef. You can also buy them cut, cracked, halved, sliced or even pasted. Whether chosen carefully from an extensive olive bar or bought in any of a diverse array of packaging forms, olives always take pride of place in any epicure's refrigerator. After all, a Martini can be shaken or stirred, but it is never quite complete without a toothpick-speared crunchy olive or two resting in the glass.
If they can elevate a Martini, imagine what a handful of olives can do to your pizza, your home-made bread, or that recipe you have been trying to put a twist on in order to impress your dinner guests. Their succulent flesh doesn't lose its texture when baked or cooked. On the contrary, their distinctive aroma is enhanced with the heat applied during the cooking or baking procedure, adding a palatable pizazz to a multitude of your culinary creations.
Ignore the cliché that "if it tastes bad, it must be good for you"; table olives prove it disastrously wrong. They are a very good source of copper, iron, fiber, and vitamin E. If you are worried about their high fat content, rest assured that most of it is oleic acid, a unique monosaturated fatty acid which is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. And as if that weren't enough, in terms of their diverse range of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient content, olives are nothing short of astounding. They are such a nutrient-packed food that table olives have documented health benefits extending to most of our body systems. It's no wonder that one of the safest, all-natural, and fast flu remedies backed by science is olive leaf extract.
We don't know exactly when the olive was first cultivated. What we do know is that without the olive tree, the Greek civilization wouldn't have flourished to such an extent as to be rightfully considered the cradle of Western civilization. That's food for thought next time you allow an olive to burst its flavors on your palate.