The olive fruit is quite popular in many Mediterranean cuisines. In fact, some call it the “soul” of Mediterranean cooking. No wonder the olive fruit is one of the most common ingredients in several Mediterranean cuisines today. The top producers of olives in the world are Italy and Spain. Italian olives, in particular, are so popular that you find olive groves in 18 out of the 20 regions in the entire Italian peninsula. The biggest producers of olives in Italy are the regions of Puglia and Calabria.
Good Old Olive
The olive plant has been around for thousands of years. Historians have even found traces of it that dates back to the Bronze Age. And it was also mentioned several times in the Bible. Yes, the olive plant is that old. And it’s no wonder, since olive trees are quite resilient. They can survive just about any type of soil and adapt to any kind of climate. It is even known to thrive in saltwater, if you can imagine that!
Olive trees can live for thousands of years, too. The oldest living olive tree at the moment is estimated to be about 4,000 to 5,000 years old. It is called the Al Badawi tree, which means “The Big One” and it can be found in Bethlehem, Israel. Another ancient olive tree can also be found in the island of Crete, in Greece. This one is estimated to be about 3,000 years old. And not only can olive trees survive for centuries, but they can also bear fruit for hundreds of years.
Today, there are about 500 types or varieties of olive trees all over the world. Fruits of the olive tree are typically either green or black. However, they can also come in various hues between those two colors. The differences in color, however, are not because they’re different varieties. It simply reflects the different stages of the fruits ripening. Young olives are yellow green, then they turn green, and they become darker as they mature.
In Italy, most olive groves are for the production of olive oil. After all, Italy is the second largest exporter of olive oil, next to Spain. There are about 700 known cultivars in Italy. And the country produces about 500,000 to 700,000 tonnes of olive oil annually.
Italian olives are some of the most popular ingredients in many of the country’s traditional dishes. They can be found from street food to antipasto to pasta dishes, salads, and pizza. Looking for dishes that use olives? Below are two dishes you may recognize.
A popular Machigiano street food, especially during festivals, these are basically stuffed Italian olives. This dish originally came from the Le Marche in the 1800s, but has now spread throughout the Italian peninsula. They are made by stuffing green olives in brine with leftover meats. Then you cover them with breadcrumbs and you deep fry them.
It’s a Sicilian version of the French veggie dish ratatouille. A deliciously healthy combo of eggplant, celery, tomatoes, and onions, Caponata is probably one of the most popular traditional dishes in Sicily today. Unlike ratatouille though, caponata has vinegar, olives, and capers, too.