Fruit of the Week – Olives

August 22, 2011 at 11:53 AM | Posted in Food, fruits, low calorie, low carb | 1 Comment
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Olive

The Olive s a species of a small tree in the family Oleaceae, native to the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean Basin (the adjoining coastal areas of southeastern Europe, western Asia and northern Africa) as well as northern Iran at the south end of the Caspian Sea. Its fruit, also called the olive, is of major agricultural importance in the Mediterranean region as the source of olive oil. The tree and its fruit give its name to the plant family, which also includes species such as lilacs, jasmine, Forsythia and the true ash trees.

The olive tree is an evergreen tree or shrub native to the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa. It is short and squat, and rarely exceeds 8–15 meters (26–49 ft) in height. The silvery green leaves are oblong in shape, measuring 4–10 centimeters (1.6–3.9 in) long and 1–3 centimeters (0.39–1.2 in) wide. The trunk is typically gnarled and twisted.

The small white, feathery flowers, with ten-cleft calyx and corolla, two stamens and bifid stigma, are borne generally on the last year’s wood, in racemes springing from the axils of the leaves.

The fruit is a small drupe 1–2.5 centimetres (0.39–0.98 in) long, thinner-fleshed and smaller in wild plants than in orchard cultivates. Olives are harvested in the green to purple stage. Canned black olives may contain chemicals (usually ferrous sulfate) that turn them black artificially. Olea europaea contains a seed commonly referred to as a pit or a rock.

The olive tree has been cultivated for olive oil, fine wood, olive leaf, and the olive fruit. The earliest evidence for the domestication of olives comes from the Chalcolithic Period archaeological site of Teleilat Ghassul in what is today modern Jordan.

Farmers in ancient times believed olive trees would not grow well if planted more than a short distance from the sea; Theophrastus gives 300 stadia (55.6 km/34.5 mi) as the limit. Modern experience does not always confirm this, and, though showing a preference for the coast, they have long been grown further inland in some areas with suitable climates, particularly in the southwestern Mediterranean (Iberia, northwest Africa) where winters are mild.
Olive plantation in Andalucía, Spain

Olives are now cultivated in many regions of the world with Mediterranean climates, such as South Africa, Chile, Peru, Australia, the Mediterranean Basin, Israel, Palestinian Territories and California and in areas with temperate climates such as New Zealand, under irrigation in the Cuyo region in Argentina which has a desert climate. They are also grown in the Córdoba Province, Argentina, which has a temperate climate with rainy summers and dry winters . The climate in Argentina changes the external characteristics of the plant but the fruit keeps its original features. Considerable research supports the health-giving benefits of consuming olives, olive leaf and olive oil (see external links below for research results). Olive leaves are used in medicinal teas.

Olives are now being looked at for use as a renewable energy source, using waste produced from the olive plants as an energy source that produces 2.5 times the energy generated by burning the same amount of wood. The same reference claims that the smoke released has no negative impact on neighbors or the environment, and the ash left in the stove can be used for fertilizing gardens and plants. The process has been patented in the Middle East and the US (for example).

There are thousands of cultivators of the olive. In Italy alone at least three hundred cultivator’s have been enumerated, but only a few are grown to a large extent. None of these can be accurately identified with ancient descriptions, though it is not unlikely that some of the narrow-leaved cultivator most esteemed may be descendants of the Licinian olive. The Iberian olives are usually cured and eaten, often after being pitted, stuffed (with pickled pimento, anchovies, or other fillings) and packed in brine in jars or tins. Some also pickle olives at home.
Olives being home-pickled

Since many cultivators are self sterile or nearly so, they are generally planted in pairs with a single primary cultivator and a secondary cultivator selected for its ability to fertilize the primary one. In recent times, efforts have been directed at producing hybrid cultivate with qualities such as resistance to disease, quick growth and larger or more consistent crops.

Olives are one of the most extensively cultivated fruit crops in the world. In 2009 there were 9.9 million hectares planted with olive trees, which is more than twice the amount of land devoted to apples, bananas or mangoes. Only coconut trees and oil palms command more space. Cultivation area tripled from 2,600,000 to 8,500,000 hectares (6,400,000 to 21,000,000 acres) between 1960 and 2004 and in 2008 reached 10.8 mln Ha. The ten largest producing countries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, are all located in the Mediterranean region (with the exception of Argentina, located in South America) and produce 95% of the world’s olives.

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