The Olive tree dates back to early ancient times in both biblical and classical writings. In these early writings, the olive oil is referenced as a symbol of both goodness and purity; and the tree represents peace and happiness. In ancient times, the oil was also burnt in sacred lamps at temples during the Olympic Games; and the victor was crowned with its leaves.
Olives have been cultivated since prehistoric times in Asia Minor. Today, olives are commercially produced in Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, Portugal, China, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Angola, South Africa, Uruguay, Afghanistan, Australia, New Zealand, and California. The Mediterranean area produces 93% of the world's total olive production. Currently, there are some 800 million olive trees being cultivated. California is the only state where olives are grown commercially. Over 90% of the olive production is used to make olive oil.
The Olive tree is considered as an evergreen tree. These trees can live to be over 2,000 years old. They grow up to 20-40 feet high and begin to bear fruit between 4 and 8 years old. The tree blooms with small whitish flowers having a wonderful fragrance.
A Franciscan missionary planted the first olive tree in California in 1769 at a Franciscan mission in San Diego. The olives grown in California are called ¡°mission olives¡±. Of all the species of olives, this olive is especially good for its oil.
Olives are not edible, green, or ripe; and must be treated with lye and/or cured in brine or dry salt before becoming edible. They contain about 20% oil. Olives must be processed to remove the bitter glycoside oleuropein before they are edible; so they are usually first treated with lye and then pickled.
Greek olives are not treated with lye. They are strong tasting because they are just packed in dry salt or pickled in brine for 6 to 12 months (where they undergo a process of lactic fermentation), and finally packed in fresh brine.
Spanish green olives are picked before they are ripe, treated with lye then placed in a brine, and allowed to ferment.
California olives are treated to set the pigment, treated with lye then packed immediately in brine, and sterilized. They do not undergo the fermentation process since the sterilization 'cooks' them. This lack of fermentation and the 'cooking' when they are sterilized produces a bland, uninteresting olive.
Ten medium size black olives have 50 calories and 4 grams of fat.