Can you eat an olive off the tree? (1 Contemplative point)

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, can you eat an olive off the tree? We will discuss the reason to avoid eating an olive off the tree and a few ways olives are treated to make them edible.

Can you eat an olive off the tree?

You can eat olives off the tree. Olives straight from the tree are edible but are very bitter. The oleuropein and phenolic compounds in the olive are bitter that need to be removed or reduced.

The texture of olives plucked off the tree is hard, in contrast to processed olives that are tender and mushy. 

If you pluck an olive off the tree and pop it in your mouth, you will be unable to consume it. The involuntary reaction eating the green olives of the tree would be gagging, coughing, and eventually spitting it out. The bitterness in olives will make it impossible to swallow them down.

To an ordinary man, eating fresh olives is impossible. People who grow and harvest acquire the taste of olives; they are the ones who can eat fresh olives without throwing up.

The olive farmers have to sample the olives. The olives that the workers eat are fully-ripened black ones. The black olives contain less oleuropein, hence are not as bitter.

Why are olives such an exquisite fruit?

The olives have oleuropein as a protective mechanism to protect them from falling prey to animals. It not only wards off mammals but microorganisms as well. Besides humans, the olives are food for birds, who swallow the olives as a whole so are unaware of the bitterness.

The olive seeds are dispersed by the birds who eat them as they excrete.

Like plums, peaches, and cherries, olives are a drupe or stone fruit. The outer flesh of olive contains 30 percent oil. The significance of olives is emphasized by literature, food writers, and even by the world’s most prolific religions.

How are olives treated to get rid of the bitterness?

Olives are cured by using salt treatment, lye, or air curing. The curing process is similar to fermentation, where the olive’s natural sugars change into lactic acid, while the bitter compounds leach out.

As the olives are soaked in brine, the oleuropein passes out of the olives into the water. The bitter compound or oleuropein is water-soluble, hence the osmotic pressure makes it leach out of the salt.

Let us look at the treatment process used for curing olives:

  1. Natural Brine Curing

After the olives have been harvested, they are left to soak in saltwater for 24 hours. The brine solution is made as a fixed concentration of salt.

The process of brine curing is carefully executed to meet the designated flavor and texture of the end product.

In combination with sea salt, either lactic acid, citric, acetic, or ascorbic is used to treat the olives. The process can take anywhere between 6 to 12 months, to create a specific standard of olives or to produce a new flavor. 

  1. Lye curing followed by Natural Brine Curing

The process of Lye treatment and Brine treatment is called Spanish Cure. Lye is chemically Sodium Hydroxide or Caustic Soda. After harvesting, the olives are soaked in Lye solution for 8 to 12 hours.

Washing the Olives in Lye gets rid of the bitter phenolic and oleuropein compounds in a fraction of the time. 

The olives are washed three times to get rid of sodium hydroxide. The olives are then soaked in brine to allow the fermentation process to occur. The sugars convert to lactic acid.

The process is relatively quick to perform and takes anywhere between three to 12 months.

  1. Salt Curing

Salt curing is practiced in Southern Mediterranean where the climate is hot and arid. The area also lies close to the sea; therefore, the supply of salt is at hand.

After harvesting olives, the salt curing process is commenced. The olives are put in drums in layers of salt. Olives are rolled inside the drums to prevent them from drying out. 

After the debittering process, the olives are rinsed and coated with olive oil. 

The olives treated with this method have a texture similar to that of raisins and taste slightly bitter.

  1. Air curing

The air curing process is not popular and is carried out in some regions of Nyon (France) and Thassos (Greece). The olives are exposed to the hot sun after picking them or leaving them on the tree to get a chewy texture and a bitter taste.

In this brief guide, we answered the question, can you eat an olive off the tree? We discussed the reason to avoid eating an olive off the tree and few ways olives are treated to make them edible.

Other FAQs about Olives that you may be interested in.

Can you freeze olives?

Can you eat olive pits?

How to preserve olives