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IAN & SPAIN

WELCOME TO MY BLOG. I WILL BE WRITING ABOUT SPANISH FOOD AND DRINK AND IN PARTICULAR MY OBSESSION FOR OLIVE OIL, ONE OF SPAIN'S MAJOR ASSETS AND GREATLY MISUNDERSTOOD BY THE MAJORITY OF CONSUMERS WORLDWIDE. I WILL ENDEAVOR TO PROVIDE YOU WITH ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO ENJOY THE WORLD OF OLIVE OIL WITHOUT BEING TAKEN FOR A RIDE! HOPE YOU ENJOY IT AND PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS!

The Origin of El Olivo
07 October 2014

The origin of the olive tree is lost in time, coinciding and mingling with the expansion of the Mediterranean civilisations which for centuries governed the destiny of mankind and left their imprint on Western culture.

Olive leaf fossils have been found in Pliocene deposits at Mongardino in Italy. Fossilised remains have been discovered in strata from the Upper Paleolithic at the Relilai snail hatchery in North Africa, and pieces of wild olive trees and stones have been uncovered in excavations of the Chalcolithic period and the Bronze Age in Spain. The existence of the olive tree therefore dates back to the twelfth millennium BC.

The wild olive tree originated in Asia Minor where it is extremely abundant and grows in thick forests. It appears to have spread from Syria to Greece via Anatolia (De Candolle, 1883) although other hypotheses point to lower Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, the Atlas Mountains or certain areas of Europe as its source area. Caruso for that reason believed it to be indigenous to the entire Mediterranean Basin and considers Asia Minor to have been the birthplace of the cultivated olive some six millennia ago. The Assyrians and Babylonians were the only ancient civilisations in the area who were not familiar with the olive tree.

Taking the area that extends from the southern Caucasus to the Iranian plateau and the Mediterranean coasts of Syria and Palestine (Acerbo) to be the original home of the olive tree, its cultivation developed considerably in these last two regions, spreading from there to the island of Cyprus and on towards Anatolia or from the island of Crete towards Egypt.

In the 16th century BC the Phoenicians started disseminating the olive throughout the Greek isles, later introducing it to the Greek mainland between the 14th and 12th centuries BC where its cultivation increased and gained great importance in the 4th century BC when Solon issued decrees regulating olive planting.

From the 6th century BC onwards, the olive spread throughout the Mediterranean countries reaching Tripoli, Tunis and the island of Sicily. From there, it moved to southern Italy. Presto, however, maintained that the olive tree in Italy dates back to three centuries before the fall of Troy (1200 BC). Another Roman annalist (Penestrello) defends the traditional view that the first olive tree was brought to Italy during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus the Elder (616 - 578 BC), possibly from Tripoli or Gabes (Tunisia). Cultivation moved upwards from south to north, from Calabria to Liguria. When the Romans arrived in North Africa, the Berbers knew how to graft wild olives and had really developed its cultivation throughout the territories they occupied.

The Romans continued the expansion of the olive tree to the countries bordering the Mediterranean, using it as a peaceful weapon in their conquests to settle the people. It was introduced in Marseille around 600 BC and spread from there to the whole of Gaul. The olive tree made its appearance in Sardinia in Roman times, while in Corsica it is said to have been brought by the Genoese after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Olive growing was introduced into Spain during the maritime domination of the Phoenicians (1050 BC) but did not develop to a noteworthy extent until the arrival of Scipio (212 BC) and Roman rule (45 BC). After the third Punic War, olives occupied a large stretch of the Baetica valley and spread towards the central and Mediterranean coastal areas of the Iberian Penisula including Portugal. The Arabs brought their varieties with them to the south of Spain and influenced the spread of cultivation so much that the Spanish words for olive (aceituna), oil (aceite), and wild olive tree (acebuche) and the Portuguese words for olive (azeitona) and for olive oil (azeite), have Arabic roots.

With the discovery of America (1492) olive farming spread beyond its Mediterranean confines. The first olive trees were carried from Seville to the West Indies and later to the American Continent. By 1560 olive groves were being cultivated in Mexico, then later in Peru, California, Chile and Argentina, where one of the plants brought over during the Conquest - the old Arauco olive tree - lives to this day.

In more modern times the olive tree has continued to spread outside the Mediterranean and today is farmed in places as far removed from its origins as southern Africa, Australia, Japan and China. As Duhamel said, "the Mediterranean ends where the olive tree no longer grows", which can be capped by saying that:

  "There where the sun permits, the olive tree takes root and gains ground".



Like 1        Published at 12:27   Comments (1)


Table Olives - not as simple as it seems
02 October 2014

 

People often think that table olives can come straight off the tree and into a jar with perhaps some seasoning, but this is not the case and far from it. The olive fruit is a drupe. It has a bitter component which is called ‘oleuropein’, a low sugar content from 2.6-6% when compared with other drupes which have on average 12% or more and finally a high oil content from 12-30% depending on the time of year and variety.

Due to these characteristics it makes it a fruit that cannot be consumed directly from the tree and it has to undergo a series of processes that differ considerably from region to region, and which also depend on the variety of olive. Some olives are, however, an exception to this rule because as they ripen they sweeten right on the tree, in most cases this is due to fermentation. One case is the Thrubolea variety in Greece, however this is not common.

Oleuropein, which is distinctive to the olive, has to be removed as it has a really strong bitter taste and those who have eaten an olive straight off the tree know what I am talking about: it is not, however, pernicious to health. It just tastes terrible. Depending on local methods and customs, the fruit is generally treated in sodium or potassium hydroxide, brine or successively rinsed in aerated water.

The olive's suitability for table consumption is a function of its size, which is important to presentation. Olives between 3 and 5g are considered medium-sized, while those weighing over 5 g are large.  The stone should come away easily from the flesh and a ‘flesh:stone’ ratio of 5 to 1 is acceptable; the higher this ratio the better the commercial value of the olives. The skin of the fruit should be fine, yet elastic and resistant to blows and to the action of alkalis and brine.

High sugar content in the flesh is an asset. The lowest acceptable level is 4%, especially in olives that undergo fermentation.
 
For table olives oil content should be as low as possible because in many cases it impairs the keeping properties and consistency of the processed fruit. Only in certain types of black olives is a medium to high oil content desirable.

In Spain most of the table olives are green olives. These are obtained from olives harvested during the ripening cycle when they have reached normal size, but prior to colour change. They are usually hand picked when there is a slight change in hue from leaf-green to a slightly yellowish green and when the flesh begins to change consistency but before it turns soft. Colour change should not have begun. Trials have been run to machine harvest table olives, but owing to the high percentage of bruised fruit they had to be immersed in a diluted alkaline solution while still in the orchard, this being said table olive are still in their majority harvested by hand. Recently harvested, the olives should be taken to the plant for processing on the same day.

 

 

Green olives are processed in two principal ways: with fermentation, which is considered the Spanish style, and without fermentation, which is considered the Picholine or American style. 

In Spain the majority of olives are treated in a diluted lye solution (sodium hydroxide) to eliminate and transform the oleuropein and sugars, to form organic acids that aid in subsequent fermentation, and to increase the permeability of the fruit. The lye concentrations vary from 2% to 3.5%, depending on the ripeness of the olives, the temperature, the variety and the quality of the water. The treatment is performed in containers of varying sizes in which the solution completely covers the fruit. The olives remain in this solution until the lye has penetrated two thirds of the way through the flesh. The lye is then replaced by water, which removes any remaining residue and the process is repeated. Lengthy washing properly eliminates soda particles but also washes away soluble sugars, which are necessary for subsequent fermentation.

Fermentation is carried out in suitable containers in which the olives are covered with brine. Traditionally, this was done in wooden casks. More recently, larger containers have come into use that are inert on the inside. The brine causes the release of the fruit cell juices, forming a culture medium suitable for fermentation. Brine concentrations are 9-10% to begin with, but rapidly drop to 5% owing to the olive's higher content of interchangeable water.

When properly fermented, olives keep for a long time. If they are in casks, the brine level must be topped up. At the time of shipment, the olives have to be classified for the first or second time as the case may be. The original brine is replaced and the olives are packed in barrels and tin or glass containers. Sometimes they are stoned (pitted) or stuffed with anchovies, pimento, etc.

The most commonly used varieties in Spain are Manzanillo and Gordal.



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