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Understanding The Main Olive Varieties
Wednesday, February 16, 2022 @ 11:25 PM

Olive tree farming originated in the Middle East over 5,000 years ago and spread to the West throughout the Mediterranean basin. From the wild olive trees that grew spontaneously, the first farmers began to choose those that had the best characteristics depending on the areas, productivity, adaptation to the soils, yield, etc... The olive trees in the Iberian peninsula are now, therefore, really hardy trees that can withstand diverse climatic conditions.

Spain is a country with diverse and complex landscapes, as well as a great variety of rich soils. These geographic conditions, together with the numerous olive varieties used in making olive oils, mean that Spain can offer a wide range of aromas and flavours that are unrivalled by any other producing country. Oils with a very sweet and mild flavour can be found alongside others with great body and character, with a pleasant bitter or peppery flavour of varied intensities. Spanish extra virgin oils generally have an intense fruity aroma.

In Spain alone, there are 260 olive tree varieties. These are a few of the most important ones :

 

PICUAL 

This is the most important variety in the world, representing 50% of Spain's olives and trees and, therefore, approximately 20% worldwide. Its geographic location is clearly linked to Andalusia, the main producing region in the world, and specifically to the provinces of Jaen, Cordoba and Granada. This variety is given different names depending on the producing area, but its main name, Picual (from the Spanish root "pico", meaning "peak"), comes from the shape of the fruit, as it is like a swollen teat ending in a point. 

The oil. 

From a physical-chemical point of view, it is excellent due to its fatty acid composition and the number of natural antioxidants it contains. Its high content of monounsaturated oleic acid, important to avoid cardiovascular diseases, and its low content of linoleic acid (an essential acid for the human diet, but if there are excessive quantities, the oil starts to oxidise and free radicals, which are harmful to certain organs in the human body, are formed) as well as its high content of polyphenols, make it the most stable oil in the world, with a long shelf life and it performs excellently when heated for cooking. From an organoleptic point of view, we have to differentiate between the plains and the mountains, as their organoleptic profiles are very different. Oils from the plains have great body, are normally bitter, with a certain flavour/aroma of fresh green tomato or freshly cut grass. Oils from the mountains are usually sweeter, although they still have a "fresh fruity" and pleasant flavour. This oil is best used in frying, although it is equally good for salads and gazpacho. It happens to be one of my favourites.

 

CORNICABRA

This cultivar is the second in importance in the number of cultivated hectares, but the third in production. It originated in Mora de Toledo, and its cultivation area covers the provinces of Toledo and Ciudad Real in the Community of Castilla la Mancha. Its name ("one-horned goat") comes from the characteristic horn shape of its fruit. 

The oil.

It is golden yellow with touches of light green indicating its fruitiness. When it is obtained from riper olives, at the end of the harvest, there are normally different flavours and textures that remind us of exotic fruit, like avocados. Cornicabra oils are fruity and have a noticeable balance between sweet at first, the bitterness of green leaves and a medium-intense peppery flavour. Their texture is smooth and velvety. They are stable oils because of their high content in monounsaturated fatty acids. The balanced composition of essential fatty acids, high content in oleic acid and minor components, which produce excellent aromas and flavours, make it especially appropriate for dietary purposes. The oils from this variety are perfect for warm salads, stewed vegetables, and for making sauces such as mayonnaise.

 

HOJIBLANCA

The name (from the Spanish for "hoja", leaf, and "blanca", white) comes from the colour of the leaf's backside, making the tree look bright, and, from a distance, silver. It is found in Andalusia, to be precise in the east of the province of Seville, the south of Cordoba and all of the north of the province of Malaga. It accounts for about 16% of the Andalusian olive groves. It is used both for black table olives, due to the firm texture of its flesh, and for oil production. 

The oil. 

From a physical-chemical point of view, it has a very balanced composition of fatty acids, with saturated acids that are relatively lower than in the rest of the oils of other varieties. Its composition is ideal for dietary purposes. As its stability is not very high and it oxidises easily, this oil should be kept out of the light and stored without excessive oxygenation. From an organoleptic point of view, it has an enormous range of flavours, but the most common are sweet at the beginning of the tasting, with a fresh grassy fruity aroma, a slightly bitter flavour of green fruit and other fruits that sometimes recall a fruit cocktail, slightly peppery in the throat and a final almondy aftertaste. Recommended for frying, this oil is also ideal for making bread, pasta and pastries, due to the perfect consistency it gives to the dough. 

 

ARBEQUINA

This is one of the best known Spanish varieties. Although it has been planted in the provinces of Zaragoza and Huesca in the community of Aragon, it originated in the locality of Arbeca (Lerida), where the name comes from, and it is widespread in the provinces of Tarragona and Lerida, in Catalonia. The tree is found in olive groves or mixed with other crops, mainly vines, and sometimes grows on the edges of plots. 

The oil.

These oils have an exquisite flavour with traces of tomatoes and vegetable gardens, and the aroma reminds us of fresh artichokes. They are also fruity with a certain exotic aroma. A fresh apple smell, accompanied by a certain mildness and sweetness, identifies the oils, with a final aftertaste of green almonds. They are also very fresh and young oils which, because of their composition, are a little more delicate than other varieties as far as oxidation is concerned, which is why they must be kept in the dark at a low temperature enabling you to keep them for a longer period of time, but they won’t last much more than a year. These oils have been appreciated for their quality for centuries, even though their production usually fluctuates greatly due to climatic conditions. Extra Virgin olive oils of the arbequina variety are dense and pour well and vary greatly from one area to another, as well as within the same area, in successive years. When harvesting is started, the olives are very green and this characteristic is reflected in the organoleptic properties of the oils. The olives are not normally left to become completely ripe. To describe the average characteristics of these oils, we could say that they are fruity, slightly green and more or less bitter, peppery and sweet. They are, therefore, very balanced oils, with greener flavours (leaf), bitter and peppery at the beginning of the harvesting season, and sweeter at the end. We should also mention the almondy (green almond) aroma and flavour and the way they pour smoothly, which is a very pleasant sensation when tasting them. This oil is best used uncooked, since its aromatic substances are very volatile. It is an oil that combines perfectly with vegetables, fresh or cooked, and grilled fish. 

 

EMPELTRE

The Empeltre variety is characteristic of the community of Aragon, originating in the locality of Pedrola (in the province of Zaragoza). It is cultivated in an area that extends from the provinces of Logroño and Teruel through the Ebro Valley to the province of Tarragona, and can even be found on the Balearic Islands.

The oil.

The oils are a pale yellow colour in the majority of the cases, which is not due to harvesting when the olives are overripe. The oils have a mild fruity aroma and are very pleasant and very sweet tasting. They are never bitter or peppery and usually leave an aftertaste of almonds. As it is mild, it is ideal for blending. 

In general, virgin olive oils are not recommended for making mayonnaise because the flavour is too strong; however, the oils of this variety make delicious mayonnaise. They are also ideal oils in sauces, marinades, vinaigrettes, or to add a special touch to boiled or steamed dishes.

 

PICUDO 

The olive is called Picudo (which means "prominent peak") because of the shape of the fruit with a pointed and curved end and a noticeable teat. It has many other names, but the one it is given in Luque, a town in the south-east of Cordoba, where it is called "pajarero" (bird trapper) is curious because according to legend, the oil is so sweet, when it is ripe, the birds peck at the fruit. This variety is widespread in the provinces of Cordoba, Granada, Malaga and Jaen, with the most plantations in the area of the Designation of Origin Baena, in the south-east of Cordoba.

The oil.

As far as oxidation is concerned, the oils are included in the delicate range. Its organoleptic characteristics are very good, with unbeatable balance and sweetness, with no hard flavours and they pour very smoothly and are light, sometimes reminding us slightly of exotic fruits and apples. These olives are excellent as table olives, green and black. The oils they produce are ideal in warm salads, gazpachos, and pastries.

 

 



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2 Comments


Brian Jackson said:
Friday, February 18, 2022 @ 11:34 AM

Thats a very interesting article. Thank you.


Melanie said:
Saturday, February 19, 2022 @ 4:55 PM

Fascinating read.


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