Olive FAQ

Olive FAQ

Q: How are olives harvested?
A: At harvest time in September to early October, olive pickers gather the fruit manually from the trees, using ladders to reach the upper branches. Presently, automatic gathering machines are being tested. These machines work by vibrating the tree causing the olives to fall on a net spread below. The machines however cannot be used on all varieties, some of which are susceptible to damage from the shaking motion.

Q: Which varieties of olives are exported to the United States from Spain?
A: The Manzanilla and the larger Queen olives are the principal green table olive varieties. Another variety, the Hojiblanca olive, is used to produce olive oil and ripe, black table olives.

Q: Are olives eaten raw, like fruit?
A: No. Olives fresh off the tree are too bitter and too tough to eat. From the groves, the harvested olives are put into fiberglass vats containing a soda solution for six to eight hours. This generates heat and "cooks" the olives, removing the characteristic bitterness and softening the flesh.

Q: Why are some olives green and some olives black? Are they like this on the tree?
A: On the tree, olives are green. Black olives are what we call "ripe" olives. They are cured by a process largely similar to the curing process for green olives, but with a few different ingredients.

Q: How do they get those tiny peppers into the olives? Is this done by hand?
A: Not any more (though that was once the process)! These days, the olives are drained, sorted by size, pitted and stuffed by machine. That helps to ensure quality, and makes the stuffed olives affordable to consumers.

Q: Sometimes I think I see little white dots on the big, green olives. Should I worry about this?
A: Not at all. The "dots" you're seeing are actually naturally occurring yeast spores on the skin. In years with a great deal of rain, these yeast spores become more pronounced and appear as white spots. In drier years, the spots may be very light and difficult to see with the naked eye, but nevertheless present. They are a characteristic of the variety, a sign of authenticity.