I've always thought olives, at least for Americans, were an acquired taste. And, I have to admit, they're a taste I've never acquired, however, they can be very healthful, when used properly and can certainly enhance many dishes. Although I don't particular enjoy the taste of olives, I do enjoy cooking with them for those who do.
Olives are tiny, bitter, oily fruits that originated in the Mediterranean region. They grow best in warm, sub-tropical regions. Today, this region is still the prime olive producing region in the world. There are an estimated eight hundred million olive trees in the world, and seven hundred million of them are in the region of the Mediterranean.
The remaining one hundred million trees can be found in the United States, New Zealand, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Chile, Brazil, Lebanon, France, Greece, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey, China, Peru, Mexico, and Australia.
Olive trees grow year round and eventually reach a height of twenty to forty feet/six to twelve meters. Some olive trees are simply magnificent to look at, no matter what you think of their fruit, and they're long-lived, with some said to be more than two thousand years old.
Really, when we get down to basics, there's only one kind of olive. However, differences lie in the curing process and the ripeness of the fruit when picked. Though olives are naturally bitter, this bitterness can be greatly modified by packing them in brine, herbs, chilis, oils, and vinegars.
Some olives turn black when they ripen, but not all do. However, any olive picked before it's ripe will always be green, though not all green olives are underripe. Olives may be pitted or unpitted. Ripe olives are usually made into oil, with one ton of olives needed to produce only fifty gallons/187.5 liters of olive oil.
Each type of olive has its own "personality." It's fun to experiment with them in various snacks, salads, and recipes. I really hope you'll do so.
Alfonsos - Tender, black, soft-skinned olives from Chile, with a salty flavor and a fruity texture similar to that of a plum; cured in wine vinegar.
Gaeta - Dark purple olives from Italy with a tender texture and slightly sour taste.
Garlic - Huge olives from California, stuffed with garlic cloves, of course.
Jalapeno - Green olives from California, stuffed with pickled jalapeno peppers.
Moroccan - Black, bitter olives with a leathery skin, best used in cooking; cured in oil.
Moulin de Daudet - Wonderful olives from the south of France that are either green or black. The green ones have a light, pine taste, while the black have a rich licorice flavor.
Picholine - Small green, crunchy olives from the south of France with a much sweeter flavor than most other olives.
Nicoise - Small, reddish-brown olives that are lightly salted and have a sour taste.
Provencal - Green olives from the south of France, given a special flavor and aroma by being marinated in herbes de Provence instead of brine.
Phoenicia - Garlic flavored green olives from Lebanon, marinated in olive oil and herbs.
Spicy - Usually green olives, cured in a marinade with tomato sauce and chili peppers.