An olive is a small, pitted fruit with a sour, bitter flavor. It grows on trees and is native to the Mediterranean area, particularly the country of Greece, one of the leading producers of olives. There are a variety of Greek olives that range in color, flavor, and texture; however, they all tend to play a major role in Greek cuisine from being an ingredient in traditional dishes to being used for the production of olive oil.
Greek olives tend to be considered a versatile ingredient in Greece’s cuisine. The fruit is not usually consumed raw directly from the tree. Instead, after being picked from the olive trees, the individuals olives are often soaked in vinegar, salt, or oil, a process referred to as brining, before being packaged in jars or tins with the brining solution. The olives may have small slits cut into them before being added to the brining ingredients in order for the ingredients to fully penetrate and flavor the olives. They may be served by themselves cold or at room temperature as a snack or appetizer, or they may be used as an ingredient in other hot dishes, such as casseroles and savory pies, or as a garnish.
In addition to being used for eating in their original form, Greek olives are also widely used in the production of the world’s supply of olive oil. The oil is extracted from the olives and is a form of monounsaturated fat, which is generally considered to be a healthier option than saturated fats, such as butter or lard. Saturated fats are derived from animal products and are thought to raise levels of cholesterol, which can lead to heart attacks. Olive oil is often used at room temperature, such as for salad dressings or dipping bread, or can be heated to cook food items.
One of the most widely used varieties of Greek olives are green olives, which are harvested and packaged before they are completely ripened. Specific green varieties include gaidoroelia, megara, and conservolea. Black olives are a variety of Greek olives that are ripened on the trees before being picked. Kalamata olives are large and black with a fruitier taste than the more bitter flavor of green olives, and tend to be one of the most widely consumed types throughout the world.