Exploring Olives: Folklore, Facts, and Fun Food Recipes

Updated on January 14, 2020
Carb Diva profile image

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Olives on a plate
Olives on a plate | Source

The Olive Trees of Noah

In Lebanon, about 80 kilometers north and east of Beirut, is a tiny village, Bchaaleh. Here a grove of 16 trees stands proud, strong, and silent. These trees have witnessed centuries of violence, hardship, and political unrest. They have endured disease, famine, and the rack of hatchets.

For 6,000 years these trees have withstood the ravages of time. They are as old as the Great Flood waters. These are the “Olive Trees of Noah.”

They stand there silent, proud. They stand there for man...to remind us of our history. They stand there for us to take what we want, never asking for anything in return. They stand there to remind us that this too shall pass. They stand there to spread the message of peace and faith. They stand there united on this land, their roots intertwining. They stand there wise, knowing that silence is a virtue only old age fathoms.

— Karen Karam, “365 Days of Lebannon”

The olive tree, Olea europaea, is native to the Mediterranean; botanists believe that it originated from the wild oleaster. Rarely does the olive tree reach more than 50 feet in height; older specimens are recognized not by their size but by their gnarled, twisted contour. perhaps Tolkein had the olive tree in mind when he created the Ents of Lord of the Rings.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
olive treeAncient olive trees
olive tree
olive tree | Source
Ancient olive trees
Ancient olive trees | Source

Characteristics of Olive Trees and Olives

  • The olive tree is deciduous; it retains its leaves year-round.
  • The fruit of the tree is borne on second-year growth and, despite the many technological advances of the past centuries, is still harvested by hand.
  • Olives are delicate and easily bruised, especially those grown to become a “table” olive—that is, one that will be served whole for eating.
  • Those that will be immediately pressed for oil can withstand a bit more handling.
  • Olives vary greatly in size and texture depending on the cultivar; Mediterranean olives are particularly rich—such as the Picholine and Niçoise from France; the Calamata from Greece; and the Gaeta from Italy.
  • Olives also vary in color, but this is dependent upon how long they are allowed to ripen on the tree. Olives begin yellow-green in color, then turn golden brown, then purplish; when fully mature they are a glossy ebony.
  • Olives and olive trees have been praised and painted, extolled in poetry and prose, and even mentioned 86 times in the Bible. The Prophet Muhammad advised his followers to apply olive oil to their bodies. Olive oil was used to anoint the early kings of the Jews. The Greeks used it to anoint winning athletes.

The whole Mediterranean, the sculpture, the palm, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers—all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.

— Lawrence Durrell, "Prospero's Cell’ (1945)
Olive branches
Olive branches | Source

What Makes an Olive an Olive?

When freshly picked olives are bitter; only with curing do they become palatable. So what is "curing"? Olive curing is a type of fermentation—it's the conversion of the olive's natural sugars into lactic acid.

There are several ways in which olives can be cured. Their bitter nature can be removed by soaking in water, brine, lye, or oil, packing in salt, or by sun drying. Today in Italy, thousands of households still cure their own olives, each believing that they hold the secret recipe for developing the tastiest most luxuriously rich olive.

Mixed olives
Mixed olives | Source

Types of Olives

If your only experience with olives is the black orbs from a can or the green globe in your martini, you are in for a surprise. There are actually hundreds of cultivars. Did you know that green olives and black olives come from the same tree?

Green olives are unripe. They are typically picked at the start of harvest (September and October) and must be soaked in a lye bath before brining. Black olives are fully ripe (harvest time for them is November, December, and January) and can be brined without any other processing. Here are the most common varieties:


Perhaps I should have compiled this list in reverse alphabetical order, saving the best for last.

  • The beldi olive is grown in Morocco—difficult to find but worth the effort.
  • They are dry-cured and boldly flavorful.
  • Serve in salads or on an appetizer tray where their flavor can be the start of the show rather than being muted by the influence of other ingredients.


  • A black olive from Italy; they get the full spa treatment (dry-cured with salt then rubbed with oil).
  • Gaetas are small, wrinkled, and mild; often packed with rosemary.
  • A good snacking olive or (my personal favorite) perfect atop a freshly cooked mound of pasta with capers, pine nuts, and few slivers of Pecorino-Romano cheese.


  • Greek black olive; harvested when fully ripe.
  • It is deep purple in color, almond-shaped, brined, and has a rich fruity flavor.
  • They are often packed in red wine vinegar and/or olive oil which gives them their distinctive taste.
  • This is a great olive to use in tapenade.


  • The name and vibrant taste tell you that it comes from Italy.
  • These grow in the northern-most region of Italy
  • They are black and briny and are often cured with bay leaves and rosemary.


  • Another olive from Italy, this one is very salty and is popular on cheese boards.


  • A Spanish green olive, it can be either unpitted or pitted and stuffed.
  • They are lightly lye-cured then brined or packed in salt.


  • French olive; harvested when fully ripe.
  • They are black, small, and have a mellow flavor.
  • The pit-to-flesh ratio is rather high.
  • These are often packed with herbs and with the stems left intact; a must-have in salad niçoise.


  • Green olive from France, these are salt-brine cured with a crisp texture and tart flavor.


  • An Italian black olive, brined and then packed in vinegar.


  • A California native, the Sevillano is salt-brined and preserved with lactic acid.

Recipes in This Article

  • Olive tapenade
  • Olive hummus (V)
  • Focaccia with olives (V)
  • Spaghetti with olives and capers (V)
  • Marinated roasted chicken in wine-cream sauce

V = vegetarian


Olive tapenade
Olive tapenade | Source

Olive Tapenade

To eat tapenade is to experience Provence. This Heavenly mix of olives, capers, and crusty bread from the corner Boulangerie-—these are to me what speak of Paris, and of the Rue Cler where, for three glorious days, we lived and dined France.

To the uninitiated tapenade is not pretty. It is an uninviting dark, smoke-colored paste. But take a spoonful and hold it up to your nose. Inhale the fragrance of briny French olives, the tang of capers, and the zesty tart aroma of lemon. Then spread it on a slice of bread that was baked just one hour ago. The exterior of the bread is crisp; it shatters with the slice of the knife. But the interior is moist yet almost cloud-like. One bite fills your senses with an explosion of flavors and textures—tart, bitter, salty, creamy, crisp, chewy, crunchy. The ingredients are simple, but the sum of their parts is exquisite.

TheSpruce has a recipe for olive tapenade that is very close, I'm sure, to what we enjoyed in Paris.

Olive hummus
Olive hummus | Source

Olive Hummus

In the introduction to her blog ThymeandToast, Christine tells us that her fondest memories are centered around a table, with my huge Lebanese and Syrian family, eating, drinking, and celebrating togetherness and good food. I believe that food isn’t meant to just sustain and fuel us, but to enjoy with others, celebrate with, and take pleasure in. Good food can feed your soul, and it’s my favorite way to learn about different cultures.

She and I are certainly kindred spirits; we share the same philosophy of food, culture, and shared histories. Her recipe for olive hummus reflects her Middle Eastern roots, and the use of healthy ingredients speaks to her quest to create healthy foods for those she loves.

Focaccia with olives
Focaccia with olives | Source

Focaccia With Olives

Several months ago I shared with you my recipe for Perfect Focaccia. Take it one step further. Before the final rise (when the bread dough puffs and lifts and is ready to be baked) place olives (left whole if small, chopped if large, but in both cases pitted, of course) in the indentations made by your fingers. Bake as directed.

Use any olive you wish; I like the Liguria olives.

Spaghetti with olives and capers
Spaghetti with olives and capers | Source

Spaghetti With Olives and Capers


  • 1 pound spaghetti (or other strand pasta)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup oil-cured black olives
  • 1/2 cup green olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano flakes
  • 3 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to package instructions until al dente (still slightly firm).
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add tomatoes, garlic olives, capers, pepper flakes, and seasonings. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
  3. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
  4. Add pasta to saute pan. Toss to coat. Add 1/2 of each of the cheese. Toss again. Add some of the reserved pasta water if needed to create a creamy sauce.
  5. Serve pasta with remaining cheese on top.

Marinated roasted chicken in wine mushroom cream sauce with kalamata olives
Marinated roasted chicken in wine mushroom cream sauce with kalamata olives | Source

Marinated Roasted Chicken in Wine Mushroom Cream Sauce With Kalamata Olives

Sharee says that she learned to cook so that her family wouldn't have to eat ramen noodles every day. Well, I would have to say that she has progressed far beyond boiling a packet of ramen. Her one pan marinated roasted chicken contains everything I love—chicken thighs, cream, mushrooms, AND olives. Yum.

© 2017 Linda Lum


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Hi Rachel - Yes, I probably should have talked about olives from a nutritional standpoint also. They are high in the "good" fats. The first olive trees I saw (actually able to touch them) were in Italy near San Gimignano. Thank you for pinning. Have a great day.

    • profile image

      Rachel Alba 

      3 years ago

      Hi Linda, I love olives. One of the best things is they are so low on carbohydrates which the doctor said I have to do. I was so happy to learn that olives fit the bill. I love your hub. I love the gnarled tree and the focaccia bread recipe and the salad recipe. I am going to pin those. The chicken with the olives sounds interesting too. I have done spaghetti sauce with the olives also. Thanks for sharing.

      Blessings to you.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, as far as I know you have not visited my article on capers. I'm wondering what you think of those.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Well Bill, what can I say? My husband is not a fan either, although he's never actually thrown anything (pizza or otherwise) at me LOL. He just politely picks them off and builds a little pile of them on the side of his plate. (Those are for the cook).

      I hope you have a quiet weekend as well. It's been 24 hours since I've heard fireworks. Hope that means that the crazies are done, not just saving them for the weekend.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, olive wine? Hmmm, I don't think so.

      I did not know that you had spent time in Greece and Italy. I've not visited Greece but my younger daughter has and she loved it. Italy? If I had to choose one place other than here as my home, it would have to be Italy. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm trying, Linda, I really am, but if you insist on writing about one of my most hated foods, what am I supposed to say about it??? LOL Seriously can't stand the taste of olives, and if someone ever puts olives on my pizza I'll throw it at them. :) Have a peaceful, easy weekend.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Do you think olives can really be as good for you pitted?

      And is there really a way to make olive wine?

      For years after spending many months in Greece and Italy my that any recipe from there had to have olives.

      Thank you packing so much good stuff in this article.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, your words of praise make my little heart sing. I love to investigate the history of "stuff", and I love to tell stories, and I LOVE to cook. So, tada!, this is where I am happy.

      I love that I can share these articles on Hub Pages. I published Book #1 in April, and am working on #2 at we speak. Stay tuned!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      3 years ago from USA

      Oh, Linda, your writing is absolutely fabulous. I'm a culinary plain Jane who doesn't care for olives but the way you described them and their history was simply divine.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, delishably.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)