One must not forget that the olive offers a myriad of tastes when preserved whole. There are delectable ranges of table olives, green or black, small and hard, large and fleshy, pitted or stuffed with pimiento, almonds, capers or garlic, packed in brine or loose in oil and aromatics – the variety is enormous.

When the olives first start to form on the tree they contain no oil, only a mixture of organic acids and sugars. By the magic of nature a transformation gradually occurs as the olive ripens. A chemical process, called lipogenesis, slowly turns the acids and sugard into oil, as the olives turn from the palest green through to rose and voilet and black. Olives can be picked at any stage during the process, and the degree of ripeness will determine its taste.

All green olives will eventually turn black, you don’t get a green and black olive tree! Some cultivars are better suited for green processing and some better for black. You also get dual-purpose cultivars, which mean that they can be used for table processing or olive oil pressing, eg. Mission.

Five main cultivars are grown commercially by Cape Olive Trust.

Sevillano or Gordal
This is a Spanish cultivar and is grown typically in Andalusia, especially in the province of Seville. The fruit is large, an average of 100 – 120 olives per kilogram, with a flesh to stone ratio of 7,5:1. It is slightly heart-shaped and the epidermis is thin and speckled with white spots. The only drawback of this variety is that the flesh is difficult to detach from the stone.

Barouni is of North African origin. The fruit is large, about 9 – 10 grams, with a pit to stone ratio similar to Sevillano. Barouni is marketed as “Queen” olives in South Africa.

This is one of the most popular table olive cultivars internationally and is grown not only in Spain but worldwide. It is a robust variety with a well-developed canopy. It sets single fruits of medium size that are symmetrical and apple-shaped, as indicated by the name (manzanilla – small apple).

This is the second most important olive variety in Greece. It is mostly grown in the southern region of the Peloponnese (Kalamata, Lanconia) and also in central Greece. The fruit is of medium size (from 3 to 6 grams average) and has one curved side. It is cylindroconical in shape. The skin turns black on maturity and the flesh retains a good texture. The tree is moderately vigorous, grows upright and has characteristically large leaves. The flesh to stone ratio is good – about 8:1. The processed olives are of excellent texture, colour, taste and aroma. Kalamata olives are in great demand worldwide.

Mission is by far the most popular cultivar grown in South Africa. It is a dual-purpose olive (can be used for oil and table use) and is very suitable for black processing and gives reliable production under a wide range of conditions. It originates from California, USA. The fruit is of medium size with a fair flesh to pit ratio, which improves as the fruit ripens. Mission is most suitable for black table oives and will give a product an attractive appearance, medium firm to plump texture and good taste when processed correctly.

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