20 Fun Facts About Olives You May Not Know

Olives are one of the most popular foods around the world. They are a tasty snack on their own and a delicious addition to many dishes. But there’s a lot more to this fruit than meets the eye. Here are some interesting 20 fun facts about olives you may not know:

  1. Olives are technically a fruit, not a vegetable – Olives grow on trees (Olea europaea) and contain a pit, so they are classified as a fruit, botanically speaking. However, most people consider them a vegetables because of how they are used in cuisine.
  2. There are hundreds of varieties – There are over 2,000 known varieties of olives, each with its own unique size, shape, colour and flavour. Some popular ones include Kalamata, Manzanilla, Nicoise, Picholine, and Mission. The diversity comes from centuries of cultivation across different regions.
  3. They were first cultivated over 6,000 years ago – Olives are one of the oldest known cultivated crops. Evidence indicates they were first grown around 4000 BC in ancient Greece, Syria and Canaan. Olive trees can live for hundreds of years.
  4. Spain is the top producer – Over 30% of the world’s olives are produced in Spain. Other top producers include Greece, Italy, Turkey, Morocco and Egypt. Spain also has over 2.5 million acres cultivated for olive trees, more than twice as much as Italy.
  5. Olives must be cured before eating – Fresh olives are very bitter and generally not edible. To make them palatable, they undergo a curing process using water, brine, salt, oil or lye. Green olives are picked unripe while black ones are allowed to fully ripen on trees.
  6. Botanically, it’s a drupe not a nut – Olives are considered a drupe fruit, meaning they have a pit or stone surrounded by juicy flesh, like peaches and cherries. So it’s not technically a nut, which has a hard outer shell around the seed.
  7. Olive oil has many health benefits – Extra virgin olive oil is renowned for its health promoting qualities. Studies show it helps reduce inflammation, lower heart disease risk, and may benefit arthritis, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.
  8. Olives improve when fermented – Naturally-fermented olives develop probiotics during the curing process. This boosts the growth of healthy gut bacteria when you eat them. So they become more nutritious.
  9. They contain vitamin E – A 100 gram serving has 17% of the RDI for vitamin E, a potent antioxidant. Vitamin E has been linked to healthy skin, heart disease prevention and improved immune function.
  10. Olives provide iron, copper and calcium – In addition to vitamin E, olives offer a decent amount of iron, copper and calcium. Iron helps carry oxygen in the blood while copper boosts nerve function.
  11. Olive leaves have therapeutic benefits – Extracts from olive leaves have been used medicinally since ancient times. Research indicates olive leaf benefits include lowering blood pressure, improving heart health and assisting diabetes management.
  12. Olive oil can be used on skin and hair – In addition to its internal health effects, olive oil has externally soothing properties. It can be used as part of a moisturizing face or body mask. When applied to hair, it acts as a deep conditioner.
  13. Olives decrease inflammation – A major component of olives is oleic acid, which has been found to have anti-inflammatory effects. This helps explain why olive oil is linked to reduced rates of chronic inflammatory illnesses.
  14. They are a key part of the Mediterranean diet – Traditional Mediterranean diets centered around olives are associated with decreased mortality and lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
  15. Olives can harbour microbial pathogens – Raw or improperly handled olives have caused cases of foodborne illness. To limit risk, follow proper storage and food safety handling guidelines for olives and olive products.
  16. Some olive oils are diluted with other oils – It’s estimated that up to 80% of olive oils sold in the US are adulterated with cheaper oils like sunflower or canola. To get authentic, 100% olive oil, look for quality seals from reputable certification agencies.
  17. Table olives are high in sodium – While intrinsically low in sodium, many prepared or canned table olives get salt, brine or brining solutions added during the curing process. This increases their sodium content significantly.
  18. Olives are rich in antioxidants – In addition to vitamin E, olives contain many polyphenol and flavonoid antioxidants that combat oxidative stress and may lower risk for chronic diseases. These include anthocyanins, hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein.
  19. Olives can be pickled when green or black – Both unripe green olives and ripe black olives can be pickled in brine or salt. Green pickled olives are piquant and firm. Black pickled olives are mellower and meatier in texture.
  20. Olive trees have played economic and historical roles – In ancient times, olive oil was like gold in the Mediterranean. The trees were seen as a symbol of wealth, health, wisdom and peace. Olive branches were used to crown champions in ancient Greece.

So next time you enjoy some olives, remember there’s a lot of history, nutrition and fascinating facts behind this legendary fruit! Whether green or black, olives pack a tasty punch loaded with unique health benefits.

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