Sunday, 1 September 2013

Roadside Trees of Italy : Olive

 Olive, Olea europaea, which means ‘oil from/of Europe’, is an evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean region.   It is easily recognized by its silvery green oblong leaves.  Flowers are small white.  The fruit is a small drupe.

There are six natural subspecies of Olea europaea distributed over a wide range :
1. Olea europaea subsp. europaea ( Mediterranean Basin )
2. Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata ( from South Africa throughout East Africa, Arabia to South West China )
3. Olea europaea subsp. guanchica ( Canaries )
4. Olea europaea subsp. cerasiformis ( Madeira ) ( tetraploid )
5. Olea europaea subsp. maroccana ( Morocco ) ( hexaploid )
6. Olea europaea subsp. laperrinei ( Algeria, Sudan, Niger )

Though, there are thousands of cultivars of the Olea europaea.

Olive tree is very hardy.  They are drought-, disease-, and fire-resistant.  The root system is capable to regenerate even if the above-ground structure is destroyed.  It is therefore many olive trees are said to be hundred of years old.  A few were claimed to be over one or two thousand years old.

The olive tree are cultivated for olive oil, fine wood, olive leaf and the olive fruit.     Olive oil is produced by grinding olives and extracting the oil mechanically or chemically.  Italy alone, produced over 15% of world’s olive oil.   Olive leaves are used for its medicinal properties. 

Interestingly, olives are harvested by shaking the bough or the whole tree.  Net are wrap around the trunk to catch the fallen fruits.  Table olive are hand-picked.  Bruised fruits tend to be inferior quality.

Fresh olives are not palatable as they contain oleuropein, which make them bitter ; and phenolic compounds  They are cured with lye, brine or fresh water to make them more palatable.   Oleuropein is removed by soaking in fresh water or brine.  Most olives will be allowed to ferment before being packed in brine solution.  Olives can be flavoured by soaking in a marinade or pitted and stuffed.

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