From fresh to cured olives: The olive story

As a person who is fond of olives you will first hunt for them in your favorite pizza topping or will find your martini incomplete if it is not served with a stuffed olive.

The olives we generally consume are not fresh olives but are cured ones obtained by processing fresh olives through a multi-step curing process that can be quite time-consuming and may last for about few to many weeks.

Ever mused how a fresh olive straight off the branch of a tree would taste? Well, it is nothing like the olives we typically consume. Unbelievable as it may sound but fresh olives are one of the most bitter food items.

Why is it that fresh olives taste bitter and why do we need to cure them? Fresh olives contain a carbohydrate called oleuropein, which imparts bitterness to the olives and the aim of the curing process is to remove this chemical thereby reducing their bitterness. Apart from removing oleuropein, the curing process serves to form lactic acid which helps preserve olives from mold contamination. It is also said that curing enhances the flavor and texture of olives particularly green olives.

It is possible to carry out the process of curing fresh olives at home by following these steps:

StepI: This involves soaking the olives in fresh water until they are completely covered. This step lasts for about a week and water should be occasionally changed during this time.

StepII: The water is drained and a slit or two is made in the olives. These are then put into the brine for about a fortnight or until they are no longer bitter. The olives can be checked for bitterness by tasting as oleuropein is not toxic. During this stage it is imperative to add a layer of olive oil to cover the olives in order to prevent contamination by molds.

StepIII: After StepII is complete, the olives are removed from the brine and can now be treated for additional flavor development using lemon juice, chili, feta, pimento, garlic etc. The olives are placed in a tightly sealed container with the ingredient of choice and an overlying layer of olive oil. This stage can last for about two weeks to as long as three months. It’s really amazing to know how someone had the patience to come up with this method of curing fresh olives. It just goes to reflect we are ready to do anything for things we have set our eyes on, no matter how simple they may be.

Cheers to the feisty human spirit!

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