In Greece, the presence of the olive has been dated back to Neolithic age. The ancient Greeks ascribed the olives divine origins. Homer attributed olive oil as liquid gold and Sophocles, entitled the olive tree “the tree that feeds children”. Olives were regarded a symbol of peace, while olive branches were regarded as a sign of respect in ancient times. Fossilized olive trees found in volcanic Santorini rock date back to thousands of years ago, thus proving, that the olive tree has always been a distinctive element to the country.
The Greek word for olives is elies, pronounced el-YES. Greece offers a unique variety of olives grown in various regions of the country. The olives of Greece offer flavor profiles ranging from bitter to smooth and colors varying from deep purples, to vibrant yellows, and greens. Many olive varieties in Greece are exclusively either pressed for oil or prepared as table olives; few olive varieties can be prepared as both.
Small Cretan Green Olives, are called elitses, meaning tiny olives. These olives are cultivated in Messinia, on the Grecian Peloponnese peninsula, the Greek island of Zakynthos, and Crete. These olives boast some of the world’s best olive oil. While green, also known as, the earliest stages of maturity, Cretan green olives are harvested as table olives. When black, also known as, full stages of maturity or ripe, these olives are harvested for the production of olive oil.
Halkidiki Olives, are large, oval pale green olives, thus enabling stuffing. These olives are stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, red peppers, feta and blue cheeses, and almonds to name a few. These olives are typically prepared through brining which offers a firmer texture, with a meaty bite, and fruity, briny, and buttery flavors. The Halkidiki olive is home to the Halkidiki region just adjacent to Mount Athos.
Nafplion Green Olives, grow in the valley of Argos, in the Eastern Peloponnese peninsula.These small, light-green olives, are slit before being cured in brine, allowing the spices and flavors to saturate into the olive. The Nafplion olives offers a firm and crunchy texture with nutty and smoky flavors. These olives are typically served as table olives with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice.
Kalamata Olives, known for their rich deep purple color and fruity taste are harvested in the valley of Messina, near the town of Kalamata. In the late fall, Kalamata olives are hand picked; this late harvest offers the rich color in the olives whereas, olives harvested earlier are green. These olives are cured in a salt brine and later preserved in red-wine , olive oil, or red-wine vinegar offering a mild bitterness with smoky and fruity flavors.
Wrinkled Black Olives, also known as throubes, are fully matured olives that are not picked. They ripen on trees on the island of Thassos, in the northern Aegean. Nets are placed under the trees and the olives are caught in the nets when fully ripe. These olives can be eaten directly from the tree and are served as table olives with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of oregano.
Whether brined, marinated, pressed into olive oil, or served table-side, Greece boasts some of the world's most delicious olives. With a variety of colors, textures, and flavors, these little fruits are a great accompaniment to a variety of Greek dishes.