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The fruit of the olive tree is a drupe, similar to other drupes of stoned fruits such as apricots or cherries and with the same anatomy. Its component parts are : the epicarp or epidermis, the mesocarp or flesh and the endocarp or pit which consists of a woody shell enclosing one or, rarely, two almonds (seeds). However, olives differ from all others drupes in their chemical composition by having a relatively low concentration of sugars, 2-5% versus around 12%, a high oil content, 20-30% versus 1-2%, and in their characteristic strong bitter taste. The last quality is due to the presence in the olive of the glucoside, oleuropein, which does not occur in any other fruit or tissue in the plant kingdom.

The natural bitternes of the fruit can be eliminated, or at least reduced, by processing to make it acceptable as food or an appetizer. The oil content as well as the general composition of the pulp is highly variable, and is dependet on a multiplicity of factors such as climate, soil, culture systems, pruning, fertilizers, tree treatments and harvesting methods. Because of this, cultivated olive trees are clasified into three categories, according to the type of the fruit they produce and their principal use :

a) varieties producing fruit for table use

b) varieties producing fruit for oil extraction

c) varieties producing fruit for both purposes, also called double or dual use varieties.




Table olives are defined by the Unified Qualitative Standard Applying to Table Olives in International Trade as : "the sound fruits of specific varieties of the cultivated olive tree (Olea Europea Sativa) harvested at the proper stage of ripeness and whose quality is such that, when they are suitably processed, produce an edible product and ensure its good preservation as marketable goods. Such processing may include the addition of various products or spices of good table quality" (International Olive Council, 1980).

Today, Greece is the world's third largest producer of table olives, producing approximately 10% of the world's total production or an average of 80.000-90.000 tons yearly.

The three main varieties used for table olives in Greece are :


This variety is the most important economically, being responsible for at least 50% of table olive production in Greece. It grows throughout the country from sea level up to altitudes of 600 meters.

Fruits are round to oval-shaped, have a thin, elastic and resistant to shriveling skin and the pulp has a fine, consistent texture. According to the degree of maturity and time of harvesting they may be :

a) Green olives most usually producing Spanish-style green olives.
b) Blond olives with blond, reddish-black color.
c) Black olives with violet black, deep violet black color. Both Black and Blond olives are placed directly in brine, keep a fruity flavor and preserved by natural fermentation.


This excellent quality variety derives its name from the area it was originally grown, principally in the region surrounding the town of Calamata in the south-west Peloponnese. It is the second most importand variety used in the production of Greek table olives accounting for about 15-25% of total production and nowadays good Calamata olives groves have been established in many areas of Central Greece.

Fruits are cylindro-conical, curved, showing a prominent tip at the end. They turn a beautifull black color when reaching maturity and gain their special organoleptic characteristics from their high oil content. Calamata olives are processed like the Black olives. Their skin is thin, elastic and has an intense black color when mature, but still retains a good texture. Usually they are incised lenghtwise by cutting into the skin and part of the flesh and then marinated in extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar.


This is the third most important variety used in the production of Greek table olives, accounting for about 10-20% of total production. It is mainly cultivated in the Chalkidiki region of nothern Greece. Fruits are larger than Conservolea variety averaging to 120-140 olives/kg; they are more elongated, with a prominent tip at the bottom; the pit is slightly curved and the flesh has a good texture. They are used mainly for Spanish style green olives in brine.

Other smaller varieties of olives used as table olives in Greece are :

1. MEGARITIKI (of Nafplion).
This is grown in the Attica region. It is a dual use variety (table olives and oil extraction) with fruits medium to small size (260-400 olives/kg).
It is resistant to drought and it is used mainly for untreated (natural) green olives and also in the production of naturally (wrinkled) black olives in salt.

2. THRUBOLEA (of Thasos)
This is a grown mainly in the island of Thasos but also in Crete and some Aegean islands. It is a dual use variety with fruits medium to small size, cylindroconical, curved, showing a small tip at the end. When completely mature, fruits are deep violet black and are used to prepare a special type of "naturally (wrinkled) black olives Thruba style". These olives are treated immediately in alternating layers of dry salt and gain their special organoleptic characteristics from the high oil content.


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