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Fruit or Vegetable? What are Olives?

Posted by Olive Oil Lovers on

The olive is a fruit from the olive tree, also known as Olea europaea. The parent family of this tree species is Oleaceae, which includes the flowering trees lilac, jasmine & forsythia.

The olive tree produces a type of fruit called a drupe. A drupe is a fruit with a fleshy outer part and a single, hard seed on the interior. Some other common drupes include peach, plum, cherry and mango.

Why do some think an olive is a vegetable?

Not all drupes are juicy and sweet right off the tree. The drupe classification also includes fruits like coffee and pistachio, both of which are cultivated primarily for their seeds.

We often encounter the olive fruit preserved in a salt water brine. This preparation is delicious for a savory snack. You can find green olives, black olives, pitted and unpitted, and even stuffed olives.

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Can you eat a fresh olive off the tree?

As olives ripen they turn from green to purple to black. When determining whether olives are ready for harvest, farmers will make a tiny bite into an olive, as only a hint of the juice is needed for them to understand the current expression of the olive. 

A large olive tree in Crete, its branches heavy with olives.

A large olive tree in Crete, its branches heavy with olives.


But if eaten right off the tree, whole olives are practically inedible. The bitterness is intense and eating a raw veraison olive can leave your mouth tingling - almost numb - for hours. 

Brining in salt and water for an extended period of time will gradually cure the olives, reducing their bitterness and astringency by removing some of the naturally occurring polyphenols and tannins.

The best way to access the healthy benefits of fresh olives is by consuming raw extra virgin olive oil.

Extra virgin olive oil is essentially an elixir - the concentrated goodness of freshly harvested olive fruit.

Extra virgin olive oil is simply the juice of the olive with the water and solids removed. Through a very hygienic mechanical process that involves no heat, chemicals or added water, freshly harvested olives have their oil extracted. Some artisan producers can complete the whole process from tree to oil in 3-4 hours or less, making it truly a liquid olive concentrate. 

The simplest and best way to get the goodness of the olive fruit into your body is by eating extra virgin olive oil.

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