Saturday, April 23, 2011

A few interesting facts about the Spanish Olive - 23 April 2011

I found this article on the web at It gives a succinct descriptions of the different stages of olive curing from harvest to bottling.

How Olives are Harvested:
Both green and ripe olives are harvested at the same time when the olives are green. After picking, the olives are very bitter and tough. Eating one of these would make for an unpleasant experience. Incoming fruit is first sorted for quality and then sized for specific bottling needs.

How Olives are Cured:
The curing process for green olives consists of hydrolysis, leaching and fermentation. This process includes soaking the olives in an alkaline solution (caustic soda) to remove the bitter tannins. They are then placed in fresh water, which is changed on a regular basis to leach out any impurities. The olives are then placed in huge underground vats, covered with a strong salt brine and left to ferment for 60-90 days. Fermentation converts the natural sugars and some added sugar to lactic acid. Only after the pH drops to 3.7 and the lactic acid exceeds 5% are the olives ready for bottling. The olives are kept in a salt brine while waiting for the stuffing and bottling process. To retain their yellow-green hue, the olives are never exposed to oxygen.

How olives are stuffed:
For centuries, olives were pitted and stuffed by hand. Today everything is done by machines. Sweet Spanish Pepper (pimiento) is the most common stuffing. After harvesting the peppers are placed in brine and shipped to the Seville area where the peppers are ground and mixed with gelling agents to make a reconstituted paste. The paste is then cut and formed into ribbons that are fed into pitting and stuffing machines. The machines pit the olive, take the pimiento and cut them into small pieces and stuff them into the olives all in one smooth operation. Over 1000 olives can be stuffed per hour.

How Olives are Packed:
The olives arrive at our dock in large plastic barrels. We then determine, based on our incoming orders, how to stuff the pitted olives. Either with almonds, onions, jalapeno peppers, garlic, etc. Then there are two ways we can pack the olives into the jars. One is called Throw Packed where the olives are not placed in the jar in any particular order and another called Place Packed where the olives are carefully placed into the jars in orderly, symmetrical fashions or forming geometrical shapes.

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