Discover fascinating facts about Portugal’s azeitonas

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine September 2017


Fruit of the Olea europaea

  • Olives, azeitonas in Portuguese, are fruit of the olive tree, the Olea europaea. This is the oldest cultivated tree in the world; many are over a thousand years old.
  • How many olives a tree produces, depends on size, age, variety and growing conditions. In autumn, sheets are spread on the ground around the trees to collect the harvest. Same as when picking carob beans, some people carefully hit the top branches with sticks so the olives fall off more easily. Green olives are picked before they’re ripe, while black olives have ripened on the tree.


Cure before eating

  • Don’t eat olives straight from the tree – they’ll taste very bitter because of the oleuropein. To make them edible, you first have to cure them by soaking them in water for at least a week which removes the bitterness. Make sure to cut the olives beforehand and change the water every day.
  • In Portuguese restaurants, olives are nearly always brought to the table as part of the entrada. Sometimes they’ve been flavoured with salt, lemon, herbs or piri piri, or stuffed with garlic, anchovies or almonds.


Press into oil

  • Olive oil is made by pressing the olives, which usually happens between September and December. For one litre of oil, between 1000 and 3000 olives are needed, depending on their weight. Based on the quality and method of extraction, the oil comes in three categories: normal, virgin and extra virgin.
  • Portugal is currently the world’s 7th largest olive oil producer and the 4th largest olive oil exporting country. In the Algarve, there’s the artisan olive oil producer Monterosa in Moncarapacho, whereas the oldest olive press still in use can be found in Monchique.


Liquid gold

  • There are various legends around the olive tree, which is considered a sacred tree. Over the years, olives and olive branches have been a symbol of wisdom, peace, glory, fertility, power and purity in various cultures.
  • Especially the ancient Greeks loved it; in his poems The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer repeatedly called olive oil ‘liquid gold’. According to Greek mythology, the first olive tree grew after Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, struck a rock with her spear in a contest with Poseidon, God of the Sea, about what would be the best gift to humankind.


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine September 2017

Posted in Food, Typical Portugal.