The key to the olive flavor, color, and texture is the moment of harvest. Fruit can be harvested when it is green and unripe, fully ripened to black, or any stage in between. Older olive fruit can be salt-cured or dry cured to produce a salty, wrinkled product. Damaged fruit can still be used by pressing it into oil. It is the combination of the harvest, the cure, and any added flavors that yield the characteristics sought by the producer and consumer.
Therefore, the factors to consider in harvesting olives include:
- Are you harvesting to make oil or to eat?
- If you don’t know, much will depend upon what cultivar(s) you are growing, as some are ideal for producing oil, and others are prized for their flavor profile.
- Are you harvesting mechanically or by hand?
- Do you have a set harvest date(s), or are you waiting to determine ripeness level?
- For producing oil, is this for home or commercial use? (For the latter, will you be targeted EVOO [extra virgin olive oil] standards?)
- For food production, do you have preferences in curing methods or recipes?
Here’s a terrific, short video, produced by California Ripe Olives as an introduction:
If you are new to olive growing and harvesting, here’s a primer:
- Olives are harvested most commonly in mid- to late-fall. In California, in the Northern Hemisphere, that is usually late October and November. But harvest can last into December depending upon the desired flavor profile.
- All olives are green. Black olives merely indicate a high level of ripeness. Some cultivars are traditionally harvested with only modest ripeness (green); others are ripened completely to achieve optimum flavors (black).
- Depending upon ripeness, it takes about 80-100 pounds (36-45 kg.) of olives to make 1 gallon (3.8 L.) of olive oil. And 80-100 lbs. of olives is often more than one tree’s worth of olives.
- Olives are harvested both by-hand and mechanically. Harvested olives may be milled to make oil or cured for food production. Olives cannot be consumed direct from the tree; they are too bitter without curing. The raw fruit is bursting with oleuropein, a bitter compound that must be removed prior to eating.
- Different cultivars work best for oil or for food production. Cultivar drupes (the fruit), with high oil content and small pit-to-pulp ratio, are often exclusively produced for oil.
- Olive production for food is similar to winemaking, going through a fermentation process before being edible. Olives picked in October are typically ready to eat in the following May or June. Shelf life may be relatively short (one year or less), with most canned olives having a maximum shelf life of three to four years.
Let’s make sure we’re on the same page with our harvest decisions. Below are olive farming components and methodologies that affect harvest.
Click the ” + ” below to expand the selection.