Table olives, the other treasure in the organic olive grove

Despite of olive oil being the star product in the Spanish olive grove for economy and gastronomy hierarchy, the figures provided by the production of table olives also reflects the importance of this fruit in the Spanish food industry.

The cultivation of table olives

According to the International Olive Council ( IOC), the global olive grove consists of some 850 million trees covering an area of more than 10 million hectares. Of these, more than a million is dedicated to the production of table olives. The total production of olives amounts to more than 18 million tons per year, of which 90 % are for oil production and the remaining 10% to the production of table olives.
The main objective agronomic ecological olive production is to maintain and increase soil fertility in the medium and long term. This fertility preservation must be ensured by physical, as the main threat to Mediterranean agricultural soil erosion is linked to the removal of vegetation ( earthworks , plowing or herbicide application ) and loss of organic matter .

Spain leads the global market in both the number of jobs it creates and its production and export volume

Spain is the largest producer of table olives in the world, followed far behind by other countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Algeria, Argentina, Greece or Morocco. The average world production of the past five seasons amounts to 2,371,000 tons, of which 511,500 were in Spain, that means,  22% of the total.

In 2012 there were 168,039 hectares used to organic farming, making that this crop represent, on its own , 11.4% of the total value of Spanish organic production , according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment . Hence, the data show that the olive is one of the leading organic crops Spain in area.

In Andalusia , the surface data certified in 2011 like organic farming are classified according to their type of production, obtaining as certified area of 341 hectares for table olives, 10,652 hectares of olives for table and oil (double aptitude), and capers 5.77 hectares, Malaga is the province with more hectares certified for organic farming of table olives with 13,649 hectares.

Consumption characteristics of table olives

The first written reference to the various ways to prepare olives for consumption is from Columela, in his agriculture treatise " De Re Rustica" on 42 BC, as olives must not be consumed directly because of its intense bitter taste. Commonly, preparation for consumption entailed the immersion of olives in water or salt solutions, using also certain aromatics herbs, such as fennel or thyme, contributing to the preservation of the product due to the presence in its composition of antimicrobial substances.

The marketing of table olives has reached a very considerable volume. Like other products of organic origin, organic table olives become a gourmet product quality as following the guidelines for production and processing, retrieving all food and flavor properties of the olive. The variety of olives can be found in organic farming is as wide as in another farming system that do not follow these guidelines, although the difference is mainly in the taste. So, you can find organic table olives black, green, bone-in or boneless, marinated olives, pickled, stuffed olives, tapenade, etc. .

According to the surface color of the olives at the time of collection or the final product, it will be green olives turning color or black , there are many varieties, differing its fruits in size, shape, color, performance fat, bone pulp ratio , etc. . The optimal time of harvest green olives is when they buy their larger size and before ripen, when the external color is green yellow straw and has not yet begun to take a pinkish
The organic olive growers have wide range of olive varieties adapted to this type of production, it allows to consumers to enjoy the rich and varied organoleptic nuances that can be offered by the different types of organic olives.

Healthy Food

The beneficial effects associated to eat any type of green olives combine all the advantages of a product as table olives together with the benefits of being an organic food free of exposure to herbicides and pesticides.

Table olives have a high nutritional value because of its extraordinary unsaturated fat composition, as unsaturated fatty acids predominate over the saturated, including mainly monounsaturated acid oleico. Especially in turn is highly digestible and their relationship lignin / cellulose is less than 0.5, which causes the easy digestion of fiber. Table olive have a great antiseptic power thanks to lactic acid that acts to facilitate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the digestive system, It is an excellent allies to fight against cholesterol excess.

In short, only a few foods can boast of bringing together in a way so simple and so effective, some surprising health benefits and delicious flavor so representative of Mediterranean culture as organic table olives.

Sectorial meeting about organic table olives

The sectorial meeting about table olives took place on September in Seville, with the aim to analyze the situation of the sector and its potential development. The growth in international markets sector makes table olives also cause the increase inside of Spain. The Spanish market for organic products is developing, despite the economic climate, through different marketing channels, mainly in specialized facilities and systems of direct sales from producers to consumers in local markets.

The Managing Director of the Association Organic Value, José Luis García Melgarejo, introduced Ecovalia standards, a commitment Ecological Sector to promote differentiation of producers and companies in this growing market. Also, shared the situation of the production and processing of organic table olives, providing the latest main data of the sector: with 449 hectares registered, and 840 tons of production, Spain has still a lot to develop in this important agrifood subsector. Andalusia leads the table olive production with 79% nationally, and in the organic this leadership reaches 96% of the total Spanish.

One of the conclusions of the meeting, held in the head office of Ecovalia, is the need to carry out specific plans to promote the table olives, at the same time that fostered knowledge of local varieties and allowing the development at both the commercial establishments such as foodservice sector. Furthermore, it has agreed to review the regulation that applies to the development of the olive in relation to the sweetening process (remove the bitterness) and alternative production systems to the use of sodium hydroxide for this process, not allowed by European Organic farming regulation.

Finally, Ecovalia president, Francisco Casero Rodríguez, concluded the session highlighting the importance of such meetings to bring together the different players in the sector, producers, packers and marketers.

Ecovalia considers a priority to strengthening the collective of organic table olives in order to take advantage of opportunities existing in the organic sector.


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Article co-financed by the Regional Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development of the Government of Andalusia and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, under the "Europe Invests in Rural Areas"