The Worlds Top 3 Olive Varieties
You knew there were different varieties of olive, but do you know how many there are, what they are called and how they’re different? Let’s find out!
Olives are far from being some sort of newfound fad. People were carefully cultivating olive trees long before many ancient empires reached their prime. In fact, it’s very likely that olives were one of the very first fruit trees to be domesticated.
Since those ancient times, olive tree cultivation has expanded to the rest of the Mediterranean region, primarily due to the travels of old-world traders. These days, olive groves can be found in dozens of countries around the world - it seems olives have made themselves at home on every continent apart from that really cold one at the bottom of the world map!
And according to the International Olive Council, only 10% of harvested olives are prepared and actually served as olives. The far larger 90% of the olives currently being harvested are used in the production of the ‘liquid gold’ that is olive oil.
But all these olives around the world, are they all the same?
Firstly, let's start with debunking a common myth - green and black are not the two types of olive. The truth is that all olives begin life as green olives. Over time, as they ripen, olives shift to light brown and then into a reddish-purple, ultimately turning a dark black when fully ripe.
With that settled, let’s talk about the different ‘cultivated varieties’ of olives, or ‘cultivars’ for short.
Each olive cultivar is bred especially to develop its own character, resulting from a unique chemical profile and flavour. It’s worth noting, however, that even olive oils produced from the same olive variety can be distinctly different, depending on several factors including cultivation, harvesting and climate.
So, how many olive varieties are there?!
Well it might surprise you to learn that there are more than 250 recorded varieties! That’s obviously too many to go into detail with here, so here are some facts about the three most common varieties: Picual, Arbequina, and Hojiblanca.
There’s a good chance you’ve come across this variety of olive before. It’s estimated that a third of the world’s olive oil production comes from Picual olives. While Picual olives are smaller than other varieties, they boast a richer, rounded flavour due to their high oil content. In terms of tasting notes, Picual lives are known for providing a balance of sweet, bitter and pepperiness - three key components in olive oil flavour.
Extra virgin olive oil produced using Picual cultivars have super high levels of polyphenols, the micronutrients that naturally occur in plants, which is partly responsible for the variety’s increasing popularity. Most of the world’s Picual olives are grown in Andalusia, Spain, home of La Española Olive Oil.
Arbequina olives are the next most common olives used in the production of olive oil after Picual olive. Around one tenth of the world’s olive oil comes from little olive, which is the native variety of Catalonia.
Arbequina olives are a favourite among machine harvesting operations due to their consistent size, making it easier to harvest mechanically. That’s not as important for La Española due to our traditional harvesting methods - the reason we like Arbequina olive is their high oil content, their adaptability and their deliciously light and fruity taste.
Compared to other varieties, Arbequina olives have relatively low polyphenol concentration. This results in a milder, buttery profile that can add depth and a more complex character to olive oils. Arbequina are also one of the more easily identified olive cultivars because of their unique light-brown colouration..
After the Picual and Arbequina cultivars, Hojiblanca are the third most used variety of olive. Another Spanish cultivar, Hojiblanca olives originate from the Córdoba, a region in the south of Spain.
The name ‘hoji blanca’ translates to white leaf, which should give some indication to the appearance of the distinctive trees. Hojiblanca trees are incredibly hardy too, capable of surviving both drought and cold where other varieties of olive may not.
Hojiblanca are the largest of the three olives we have looked at in this article, but have the smallest oil yield of less than 20 percent. However, that oil has a distinctive flavour, characterised by a sweet start and a bitter finish. Since it has a lower oil content than the dominant Picual and Arbequina varieties, you may often find Hojiblanca olives used as table olives.
Single Variety Olive Oil
Many olive oils are produced using a blend of cultivars in order to draw on different characteristics from different varieties. When it comes to La Española Gourmet Extra Virgin Olive Oil we decided to use a single variety.
La Española Gourmet Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Made exclusively using Spanish olives from our own farm in Seville, La Española Gourmet Extra Virgin Olive Oil sets a new standard for luxury. To ensure the purest of flavours we use 100% Single Variety Hojiblanca olives, each one handpicked and pressed within 24 hours of harvesting. With superior flavour, colour, and aroma, this is the oil for those seeking ‘special’.
The Flavour of La Española Gourmet Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Bold and beautiful, La Española Extra Virgin Olive Oil adds full and fruity flavours and aromas to your meal, alongside a slight peppery pungency. Use La Española Extra Virgin Olive Oil to experience a delicate spice and pleasant bitterness on the tongue as the flavours flow into a lingering finish.
How to use La Española Gourmet Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The exquisite flavour profile of La Española Extra Virgin Olive Oils make them perfect for salads, as a basis for dressings or dips and to add extra flavour to soups or sauces.
Take a look at our recommended recipes for inspiration: