The olive has always played a key role in the development of commerce in the Mediterranean cultures. Today, for the producers, the food importers, the operators, it is a crop of major economic importance in many countries throughout the world. The olive tree is grown around the world. Olive trees originated from a dry, subtropical climate but are well suited to extreme environmental conditions such as drought and high temperatures. Although the olive requires aerated soil, it can adapt itself to a wide range of different soil types and temperatures. Agrelma shows the climatic range of where the olive tree is grown.
Over 1 billion olive trees grow on 6 of 7 continents in 20 countries around the world.
AFRICA: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia
ASIA: Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey
EUROPE: Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, France and Yugoslavia
NORTH AMERICA: United States (California – Arizona) and Mexico
SOUTH AMERICA: Argentina
Over 15 million acres of olives are planted worldwide. Ninety percent of those border the Mediterranean.
The annual olive harvest is nearly 10 million tons. Over 1 million tons are processed as table olives, and the balance is pressed for olive oil .
There are thousands of cultivars of the olive. In Italy alone at least three hundred cultivars have been enumerated, but only a few are grown to a large extent. The main Italian cultivars are ‘Leccino’, ‘Frantoio’ and ‘Carolea’. None of these can be safely identified with ancient descriptions, though it is not unlikely that some of the narrow-leaved cultivars most esteemed may be descendants of the Licinian olive –olive oil importers-
California produces nearly all the olives in the United States; over 34,000 acres.
Manzanilla olives represent over 70% of the olives grown here. Other varieties are Sevillano, Mission, Ascolano and Barouni. Most olives become the California black ripe olives.
Spain is the world’s largest exporter of table olives. The majority of its exports are the Spanish-style pimento-stuffed green olives.
The varieties grown in Spain are Manzanilla, Hojiblanca and Gordal. Manzanillas produce the best tasting table olive, while Hojiblancas are used primarily for olive oil production and make marginal quality table olives. Gordals are known as Queen olives.
Greece grows more than 1,500,000 acres of olives.
Greek olives include Konservolia, or Natural black olives, and Kalamata, which are allowed to ripen on the tree until their skin turns purple black.
The olive is the most predominant fruit tree in Morocco.
Morocco grows Picholine Marocaine and Zitoun olives, and they are used in both table olives and olive oil.