16 Fun Facts About Olives

Fun Facts About Olives


Olives are one of the most ubiquitous fruits around the world. These small, oval-shaped fruits grow on olive trees and can be eaten on their own, used in cooking, or processed into olive oil. While most people enjoy eating olives and using olive oil, there are many fascinating details about olives that you may not know.

From their extensive history over thousands of years to their symbolism in different cultures, olives have an intriguing backstory. They also offer unique health benefits and their trees have special properties that allow them to thrive in hot, dry climates. Even the olive fruit’s wood and leaves have their own areas of value for people.

Below are 16 fun facts spanning olive varieties, production statistics, uses, health impacts, and more. After you learn about the ancient history of olives, the different ways they are consumed, their global status today, and additional tidbits, you’ll gain a whole new appreciation for this ubiquitous fruit!

Olives and olive oil

1. Olives are technically considered a fruit

Even though we tend to think of olives as a vegetable, they are botanically classified as a fruit. Olives grow on trees and contain pits, fitting the definition of a fruit. The olive tree, known scientifically as Olea europaea, produces the olive fruit.

2. Olives can live for hundreds of years

Olive trees are incredibly long-lived, with lifespans from 300 years up to 600 years1. There is even an olive tree in Greece that is reportedly over 2,000 years old! Olive trees don’t reach full fruit production until around 40 years old but will continue producing olives for centuries.

3. Most olives are too bitter to eat raw

If you tried eating fresh olives right off the tree, you’d find them far too bitter and unpalatable to enjoy. Olives need to go through a curing process to remove the bitter compounds before they become edible. Popular curing methods involve water, brine, salt, or lye solutions.

4. Green olives and black olives come from the same fruit

Green and black olives with leaves texture background, italian harvest

The same olive fruit that is harvested green can turn black when fully ripe. However, most black olives sold today are green olives that have been cured in an oxygenated brine solution. This solution causes them to turn black quickly2.

5. Olives were first cultivated thousands of years ago

The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean region and parts of Asia. Archaeological evidence indicates olives were first deliberately cultivated around 3000 BC in Crete. Olives soon became a staple crop and a major source of wealth in ancient civilizations.

6. Olive oil was used historically for lamps and medicinal purposes

In ancient times, olive oil was commonly used to fuel lamps for light. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, also prescribed olive oil for several ailments. Today, high-quality extra virgin olive oil is still prized for its nutritional properties and flavor.

7. Olives grow well in hot, dry climates

The olive tree is well-adapted to the hot, dry conditions around the Mediterranean. Its extensive root system can reach deep moisture and withstand summer droughts. This resilience allows olive trees to thrive in climates that many other crops cannot tolerate.

8. Spain is the top producer of olives

Extra virgin olive oil and olive branch in the bottle on wooden table in the olive grove.

Over 9 million tons of olives are produced globally each year. Spain leads the world in olive production, growing over 6 million tons per year. Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, and the United States also have substantial olive crops.

9. Only 10% of olives are used for table olives

The vast majority of harvested olives – about 90% – are pressed for olive oil3. Only around 10% of olives are cured and sold for direct consumption as table olives. So next time you enjoy some olives with drinks or charcuterie, know that they are the minority of the olive crop!

10. Olive wood is prized by woodworkers

The olive tree not only produces delicious fruits; its wood is also highly valued. Olive wood has an attractive, swirling grain and takes stain very well. Woodworkers utilize olive wood for products like bowls, cutting boards, furniture accents, and even musical instruments.

11. The olive branch is a universal symbol of peace

Olives on branch with leaves

In many cultures and faiths throughout history, extending an olive branch has represented a desire for peace. According to Greek mythology, the goddess Athena gifted an olive tree to the city of Athens. The olive tree brought peace and prosperity, cementing the olive as a symbol of goodwill.

12. Olives provide many health benefits

Modern research has shown that olives offer significant health benefits. They contain healthy fats that support heart health, plus antioxidants that combat disease. Studies also indicate that olives may help strengthen bones and reduce cancer risk.

13. There are hundreds of olive varieties

There are estimated to be at least 500 distinct cultivars of olives grown around the world. Popular olive varieties include Manzanilla, Mission, Kalamata, Nicoise, Picholine, and Lucques. Each olive variety has its own unique size, texture, flavor profile, and tendency to be used for oil or table olives. Discovering new olive varieties can be fun for olive aficionados!

14. Olives appear on several national flags

Flag of Cyprus

The olive branch is depicted on the flags of Cyprus, Eritrea, the United Nations, and four U.S. states. It also appeared on the currency of Greece in the 19th century. This just shows how enduring the olive motif is as a global symbol!

15. Olives give dogs upset stomachs

While olives are perfectly healthy for human consumption, they should not be fed to dogs. The high-fat content of olives can cause stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea in canines if consumed. So no olive treats for your pup!

16. “Olive” is a popular name

Finally, the olive’s popularity over millennia has even made its way into given names. Both “Olive” and “Olivia” are common first names for girls in English-speaking countries. This is a testament to the beloved status of the olive fruit!

Olives, olive oil and ciabatta on wooden table

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do olive trees live?

Olive trees are remarkably long-lived, with lifespans ranging from 300 years to over 2,000 years for some ancient olive trees still producing fruit in the Mediterranean region.

What gives olives their bitter taste?

Fresh olives naturally contain bitter compounds like oleuropein that must be removed through curing methods before they become palatable to eat. Popular curing techniques involve water, brine, salt, or lye solutions.

Why are most table olives green or black?

Green olives are picked unripe while black olives are fully ripe olives that have been oxidized and cured in a brine solution, causing them to turn black quickly. True natural black olives are less common.

Which country produces the most olives?

Spain is the top producer of olives in the world today, growing over 6 million tons annually. Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, and the United States also have substantial olive crops.

What are some health benefits of olives?

Studies show olives provide healthy fats that benefit heart health, antioxidants that may help prevent disease and compounds that strengthen bones and reduce cancer risk. The oils, fruits, leaves, and extracts of olives have medicinal uses.


As you can see, there is a lot more to learn about olives than meets the eye! From how they grow to their many uses throughout history to their modern applications, olives have an extensive background story. Not only is their wood prized and their oil beloved, but olive trees themselves live incredibly long lifespans of hundreds of years.

The next time you see olives on a salad, pizza, tapenade, or charcuterie board, remember a few of these fun facts. Olives have been an important crop for thousands of years and remain essential to cuisines and economies today, especially around the Mediterranean. So enjoy those tasty olive fruits knowing just how special and symbolic they truly are!

  1. How Long Do Olive Trees Live? olivegroveoundle.co.uk/how-long-olive-trees-live/ []
  2. The True Difference Between Black and Green Olives, link []
  3. The Bitter Truth About Olives, nationalgeographic.com []

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