Where to buy natural olives in the UK? online, on markets or speciality stores
Olives have been fully adopted by the UK market. From farmers market to a martini bar, olives of all shapes, colours and prices can be found. Part of the joy of buying olives, is to make a selection from different varieties and flavours but often very little is known about their provenance, production process and quality.
Colours and varieties of olives
From early autumn, the Mediterranean olives start changing colours from dark green to purple and subsequently black. Italian nocellara del belice, Spanish gordal or Tunisian Meski are usually sold green with a relatively firm flesh. This reflect the fact that they are harvested relatively early in the season, depending on the regions from September to late October. Black olives on the contrary, such as kalamata from Greece, taggiasca from Liguria and sahli from Tunisia are harvested later and tend to have a soft texture, almost melting in the mouth. Colour of natural olives is generally driven by the time of harvest. However, industrial processes exist which lead to an artificially black colouring. A simple rule of thumb to identify good quality olives, it to identify different colours within the same jars, with slightly different shades or green, black or purple as opposed to a highly uniform colour.
Fresh olives display a relatively high degree of bitterness. As a result, they typically are subject to a process of curing. This was historically one in brine or salt, or simply sun-dried. Curing in brine can take as long as eight to 12 months. This very slow process is a key driver for the pricing of olives. The most common process involves lye, it is a highly chemical process which significantly reduces the length of the process, decreases the cost but requires washing out the chemical components and has a significant effect on the taste. This is one of the reasons, some consumers can be surprised by the taste of natural olives, have been used to chemical treated products with a relatively bland taste.
Natural or pitted
A purist olive lover would always prefer an olive with its pit, a natural fruit with as little processing as possible. Whilst this is not a guarantee of quality, it can be a meaningful signal of quality, of a natural product handled with care.
Provenance and quality
As all good food products, quality olives have a name, a provenance and in general, the more you can learn about the production process the better your buying decision. From Cerignola from Apulia to Greek amfissa, the Mediterranean terroir is very rich in tastes and flavours. You can often find excellent olives in speciality food shops, who can tell you about the origin, production process and food pairings. Without the opportunity of interacting with floor staff and if buying online, olives with their pits, are an easy to start a selection process.