This booklet will explain to the reader the methodology used by the author to extract the bitterness out of the olive and prepare food safe saleable produce using the Greek method of bitterness extraction by natural fermentation.
This booklet describes the process that was in use at Olives Delight and sections of this booklet might therefore not be applicable to the reader's planned operation.
The processing of the olives at Olives Delight hereby described is incorporated in the Australian/New-Zealand Standard: Food Safety Management System for Organizations Within the Food Chain, AS/ISO 22000-2005.
Several sections in this booklet are therefore dedicated to comply with this Australian standard and have been included to ensure food safety risks are managed and actions are deployed when food safety get's out of control.
This booklet can also be used as a guideline on how to implement AS 22000 in a small food manufacturing enterprise.
If the reader is only interested in the "how to" of preparing olives, it is suggested to start at Chapter 10, ignoring the sections about "Management Responsibility" and "Resource Management"
This booklet will guide the reader through the processes and procedures, in compliance with the Food Safety management System, to process raw olives into quality table olives whilst ensuring the process is safe from a food safety perspective.
This document was developed by the author as part of his study into Food Safety and Inspection with the Open Training and Education Network (OTEN) in collaboration with the University of Sydney, Australia.
At the time of the creation of this Food Safety Management System, the author and his partner, Kathy, were owners of an olive grove and full time involved in the harvest, processing and sale of table olives, olive oil and olive related products.
Several years later, approximately 4 years after the business was handed over to new owners, the Author decided to retrieve the information and publish this document with the aim to assist other small olive processing enterprises in producing high quality table olives in a food safe environment.
The quality of the olives, produced under the method described in this booklet, has been outstanding as reflected in the many quality awards, gold medals and recommendations in national food magazines received by Olives Delight during this period.
The name of the company has been replaced with a fictitious name "Olives Delight" to remove all references to the existing business.
It needs to be stated that the author has tried to remove any information that could impact the current business owners and has tried to make this a generic document. Any references to proprietary information or knowledge not in the public domain, have been, as much as is practicable, removed from this document.
During the period 1998 till 2015 the author, with the help of his partner, established and operated "Olives Delight" in North East Victoria, Australia.
The olive enterprise was established on 20 acres of sloping land, adjoining a watercourse connected to the river Murray, and consisted out of approximately 1000 trees.
The plan was to stay small and profitable, providing a lifestyle and income.
It was realized that there was more profit to be made out of selling whole olives compared to selling only the oil component, therefore the following "Dual Varieties" were selected: Manzanillo, Mission, Kalamata and Hardies Mammoth.
A small amount of different tree varieties were added to possibly assist with pollination, being: California Queen ( CQ19AC), Verdale, Frantoio and Koroneiki.
The varietal selections were made on recommendations received from literature and conversations with olive growers. There is no evidence that the selection of pollinators was the correct choice.
All olive varieties, being the initial selection as well as the pollinators and as well as the "wild" olives harvested from the local region, produced good quality table fruit.
In cases where the harvest quantity of table olives outperformed the ability to sell, the olives would be converted into Varietal Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Over a period of two years, from 1998 to 1999, planting of the majority of olives, including establishment of irrigation, took place.
Irrigation was and is an essential component given the locally dry summers. The aim was to produce good size quality table olives, not drought affected table olives.
Prior to the establishment of the grove, as the author and his partner were not familiar with processing olives into table olives, trial batches of olives were processed using olives harvested from road side "wild" olive trees.
During this "trial" period, different extraction and fermentation methods were applied and eventually the "Greek" method of de-bittering was selected.
During 1999 the processing factory was built followed by the construction of the on-site tasting and sales outlet.
In 2000 the factory was extended with a large storage facility for the storage of table olives during fermentation..
In the early years, to be able to have a sufficient amount of table olives available for sale, most of the table olives were harvested off site from other growers in the region, and transported to the factory for processing.
As the trees grew bigger and the volume of harvested olives increased, so did the processing capacity.
At 8 to 10 years after planting, the processing capacity was approximately 5,000 kg of table olives and 20,000 kg of olives destined for extra virgin olive oil.
This volume allowed us to harvest only premium olives destined for table olives and direct less premium olives towards the presses.
Olives Delight processed the olives destined for oil extraction on site by using two hydraulic cage presses, using stainless steel mats.
This document will only address the Table Olive component of the business of Olives Delight.
below: Best Table Olives in Show 2004, Jos and Kathy Weemaes
There are many ways that one can remove the bitter component from the olives. Greek, Italian and many other countries, societies, regions and towns have their own preferred method and they all exclaim that their method is "The Best" and produces The Best eating olive.
Many of these Family or Household methods could vary from soaking olives in the Adriatic Sea, to immersion in salt, to drying in the sun. Most, if not all, of these methods are small scale and often labour intensive and hence are not ideally suited for commercial application.
From an industrial perspective there are three main methodologies employed. The American method, the Spanish method and the Greek method.
Before I go into more detail, it needs to explained that the typical olive flavour is created by fermentation by lactic acid bacteria, in specific by lactobacillus plantarum, who feast on fermentable material present in the olive.
Lactobacillus plantarum is a widespread member of the genus Lactobacillus, commonly found in many fermented food products as well as anaerobic plant matter. It is also present in saliva (from which it was first isolated). L. plantarum is a Gram positive, bacilli shaped bacterium.
A quality fermented table olive should possess a reasonably firm flesh, which should come free from the stone when eating, and have the size and colour of the skin and flesh, as required by its varietal definition. The olive should have a slight bitterness to it. No blemishes, no marks, and uniform in its size.
The American Method: This method of de-bittering consists of submersing the olives in a lye solution: this lye is Sodium Hydroxide dissolved in potable water. The olives are soaked in this lye for a period of up to 24 hours.
This process dissolves the fatty particles in the skin of the olive and the sodium hydroxide will penetrate into the flesh of the olive. After a specific soaking time, of which the time depends on temperature, solution concentration and olive variety, the olives are removed from the solution and placed in clean water.
The sodium hydroxide is then washed out of the flesh of the olives.
Two or maybe three washings are sufficient to remove the sodium hydroxide to an acceptable level. As the bitter component in the flesh of the olive is water soluble, the washings will remove the bitterness. However washings will also remove many of the typical olive flavour attributes.
Often, in the preparation of black table olives using the American method, the olives undergo an oxidation process to turn the final product black throughout.
Black olives and black olive slices, with the stone removed, as can often be found on pizza's, are actually green olives artificially blackened by soaking in Ferrous Gluconate.
The customer wants black olives without the stone, so there you have it, a nice looking shiny black olive.
Why is this done in this manner? If a ripe black olive is subjected to a large mechanical force to remove the pip, the olive would often disintegrate. The flesh could be too soft to withstand the forced removal of the stone. A green olive, to the contrary, has firm flesh and can withstand this mechanical pressure. Hence the use of green olives to produce de-pipped olives.
After this process, with or without blackening, the olives are placed in jars in a light brine and vinegar solution, followed by sterilization in retorts.
This is the principle of the American Method and results in quick, cost effective and safe extraction of the bitterness and as such, a quick cost recovery. Within days after harvest the olives can be on the supermarket shelf. The flavor development is secondary to the return on investment. To compensate for the loss of flavour often the olives are stuffed with additional ingredients
Below is an example of such an olive:
The Spanish Method: After harvest, the Olives are submerged in a diluted lye solution as explained above. However, the lye solution is not allowed to penetrate all the way into the flesh of the olive. The level of penetration can been seen by cutting open the olive to expose the flesh and de-coloring caused by the sodium hydroxide will indicate the depth of penetration by the soaking solution.
Once the depth of this penetration by the lye reaches 2/3 of the flesh, the soaking is halted and the washing process starts.
As a result of this "part removal" of the bitterness and other components out of the flesh of the olives, there are still fermentable components present in the flesh of the olive.
The olives are now placed in a weak brine solution in large steel or plastic fermenters where a fermentation process takes place. Fermenters, holding brine and olives, are inoculated with Lactobacillus Plantarum.
Fermentation, often vigorous , will take place until there is no more fermentable material present in the olive . During the fermentation the flavor is developed and when fermentation is finished the olives are ready to be consumed.
Stone removal and artificial blackening of green olives to produce black olives will still take place.
To safeguard the long term stability of the olives in the final packing jar or tub to avoid spoilage, the olives are placed in a brine and vinegar solution and then sterilized .
This process takes longer than the American method but on the other hand it produces an improved consumer tasting experience.
The (traditional) Greek method: This is a full lactic acid fermentation process in which the olives, straight after harvest, are submerged in a brine solution. Often this solution is slightly acidified to assist in the cultivation of the correct bacteria. In general no inoculation with Lactobaccilus is required.
During this fermentation process, typical olive flavours are developed. Slowly over time, the brine solution penetrates the skin of the olives and over time the bitterness is dissolved.
This process takes approximately 10 to 12 months. For large olive varieties e.g. King Kalamata, this process takes approximately 18 months. During this time, the olives need to be examined, on a very regular basis, to ensure that no spoilage is occurring. This process delivers the best tasting table olive but is also the most time consuming method.
The author employed the Greek method in order to be able to supply "The Best Possible" table olive tasting experience to its customers.
No compromises, no "quick and easy", just "The Best".
No lye, no stone removal, no ferrous gluconate, just naturally fermented in brine.
As the market is willing to pay for quality, an above market retail price can be demanded, whilst at the same time resulting in many happy repeat customers.
The Picture below are typical ferments black table olive. In this case black kalamata's. Note the pink ( not black) colour, this is typical for fermented table olives.
Large sections of the booklet are dedicated to comply with the standard. Some sections are generic in its application and can be applied by the reader, some sections are specific to Olives Delight A typical section not related to the processing of olives is the product Recall Procedure. These sections are included to ensure compliance with the standard.
Do note that this standard has now been updated to AS 22000-2018 to reflect recent changes. These updates are, at this stage of printing, not reflected in this document
ISO 22000:2005 specifies requirements for a food safety management system where an organization in the food chain needs to demonstrate its ability to control food safety hazards in order to ensure that food is safe at the time of human consumption.
This standard is applicable to all organizations in Australia, regardless of size, which are involved in any aspect of the food chain and want to implement systems that consistently provide safe products. The means of meeting any requirements of ISO 22000:2005 can be accomplished through the use of internal and/or external resources.
ISO 22000:2005 specifies requirements to enable an organization
- to plan, implement, operate, maintain and update a food safety management system aimed at providing products that, according to their intended use, are safe for the consumer,
- to demonstrate compliance with applicable statutory and regulatory food safety requirements,
- to evaluate and assess customer requirements and demonstrate conformity with those mutually agreed customer requirements that relate to food safety, in order to enhance customer satisfaction,
- to effectively communicate food safety issues to their suppliers, customers and relevant interested parties in the food chain,
- to ensure that the organization conforms to its stated food safety policy,
- to demonstrate such conformity to relevant interested parties, and
- to seek certification or registration of its food safety management system by an external organization, or make a self-assessment or self-declaration of conformity to ISO 22000:2005.