About Table Olives

How to recognize a good table olive

The table olive market here in South Africa is just starting to flourish. The solid foundation will support its growth into a successful and valuable industry amongst the new olive producing countries.

Extra virgin olive oil has a set of standards or conditions, performed both in a laboratory and by a tasting panel, that have to be adhered to in order to bear the label ‘Extra Virgin’. The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) has stipulated a set of standards pertaining to the physical attributes of table olives, or rather, the visual defect limits, but no standard is available for determining what a good olive should taste like.

In the global market, a myriad of different styles of table olives can be found, many of which are very provincial or regional. In countries where eating olives, and especially processing thereof, is relatively new, it is important that we have a benchmark against which we can gauge the quality of a table olive. Equally important is that the consumer is aware of what to look for in a good quality, tasty table olive. Highlighting these attributes will protect the consumer, after being served second rate product for long enough, from believing that this is as good as it gets!

The Characteristics of a Quality Table Olive

The first characteristic of a product that we notice is, of course, appearance. This is a vital attribute that will make us decide whether to try the product or not. There is a movement amongst some consumers that precludes any fruit and vegetable product which looks too good. The aim should be to produce table olives that not only taste good, but that look as good as possible, these two characteristics are not mutually exclusive.

The physico-chemical characteristics, which are measured by instruments, and is quite a complicated process.

The organoleptic characteristics of a food product, which describe the flavor thereof, encompass three sensory perceptions, that of smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory) and mouth feel (tactile).


A well-prepared olive has a clean acceptable aroma. The aroma will give a good indication of how the processing was managed as most of the volatile components are a result of the fermentation process. In the absence of any fermentation, the aroma is usually that of the added ingredients, like garlic, herbs and various other flavorings.
An off-fermentation will be noticeable on the nose, and any off-odor is totally unacceptable in quality table olives.


The taste and flavor of a food product is generally rather subjective – it depends on what one is accustomed to. When wine is consumed, the trend is often for non-wine drinkers to start with a sweeter wine, and then to progress to the more dry products. In the table olive sphere, the consumer not accustomed to olives, usually prefers a more bland product. Once hooked on these little delicacies, the consumer then seeks out products with a lot more flavor, the natural olive flavor in particular.

A fully fermented table olive should display a balance between the natural flavor of the fruit, the natural lactic acid and the added salt and vinegar. The acid produced by the fermentation is usually perceived as fully integrated with the fruit flavors, and therefore far more appealing than acid that has been added to the final product.

Texture / Tactile

An olive should have a degree of firmness in the flesh, without being tough or woody. The skin of the fruit should not be too tough, and the flesh should detach from the pit quite readily.

The texture of an olive is determined by numerous factors, the most important of which are fruit ripeness when harvested, and cultivar. The methods of processing will then play an equally important role, which can either maintain the texture of the fruit or compromise it. 

In conclusion, the most important aspect is to realize that table olives vary to a vast extent with respect to the attributes mentioned above. It is for the consumer to experience as many different styles and flavors as possible and in so doing, build up a profile of the olives of choice. Awareness of the factors that constitute a quality product can positively benefit the consumer in this choice.

About Olive Oil

Classification of Olive Oils and Olive Oil Terminology

Extra Virgin and Virgin Olive Oil denote oils that are completely natural and unrefined. All other oils can be assumed to be refined or to contain a proportion of refined olive oil. These blends are usually sold as Pure Olive Oil, Olive Oil or Light Olive Oil.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil  - natural, unrefined olive oil with a free acidity of below 0.8%, no defects and a fruity characteristic.

Virgin Olive Oil - natural unrefined olive oil with a free acidity below 2%, with minimal defects. 

Cold Pressed indicates that milling temperatures were kept below 30 C, preventing the destruction of the temperature sensitive vitamins, antioxidants and flavor compounds.

The best by far is therefore Cold Pressed Extra Virgin, with full retention of all the wonderful flavors and health promoting constituents. However, as with wines, good quality olive oil is defined by its chemical and physical properties as well as its taste and fragrance. The specific cultivar or blend of cultivars used, ripeness of fruit, area of origin and climate influence the aroma, flavor, color and mouth feel of an oil. For top culinary results, match or complement the specific flavors and aromas of the oil with those of the food.

Olive oils which are defective and unfit for consumption as they are, need to undergo a refining process during which they are deodorized and bleached. The result is a tasteless, almost colorless product, which is refined olive oil.

So called Light olive oils are light in flavor and color, in other words, refined olive oil. Every oil contains the same number of kilojoules, there is no oil which has fewer calories than another.

Olive Pomace Oil is solvent extracted (chemically dissolved) from the solid press cake residue. It cannot be classified as Olive Oil, specifically not as Pomace Olive Oil which is often stated on labels.

Olive Awards

South Africa’s WILLOW CREEK (OLIVE) ESTATE of Nuy Estate collected silver medals at the LOS ANGELES COUNTRY FAIR OLIVE OILS OF THE WORLD competition for their Directors’ Reserve extra virgin and their Lemon-Infused extra virgin olive oil. Celebrating this win, Willow Creek introduces a new range of tapenade and pesto to complement their oils.

HILDENBRAND WINE AND OLIVE ESTATE, on one of the oldest farms in the area—in fact, the first olive orchard was planted here in 1893. Owner Reni Hildenbrand has subsequently grown the olive oil business; she’s even written a book, Olives and Olive Oil in South Africa.

It’s not only her olives visitors will want to taste, but also her award winning wines—the newly released Malbec is a must with lunch or dinner at Hildenbrand’s Table.

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