Will They Ripen Without
Salt, Fermentation, And Curing?
always stuck out as something of
an impossibility. The common belief about the fruit is that they will
bitter and unpalatable unless you cure them with some combination of
lye, sodium hydroxide, a water-salt mixture called brine, or through
When picked fresh off the tree, your average olive is quite bitter.
is caused by naturally-occurring phenolic compounds and oleuropein, a
glycoside. Oleuropein, a bitter carbohydrate, is also a problem.
Soaking fresh olives in water leeches out much of the oleuropein.
Fermentation breaks down the oleuropein and phenolic compounds,
and the lactic acid produced by this process gives olives the taste you
probably associate with
olives. The end product, preserved by the salt, will not spoil under
This, of course, is the story you always hear. Awhile back I even set
out to confirm it in preparation for an article I was writing on raw
olives. I spent several days talking to olive experts at the University
California as well as olive farmers.
Although they said attempts to breed less bitter olives had made
progress, some form of processing was still required.
Most health-conscious raw foodists, knowing full well that salt is
unhealthy and causes the body to retain waterweight,
essentially creates poison, hear this information
and conclude that fresh olives cannot be eaten in a healthy manner, as
Fresh Olives: Thierry Suggests Another Idea
Recently I met up with Thierry Casasnovas in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and
he mentioned that this may not be the whole story.
He's found that if he allows olives to ripen without going moldy, they
naturally become quite tasty without any curing.
He uses the following method
Get fresh olives (his experience is with black
Store the olives in a dry, air-ventilated environment
for a long length of time, perhaps 1 to 2 months, depending on
environmental conditions. Eventually they will "ripen," and become
tasty without the need for any curing.
At this point the olives are not dried or fermented,
but Thierry says that if left uneaten they will quickly dry out and
become less than ideal. His solution is to place them in a sealed glass
container without adding water or salt. Ripe olives stored in this
condition will aparently stay fresh for years without going bad.
I'm perfectly willing to admit that this whole story seems strange to
me, and does not follow the natural cycle of ripening and decay we find
in most fresh, unprocessed, and unpreserved food.
But I'm intrigued. Thierry's idea is that olives have a much longer
ripening period than we would consider normal or convenient, but that
if given time, they ripen and lose their bitterness. This could be
compared to how tannin-heavy and bitter unripe persimmons gradually
lose their tannin content as they
ripen, becoming sweet.
I can't speak for this idea because I have no experience in the area,
but I find it worthy of more research.
If you have any personal experience ripening olives without the aid of
brine, salt, fermentation, or any other curing process, I'd love to
hear about it. Please contact me here.