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The Olive Quiz

By Billa

I love olives! I think they’re the perfect snack right out of the jar. But I also like dishes with olives as a featured ingredient, such as tapenade, caponata, Greek salad, pasta puttanesca, and pizza with olives.

However, I didn’t know very much about olives and I was curious to know more, so I did a little Internet research. Here are some interesting things I found out about them:

Olives are a fruit. They are good for you, as they’re rich in vitamin E, vitamin A, and other antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of health conditions like cancer, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and heart disease.

Eating olives improves the appearance of wrinkles since they contain oleic acid, which keeps skin soft and healthy.

They are inedible when picked because they are extremely bitter. They need to be cured first. This is done by soaking them in brine, which intensifies the olive’s sweet flavor, or by packing them in salt, dry-curing, which concentrates their flavor and gives them a wrinkly appearance. Commercial olive producers use a third method, soaking them in an alkaline lye solution. That, unfortunately, results in a mostly bland olive often with a chemical taste.

There are supposed to be 830 million olive trees in the world (I wonder who counted them). The trees produce 4,000 varieties of olives, but only 150 are cultivated. As with wine, the location of the tree, the climate, and growing conditions determine the flavor and taste of the olive. For example, the Lucque olive from the Languedoc region of France, which is not grown anywhere else in the world, has a very unique flavor profile. They're purported to be meaty and sweet and unlike any other olives.

If you enjoy picking up more olive trivia, you might want to try the quiz below. Answers follow.

The Olive Quiz:

1. In which country do people eat the most olives per capita?

a. Albania

b. Greece

c. Spain

d. USA

2. Which country grows the most olive trees?

a. France

b. Greece

c. Israel

d. Spain

3. You just planted an olive tree. When can you expect to harvest your first olive?

a. In 1 year

b. In 8 years

c. In 15 years

d. In 20 years

4. What percentage of all olives harvested is turned into olive oil?

a. 10 percent

b. 25 percent

c. 50 percent

d. 90 percent

5. Olives on the tree are too bitter to be edible for humans. How come birds eat them?

a. Birds swallow the olives whole without chewing on them.

b. Birds have many fewer taste buds, so the olives don’t taste too bitter.

c. Birds actually like bitter taste.

d. Instead of bitterness, birds experience the taste of olives as slightly sour.

6. Which of the following countries has an olive branch on its flag:

a. Cyprus

b. Greece

c. Lebanon

d. Turkey

7. You decided to bake your favorite cake using olive oil instead of butter. What should you know:

a. That you can always substitute one fat for another

b. That the cake will remain moist longer than if it had been baked with butter

c. That only regular olive oil (not extra-virgin) should be used in baking

d. That you can use a 1 to 1 ratio when subbing olive oil for butter

8. What gives Cerignola olives their distinctive red color?

a. They’re grown in red clay.

b. They are left on the tree until they turn red.

c. They are picked before they have a chance to ripen and become green.

d. They are dyed red with chemicals.

9. One of the oldest olive trees in the world is on the island of Crete and is still producing olives. Approximately, how old is it?

a. 150 years old

b. 300 years old

c. 600 years old

d. 4,000 years old

10. Which of the following is TRUE about extra-virgin olive oil:

a. In its processing, chemicals are used to extract the oil from the olive.

b. It is cold-pressed.

c. It has a higher smoke point than regular olive oil.

d. It requires a longer time from harvest to processing than lower grade olive oils.


1. a. On the average, Albanians consume 23 pounds of olives per person each year. Greeks consume 8 pounds per person. Spaniards consume 9 pounds per person. In the US, the average person consumes 1 pound each year.

2. d. Spain has 300 million olive trees. France has 5 million. Greece has 140 million. Israel has 15 million.

3. c. Although the tree will typically bloom with white flowers after 4 years, the first harvest usually occurs after 15 years.

4. d. Ninety percent of all cultivated olives are turned into olive oil. Only 10 percent become

table olives.

5. a. Birds consume olives off the tree by swallowing them whole, thereby avoiding the whole bitterness issue.

6. a. It is Cyprus that has an olive branch on it’s flag (as does Eritrea).

7. b. Olive oil contributes to the moistness of a cake so it remains moist for several days. If a recipe calls for melted butter, then you can swap in any kind of cooking oil, including olive oil. However, liquid oil is not a substitute for recipes that call for creaming room temperature butter (such as cookies) or cutting cold butter directly into the batter (such as biscuits). Using a liquid oil of any kind in these recipes will mess with the texture of the resulting baked goods and throw off the cooking time as well. Extra virgin olive oil is a great substitute for butter when baking cakes. It gives cakes a wonderfully moist texture and a light, subtle flavor. When subbing in liquid oil for butter, you need to use a 3:4 ratio. Using a 1:1 ratio will result in a batter that is too runny.

8. d. The color of olives depends on their maturity. Unripe olives are green and ripe olives are dark purple or black. Red olives are simply green Cerignola olives dyed to appear cherry red. An artificial red food coloring is added during the curing process when the olives soak in a lye solution for about 10 hours.

9. d. While the average life of an olive tree is between 300 and 600 years, there is an olive-producing tree in Crete that is thought to be about 4,000 years old.

10. b. Extra-virgin olive oil is cold pressed, meaning that the oil was not heated over 27 °C during its processing and has kept all nutrients and vitamins. When processing extra-virgin olive oil, no chemicals are used to extract the oil from the olives. Extra-virgin olive oil is unrefined, so it has a lower smoke point (it burns at a lower temperature) than regular olive oil. The less time from harvest to processing the higher the grade of oil. Ideally, extra-virgin olive oil is processed less than 24 hours after it is harvested. That guarantees that the olive oil has a wonderful, fresh and pure taste.


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