Olives & Olive Oils
Olives are an essential element of Turkish cuisine. Whether as the star of the breakfast table or to create olive oil, olives are always appreciated.
Turkey has grown to become one of the top 5 producers of olives and olive oils in the world. This can be attributed in part to the Mediterranean climate and because Central Anatolia is rumored to be the birthplace of the humble olive tree. With deep historical, cultural, and manufacturing roots, it makes sense that Turkish cuisine is often built around the humble olive.
Key olive-growing areas are, naturally, close to the coast, stretching from the Black Sea to the Aegean, reaching further along the Mediterranean and east into Anatolia proper. Worldwide, there are about 700 varieties of olives. Turkey grows somewhere between 50-80 different varieties, some intended for the breakfast table, others destined for use as olive oil.
We’ve compiled a list of the most common olives to eat and the types of oils you’ll find. This way you’ll know what to look for before you head home!
5 Common Olive Varieties in Turkey
- Çelebi: Originating in the Lake İznik area, Çelebi olives are small fruits destined for the table.
- Domat: Found throughout the Aegean region, Domat olives are larger and, therefore, considered the best green olives for stuffing (with garlic, almonds, peppers, or cheeses).
- Gemlik: These olives are widely produced for the hardiness of the plant and its fruit. Gemlik olives have a high oil content, shiny black skin, and a depth of taste and texture that makes them delicious for both the table and olive oil production.
- Memecik: Also found throughout the Aegean region, green memecik olives are mid-sized olives with a slightly oval shape. They offer a rich taste due to their high oil content.
- Memeli: Grown largely in İzmir, memeli olives are used as green olives typically preserved in brine, split green olives, and black olives.
Olives are preserved in one of two ways: sele or salamura. The first means simply with salt: layers and layers of coarse salt are used. This is why sele olives have a wrinkled appearance and can be very salty when you buy them. The second method uses both water and salt. In fact, they can all be pretty salty upon purchase. But don’t let that put you off! When you get home, rinse them under the cold tap and put them in a bowl. Cover with cold water and leave overnight. Try one the next day: it may be okay but may need more soaking in clean water. Continue doing this until the excess saltiness has disappeared.
Once this point has been reached, you can pour olive oil over them and add a few slices of lemon to taste. However, you actually don’t need to do anything at all as they keep extremely well just in a jar in the fridge for months.
Types of Olive Oils
Naturel Sızma Zeytinyağı (“Natural Pressed Olive Oil”): This is extra virgin 100% raw olive oil. It has the lowest level of acidity, under 0.8%. Extra virgin olive oil has high nutritional value and is, therefore, best consumed cold (think over salads or with crusty bread). Most production facilities are machine-operated presses but there are some that offer traditional stone-pressed olive oil.
Erken Hasat Naturel Sızma Zeytinyağı (“Early Harvest Pressed Olive Oil”): This oil is made from olives harvested early in the season, before they’re fully ripe. This adds a depth to the flavor of the oil from the slightly bitter, almost peppery olives. Early harvest olive oil is typically sold in smaller quantities at a higher price than other oils, as a smaller amount is produced, and more olives are needed for the production of the oil. To ensure the oil is from the most recent harvest, check the label for “yeni hasat” (new harvest).
Naturel Birinci Zeytinyağı & Naturel Zeytinyağı (Virgin Olive Oil): Virgin olive oil has acidity levels between 0.8-2%. This is the most common type of oil, lighter in color and flavor than extra virgin and therefore suitable for cooking and consumption whilst hot.
Because of the spread of olive growing and production areas across Turkey, you’re sure to find one (or more) that delights the taste buds.