White olives: The rare olive variety that ancient Greeks worshiped

Over 43 varieties exist in our country. Usually, the olive tree is green, brown, or black. Olive varieties are divided according to the size of the fruit or its use. That is to say, small fruit, medium fruit, big fruit (e.g. coronaic, thruba, reed, cothreate) or those intended for olive oil and those intended for table (foodable). However, there is a rare variety characterized by small fruits that, during maturation, take a white ivory color and are none other than white olives. This variety is known by the scientific name Leucocarpa or Leucolea and has been of origin since antiquity, since it was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In fact, white women were mainly used by religious reasons, as their white color symbolizes purity. White olives are grown in various areas with a warm and dry climate, such as Italy, Greece, Malta, Morocco and Libya. In Greece, this variety is mainly found in Crete. In Malta during the period of the Knights (1530–1798) the white-fruited olive tree also known as the “marchary of Malta” (perlina Maltese) was sought after and cultivated in all yards and estates of the rich. Today we are talking about three varieties in the world, one of which grows in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean variety is known as Olives the European variety of white fruit (Olea europea var. leukocarpa) and comes from Greece. It is rarely average productivity and is a collector’s item. In Italy, it is found in the Tuscan region. In our country and southern Portugal it is sold to nurseries as an ornamental plant. White olives are harvested usually in autumn to early winter when the fruits are fully ripe. According to experts, extra virgin olive oil produced from this variety has the same characteristics as all other in terms of the composition of fatty acids, flavors and aromas that are characteristic of a light fruity product. Since they also taste sweet and low antioxidant content, they have a shorter life span than green and black olives. Today, in many countries in the Mediterranean, programmes are being developed to rescue and expand the cultivation of this variety, while in Malta a great effort is being made to develop cultivation from the few surviving trees.