How to recognize the varieties of olive trees

According to the estimates of the International Olive Council, there are approximately 850 million olive trees in the world, of which around 90% of the production is used to make oil and the remaining 10% is used for table olives.

The olive tree has been cultivated for about 6000 years in the Mediterranean Basin, where 95% of the olive heritage is concentrated.

Italy boasts the largest number of cultivars in the world, many of which can only be found at regional level. In fact, the genotype is heavily influenced by the environment, which is unlikely able to identically repeat its agronomic behavior outside its area of origin and cultivation. At present, there are around 540 varieties of olive trees in Italy, although a full survey is yet to be completed and documented. The intense and prolonged olive tree selection activity in Italy has created a wealth of varieties that has no parallel anywhere in the world. The term cultivar, short for “cultivated variety”, is used frequently in olive growing to refer to the different varieties of olives produced, which are often associated with a specific geographical area. Some of these are more suitable for producing oil, others for making excellent table olives. Others are described as “dual-purpose”, meaning they are suitable for both uses.


Compared to the varieties of table olives, the varieties of oil olives are generally smaller in size and have a higher oil content.

The different types of extra virgin olive oil can be explained by the wide variety of olive tree cultivars, which give us unique nuances of flavor and fragrance, precious sensory experiences that we bring to the tables of our customers with passion every day.

In order to obtain a high-quality extra virgin olive oil, all the operations, from cultivation through to the storage and the processing of the fruits, must be carried out promptly and with the utmost precision, beginning with the harvesting of healthy fruits when perfectly ripe.

The selection carried out over time by olive growers has resulted in the availability of a considerable number of varieties, but also in the increased popularity of just some of these, perhaps those with a greater ability to adapt to the environment and to meet the priorities of the market.

Therefore, in every domestic olive-growing Region there are more prevalent varieties which, due to their presence, are able to represent a territory.

Some of the most famous oil cultivars grown in Italy include:

  • Carolea olive
  • Coratina olive
  • Ogliarola olive
  • Frantoio olive
  • Leccino olive
  • Moraiolo olive
  • Peranzana olive
  • Biancolilla olive
  • Taggiasca olive

One of the characteristics of these types of oil olives is that they have a high and constant yield from year to year. Harvesting generally takes place from mid-October until the end of December, even if some varieties can also be harvested in January.

hands with varieties of olives


Compared with oil olives, those grown for consumption are larger, with more pulp but a lower concentration of oil.


Many varieties of “table” olives are grown in Italy, the most popular of which include:

the Ascolana Tenera PDO (Marche), juicy and green, typically enjoyed stuffed, breaded and fried; the green and pulpy Bella di Cerignola PDO and Sant'Agostino (Apulia); and the big and green Santa Caterina (Tuscany).


The most famous “dual-purpose” olives include:

  • the round and green Nocellara del Belice PDO (Sicily)
  • the large and rose-colored Oliva di Gaeta (or Itrana) (Lazio)
  • the firm and black Carolea olive (Calabria)
  • the large and black Giarraffa olive (Sicily)
  • the black Leccino olive (Tuscany)
  • our Taggiasca olive, with its small but incredibly tasty fruit, black with tinges ranging from green to brown to purplish.


If we broaden our horizon from Italy to the Mediterranean, on the podium of the best-known olives we can find:

  • the Greek Kalamata, Chalkidiki, Koroneiki and Athinolia olives.
  • the Spanish Gordal Sevillana, Hojiblanca and Arbequina olives.
black olive plant


The color of olive skins can change depending on the origin cultivar, but also on the seasons: they can vary from shades of green during summer, when the fruit isn’t fully ripe, to black-purple during winter, when it is completely ripe.

The harvest period for table olives begins between September and October and ends between November and December. Since they are usually hand-picked from the branches before they are full ripe, their color is initially pale green before darkening later during the processing phase.


The characteristics that distinguish the different cultivars do not only regard the quality of the oil, but also more general aspects, such as the plant's interaction with the soil and climate, productivity, and oil yield; each variety resists parasites in its own way and has a capacity for plant development that is consonant with the resources of the soil in which it grows. Similarly, an oil's identity is also influenced by many factors. The health of the fruit to start with, of course, but also the level of ripeness of the olives when the oil is extracted, bearing in mind that in the last decades the general trend has been to bring forward the harvest date, because an overripe fruit has proven to be more vulnerable to the stress of the harvesting and storage that precedes the extraction of the oil at the press.


The oil extraction system also plays an important role: over the years, oil technology has made great strides, one particular milestone moment being the replacement of the traditional presses based on the pressure extraction method with modern centrifugal presses in the second half of the 20th century.


Oil storage facilities have also undergone technological modernization. Now made of stainless steel, they can be made inert with nitrogen, in order to limit the oil's contact with oxygen in the air and to preserve its characteristics as far as possible.


Finally, the filtration of the product makes it possible to best preserve the sensory and beneficial properties of the oil and, by removing vegetable water particles and mucilage from the olive pulp, it improves oil storage. And then there is the art of the miller, who still plays a key role in determining the overall quality of the oil. In summary, according to the experts, 70% of an oil’s quality is defined by these factors with only 30% directly related to the cultivar and the different qualities of olives.

olive harvest