Why Are Olives So Expensive? (11 Reasons Why)

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Maisie Hughes

Maisie Hughes is a 20-year veteran of the culinary world. She has worked as a chef in some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country, and she currently volunteers her time at local food banks.

Olives can add another dimension to any dish, from sandwiches and salads to casseroles and pasta. Chewy and tangy olives provide a sure and simple way to spice up any meal.

However, olives can be on the pricier side, especially if you indulge in branded varieties that are pitted or stuffed. If you are wondering why, here are 11 reasons you can refer to!

Why Are Olives So Expensive?

Olives are expensive mainly because they take a lot of time, money, and effort to harvest. It is normal for olive trees to yield no fruits for over a year, and once it does, timing the harvest is crucial. Additionally, most olive farms handpick olives, and different brands have different methods of curing the olives.

If you are curious to learn more about the exacting method of harvesting olives and the various formats olives come in that influence the olives’ selling price, keep on reading!

1. Most Olives Are Imported

Olive trees thrive in a specific type of environment found in Mediterranean countries.

Consequently, the top exporters of olives are Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco, and Turkey.

So, while farms in other countries like America and Australia also produce olives, it is difficult for them to compete with the industrial-scale production of olives in the Mediterranean.

Additionally, since most of the world’s supply of olives is concentrated in these areas, most countries have to import their olives, which significantly increases the cost of olives.

2. Olive Harvesting Is Done Manually

Most olive farms in the world harvest olives manually for two reasons. First, olive trees tend to grow on uneven and rocky terrain, making these areas inaccessible to machines.

Second, a lot of olive farms value quality over quantity. So, while machine-harvesting is faster, the process often involves shaking the olive trees to drop the olives.

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When olives fall to the ground, the olives are bruised. As such, handpicking has become the preferred method even among top producers of olives.

Nevertheless, choosing manual labor over machines means more workers, and to compensate for their salaries, companies need to mark up their olives.

3. Most Olive Trees Do Not Produce Olives Annually

On their own, olive trees tend to produce fruits every two years.

Moreover, while this can be shortened with proper fertilizing and pruning, there are no guarantees that the tree will bear fruit yearly.

Also, it takes five years before a new olive tree will begin to grow fruits, and the exact time can vary depending on the season and other external factors.

Further, with the required care olive trees need to bear fruit annually and the uncertainty of the yield, companies incur more expenses when tending to olives than other crops.

4. Olive Trees Yield Few Fruits

Given that olive trees often bear fruit every other year, the olive tree’s yield per harvest can be considered scarce.

Furthermore, olive trees can have alternating light and heavy yields, which means that not all olive trees produce similar numbers of fruits.

Typically, a healthy, mature olive tree can produce anywhere from 30 to 100 pounds of olives per season. However, not all of those olives qualify to be sold.

5. Olives Deteriorate Fast

Once an olive is removed from the tree, the olive begins deteriorating. Moreover, since most olive farms handpick their olives, it takes longer to process the olives.

That said, depending on the specific machines and the exact processes the olives undergo, not all olives may be pitied or cured on the same day the olives are harvested.

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As such, the olives are at risk of deteriorating and becoming unsuitable for processing. When this happens, a mild scarcity happens, and the value of olives is raised.

6. Choosing The Harvesting Time Is Tricky

6. Choosing The Harvesting Time Is Tricky

Deciding when to harvest olives can be difficult because anything too early or too late can result in pounds and pounds of losses.

That said, this is especially true for olive producers that place a higher value on the quality of the olives.

Consequently, some will wait until the temperature is just right to begin the harvest.

Moreover, with so many variables out of an olive producer’s control, it is understandable why olives take so much time and money to harvest and affect the selling price.

7. Prices Depend On The Brand

As with every other consumer good, the brand name significantly impacts the olives’ price. For example, some brands are more popular and trusted, hence the heftier price tag.

Additionally, this explains why two olives with the same net weight, brine, and stuffing can have vastly different prices.

8. Olives Can Be Green Or Black

You might have noticed that olives are sold in two colors: green and black. What’s the difference? Generally, green olives are unripe, and black olives are ripe.

While this difference seems trivial, it impacts the harvesting time and processes the olives undergo.

9. Olives Are Either Fermented Or Cured

An olive’s ripeness determines whether the olive must be fermented or cured, which can affect the cost of the olives’ entire processing journey.

Typically, green olives are soaked in lye before being fermented in brine. Similarly, black olives are soaked in lye but are cured in brine to lessen the olive’s bitterness.

Therefore, the selling price can change depending on how companies choose to soak, ferment, or cure the olives.

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10. Olives Come In More Than Two Varieties

Olives can have slight nuances in size, taste, and texture. Primarily, however, olives can be differentiated based on where the olives originate.

For example, there are Spanish olives, namely the Manzanilla and Gordal, and French olives, specifically the Picholine.

Further, some of these olives are in higher demand than others, and when the demand is high quality but scarce, the olives can cost twice as much as the average olive.

11. Olives May Be Pitted Or Stuffed

Olives can be sold with the seeds, but often, olives are either pitted or stuffed.

As you can imagine, pitting and stuffing olives take more work and therefore increases the cost of processing olives.

Additionally, you have to consider the stuffing used on the olives. Often, these stuffings are pimento and cheese, but there are no limits to what olives can be stuffed with.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on why nuts are so expensive, why Macadamia nuts are so expensive, and why mushrooms are so expensive.

Conclusion

Olives are difficult fruits to grow, and the varying conditions and formats that olives are nurtured, harvested, and processed in can drive up the cost of olives.

Also, while you can purchase much cheaper olives by choosing certain brands from certain countries, you can expect that all olives are pricey and will remain so in the future.

Author

  • Maisie Hughes is a 20-year veteran of the culinary world. She has worked as a chef in some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country, and she currently volunteers her time at local food banks.

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