Olive oil A bounteous season for the Kingdom’s liquid gold

(Photos: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
Olive oil: the silky-smooth, pungent liquid could be considered the lifeblood of the Mediterranean given its cultural and economic importance. And Jordan, with its 11 million olive trees, is no exception. اضافة اعلان

In the Kingdom, the time is ripe for picking olives. Owners of olive oil mills and experts have confirmed that this year’s harvest is off to a promising start, with the production of oil expected to increase at the beginning of the new month.

But when it comes to harvesting olives, timing is everything — the window of opportunity for gathering the luscious fruit is surprisingly small. Already, some early harvesters who got a jump on olive-picking are regretting their rush.

However, the environment may be partly to blame for this mistake.

‘Very early’
Nehaya Al-Muhaisin, a former director of the Olive Directorate at the Ministry of Agriculture, explained that changes in climate, especially higher temperatures, have resulted in a darker color for the Kingdom’s olives. This gave farmers the impression that olives were ripe early this month, when they were not yet ready for harvest.

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“We started picking the olives at the start of October, which I think was very early, causing losses to the farmers and producers,” Muhaisin said.

“Farmers should wait a little bit more, until the beginning of November, to pick the olives to get the best production of oil,” she added.

This time of year is the optimal time to get a balanced, ripe olive resulting in high-quality oil. At the end of November, the oil produce will increase, but the quality will not be the same, she explained.

Olive attributes
This is because the oil produced in late November will not acquire the positive attributes that make it competitive in the oil market, according to Muhaisin. These attributes are fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency.

“The riper the olive is, the more positive attributes it loses,” she explained.

As they lose positive attributes with time, the olives will also take on negative ones. According to OP LATIUM, an Italian organization of olive oil producers, common negative olive attributes include mustiness, humidity, winey-vinegary flavors, acidity, sourness, rancid flavors, and frostbite.

Olives are ripe now in most parts of the Kingdom, especially in high mountain areas and highlands 700m above sea level and over, which is the suitable altitude for growing olive trees, Head of the General Syndicate of Jordanian Olive Oil Mill Owners and Olive Producers Tayseer Najdawi told Jordan News.

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“The quality of the olive oil currently being produced is excellent, with a 0.8 acidity rate, in addition to having high-quality positive attributes that compete on an international level,” he said.

So, farmers are working hard to bring in olive harvests to capitalize on the fruit’s optimal ripeness, before it takes on any negative attributes as winter approaches.

A deadly pest: the fruit fly
But weather is not the only foe that the sturdy olive tree must resist. Olives have a mortal nemesis: the olive fruit fly.

According to the website of the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM), “it is considered the most devastating insect pest of olives in the Mediterranean region, where it has been present for more than 2,000 years.”

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In areas of the world where the olive fruit fly is rampant, it can lead to crop losses of 100 percent of some table olives and “up to 80 percent of oil value”, the IPM said.

But thankfully this year in Jordan, “the trees were exposed to quite a long time of cold weather, which killed the olive fruit fly,” said Najdawi.

This contributes to a high predicted yield from this season’s harvest.

A fruitful year
“We expect around 25,000-28,000 tonnes of olive oil produce this year,” said Najdawi.

Looking to the Kingdom’s recent agricultural history, this figure is above average for annual olive oil production. A Ministry of Agriculture olive report shows that in 2021, 23,401 tonnes of olive oil were produced in the Kingdom. (Last year, 151,308 tonnes of olives were picked, of which 3,615 tonnes were exported.)

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Najdawi explained that the price “depends on the supply and demand in the market”, predicting that the cost of a container will not exceed JD100 this season.

Currently, standard metal containers of olive oil are selling for around JD90-100 “because most olive oil mills do not yet have high quantities of oil”, Muhaisin said. However, the price is expected to decrease by mid-November to around JD80 for high-quality oil.

Buyers beware
When it comes to purchasing olive oil, the public should be cautious. That is because some dishonest producers cut the golden liquid with other, cheaper oils.

Muhaisin recommend that consumers “always check the container before making a purchase”, and Najdawi echoed the sentiment, suggesting that people go directly to farms or mills to purchase olive oil, as those are “the most reliable sources”.

“It is better to see the oil you want to buy produced in front of your eyes,” he said.

Jordanian Bushra Al-Saoub had an even more creative suggestion: “My family and our neighbors purchased a good quantity of olives this season, and we decided to get our oil early this year.”

She said they took the olives to the oil mill and watched as they were pressed into the silky, golden liquid that would bring flavor their food through the coming year.

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