17 Dec

Antibacterial olives don’t ferment

by Jon Evans,

By using a combination of liquid chromatography (LC), mass spectrometry (MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, Spanish food scientists have managed to uncover several novel antibacterial compounds in table olives. This work should not only help to highlight the health benefits of eating olives, but also lead to a better understanding of the steps required to make olives edible.

Although most people’s experience of table olives is as a tasty hors d’oeuvre, they can’t just be served straight from the tree. This is because natural olives are actually quite bitter, mainly because of the presence in their flesh of a glucoside compound known as oleuropein. To make olives fit to eat, this compound first has to be broken down and removed, which is done by soaking the olives in a sodium hydroxide solution known as lye. The olives then have to undergo a fermentation step, which involves placing them in salty water (brine) to encourage the growth of yeast and lactic acid bacteria. This step acts to give the olives their characteristic taste, as well as removing more oleuropein and producing lactic acid, which helps to preserve the olives.

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