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The Olive: Friend or Foe?

The Olive: Friend or Foe?

By Hayley Birch

There are two types of people in this world: the olive lovers and the olive haters. At the one extreme we observe the olivephiliac; gazing upon his fennel and pink peppercorn marinated olive with what can only be described as lust, lips parted, salivating ever so slightly over the plump green curves of its tender form. At the other end of the scale, the olivephobe is in limbo; unsure whether to burn the offending olive infested pizza, or call back the unwitting delivery boy to ram it in his pasty white face.

But what is it that makes the olive so controversial? And are they any good for us? The Null surveyed a few of you phobes and philiacs to see what you thought. (I should just elaborate on the term ‘survey’, which here should be taken to mean forcing a very small and completely non-random sample of dim people to answer questions beyond their comprehension.)

The results of our survey suggest that olivephobia arises as a result of some kind of block in the maturation of taste during adolescence. 75% disliked or strongly disliked olives as children, yet two thirds of these became complete converts in adulthood, categorising their olive eating behaviour anywhere between “a special treat in a restaurant or when cooking at home” and “usually in bed with a jar and a spoon”. Just over 12% of all those surveyed thought their behaviour constituted an “olive problem”. We also uncovered a rather shocking level of olive-related prejudice aimed at black olives, even among olivephiles.

Most survey subjects had little or no idea of the effects olives might have on their health. Half agreed or didn’t know whether olives contain high levels of cholesterol – in fact, they contain no cholesterol – and all grossly overestimated the levels of salt contained in an average portion. It’s worth mentioning that despite the Food Standards Agency’s “Eat Less Salt” campaign, only 25% actually knew the recommended daily intake of no more than 6g a day. Interestingly, a bowl of cornflakes contains more salt than five medium sized black olives. Of course, it does rather depend if you’re throwing away the left over brine or slurping it up through a straw.

Only half of those questioned agreed eating olives was better for them than eating crisps. Both are considered high in salt, but as we found out only last week, one in five 8-15 year olds are munching through two bags of crisps a day, which equates to 0.6g of sodium or 1.6g of salt. All this fuss about salt led us to wonder what’s actually so terrible about it. What happens to you if you eat too much?

The Stats

75% couldn’t face olives as kids, yet 67% of these now eat the little green and black fellas a week, some up to 5 a day.

“Above average” consumers craved plain unadulterated olives more than “normal” consumers, who hankered after the stuffed varieties instead.

0% of survey participants preferred black olives to green olives.

Five medium black olives contain approximately 0.29g of salt, compared to 0.55g in a bowl of cornflakes.
Perhaps, Null thought, eating excessive amounts of salt would cause one to shrivel like a slug in a packet of salt and vinegar Discos (remember those?). But according to Dr. Andrei Dracea, who penned the rather over ambitious How to Make Your Body Invulnerable, your main risks are “swelling of the legs” and growing “pouches under the eyes”. Now I don’t know about you, but I feel this would make an interesting study if anyone has the time and the inclination. I mean, how big are these “pouches” for example? How many olives do you have to eat before they become big enough to store things in?

Next, we considered whether it was actually possible to develop an olive addiction. Due to the ever-broadening definition of addiction in general, which is now often used in relation to gambling and overeating as well as drugs and alcohol, it seemed unfair to dismiss compulsive olive eaters as mere obsessives. And if sex addicts and compulsive Internet users can get treatment, why can’t we? Er, I mean, why can’t olive addicts… The question is, where do you draw the line between moderate cravings and olive addiction?

Just over 12% of all those surveyed thought their behaviour constituted an “olive problem”. Of course, our sample was small, but if this statistic is mirrored in the population at large, we’re looking at a major health problem. How long before age limits would be imposed on buying olives, before olive eaters had to take their dirty habits outside at restaurants to prevent relapses among other customers? Those suffering with olive problems need to come to terms with their addictions and we propose self-diagnosis based on recognised addiction indicator behaviours as follows: preoccupation with a substance/behaviour, “reward” response, cravings in response to memory cues, withdrawal symptoms and tolerance. In other words, diagnosing yourself with an olive addiction should be simple. Do you think about olives 24/7? Do you feel happier after eating olives? Look at this photo:

Are you dribbling? Do you experience cold sweats during prolonged periods without olives? Do you remember a time when getting your olive high took only two itty-bitty olives, when now it takes at least two dozen? Answers in the affirmative? Check yourself in.

As far as we know, zero people have died as a direct result of olive-related diseases, or indeed injuries. Well, we had to check. Food-related injuries number higher than you’d imagine, spare a thought for scientist Francis Bacon who met his sorry end stuffing a chicken… with snow.

So, is the olive a friend or foe? Quite frankly, we’re more confused now than we were to begin with. Have we learnt anything? Lots. Kids hate olives. Olives contain less salt than cornflakes. If you eat enough olives you may be able to grow some eye pouches to keep them in. And never try to stuff a chicken with snow.

The Big Interview

We spoke to Nick Earle, an Olive Distribution Officer (he delivers olives – in a van) about olives and Olive Overload. Here are some highlights read the full interview here.

Where is the most peculiar place you’ve delivered an olive?

I’m going back a few years now, but when Ghandi ordered some olives for a party he was throwing in Florida we all raised an eyebrow.

So you must be quite an expert by now. What would you recommend?

For the beginner, the classic Green Mammoth olive from Greece is perfect: juicy with a crisp finish. As your olive eating skills increase you may want to take on bigger challenges. I suggest the creamy melt-in-the-mouth tones of the Italian Nochellara, before moving on to the hard edged zest of the Egyptian Colossal. Having mastered the green olive, you will be ready to move onto the black. Skip the simple Kalamata and go straight for the sweet Italian Aragon. Complete your journey with the nutty, peppery character of the French Nicoise.

And finally, have you reached Olive Overload (OO) yet? (OO: scientific term for the point at which the appetite of an olivephile for olives reaches a plateau).

It is obviously a condition we take very seriously as it can ruin your career. Even the best of us can fall victim to OO and it’s tragic to watch. We use various techniques to stay fit: creating new flavours so that we are constantly challenged. I’m currently working on liking the smoked black olive stuffed with red hot chilli and marinated in liquorice. I’ve had one a day for two years and I still don’t like them.

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Your say:

"Olives were the devil's testicles until I reached my twenties where upon I saw the light and learned to love their strange salty, slimey taste! My favourites are green olives stuffed with anchovies. Mmmm!"
Lorraine Liyanage

"I am an olive addict :o/ I eat between 10 and 20 unadulterated green olives a day. my faves are de-stoned preseved in sunflower oil, i wash the oil off with hot water and eat them warm, usually with bread & butter (never on their own)
sooooo relieved to find this article and to learn that it's not just me with the problem!!!!"

"One morning I woke up at a friend's house with a hangover, and the only thing she had in the fridge apart from beer was a bowl of lightly crushed black olives, swimming in a marinade of olive oil, garlic, oregano and pepper. I started off gingerly dunking bread in the oil, and ended up finishing off the last olive before anybody else even woke up - complete conversion from phobe to phile in 15 minutes flat..."

"My daughter must be the exception. She has been eating olives, black and green since she was 2 years old. She definitely prefers the green ones, and now at 3 and a half, has been known to eat 7 straight, one after another and still want more!!!!!"

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20 Jul 2017
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