An unusual Greek olive with half the salt content of common varieties
“It looks like a prune—and usually when an olive looks like that it’s because it’s been cured in lots of layers of salt, but the throuba olive is different,” explains Marianna of Oliveology. Indigenous to the Island of Thassos, northern Greece—the only place it can be found, with the variety having been granted PDO (Protected Designated Origin) status—this little black beauty is one of the few olives that can be eaten straight off the tree.
“There’s a misconception that olives are a fresh fruit—they are not,” Marianna continues. “They usually need to be cured for months to remove the bitterness, and there are many methods of doing so: most of our olives are cured in salt water, but a lot of commercial olives are soaked in chemicals.” The throuba olive, meanwhile, is barely treated at all, thanks to a naturally-occurring (and entirely safe) fungus that grows on the tree. “It removes the bitterness, so there is not much work to be done to make the olive palatable.”
Mountain spring water
The olives are left to dry naturally on the tree before being handpicked and processed using a traditional, centuries-old method, which involves washing them in mountain spring water and soaking them in unrefined sea salt. Any liquid that comes off is drained, avoiding the absorption of excess salt and resulting in an intense, rich-flavoured olive, with roughly half the salt content of common varieties.
“The fact it’s processed with minimal salt gives it a delicious bitter-sweet flavour,” says Marianna. “It’s one of my favourite olives, because you can really tell how natural it is and the flavour of the olive itself comes through—I find that commercially produced olives are preserved in way too much salt or vinegar, which overpowers the fruit and is often used to hide faults,” she explains. “While the throuba olives are not our best-selling variety—because most people love salt!—they are certainly the most interesting.”
A unique flavour
You can eat them as a snack, of course (“It’s very easy to grab them; they’re less slippy than other olives!”), and are particularly good when enjoyed with a light, medium-bodied red. Otherwise, use them in the usual olive-friendly dishes and reap the un-salty benefits. “I sometimes use them in Greek salad instead of the kalamata, or I really like them with seafood or fish,” says Marianna. “Generally, I find it a bonus that they aren’t salty because it means they can be paired with salty ingredients that with other olives would be overpowering—they are really lovely with saltier cheese, for example. When you become more familiar with them, you will really start to love their unique flavour.”