Olives of Turkey

Source : Amfora Olive Oil 

Source : Amfora Olive Oil 

Olives have always been a staple in the homes of  Turks since we  have a habit of savory style breakfast tables with lots of olives and cheese. Olive oil is used extensively in cooking, at least in my home. However once I started this research, I was surprised that Turkish people lag behind in olive oil consumption compared to their Mediterranean counterparts. We are in the top 5 of the olive oil producers. We produced 400 thousand tons of table olives and 1 million 300 thousand tons of olive for olive oil production in 2015.  However our annual per capita consumption lingered at 1.6 liters in 2015, while Greece, Spain and Italy consumed 13.3 lt, 10.5 lt and 9.7 lt per capita respectively in 2015. To put those numbers into a perspective, overall world consumption for olive oil was 0.4 lt per capita that same year. 

Olive grooves are classified as traditional low density(<200 trees per hectare), modern medium density (200-500 trees per hectare) or high density (>1200 trees per hectare). In Turkey, the olive producing regions surround the country along the coastal areas and span 35 cities. While the majority of the olives in Aegean and southern Turkey are considered suitable for oil production, the ones in Marmara and Black Sea regions make up the table olives production, especially the highly prized cured black olives for breakfast. According to IOOC (2012), 500 thousand families are responsible for the olive farming in Turkey whereas a cooperative government branch document (2015) mentions 320 thousand families. These families are either a part of cooperative, or they are trying to do their own labeling, or sell theirs to the middle men who eventually sells it to larger production companies. You might have heard the three big cooperatives where they have their own labels of olive products: TARIS, MARMARABIRLIK and GUNEYDOGU BIRLIK. These cooperatives, which, in total, has 14% of the families as their members are responsible for purchasing, processing, stocking and selling the olive and its products for their members. 

With my limited knowledge on olives, I used to classify olives by country "Spanish, Turkish, Greek..." however I learned that it goes deeper than that. For Turkish olives, I found out that there are more than the two I normally see on the labels. Here are the short descriptions (source: IOOC papers): 

Ayvalik -  Second most important variety in Turkey, covering 25% of the olive acreage on Aegean Sea region. It has high productivity, is hardy type with high olive oil content (24%). Due to the high quality of olive, it is claimed to be one of the most promising cultivars of Turkey. Other than oil production, it is also used for split green olives and black olives. 

Cekiste - This hardy type originates from Odemis region in Izmir. Productivity is high and constant. It is suitable type for split green olives but with its 26% oil content, it is a good cultivar for dual purpose. It is resistant to low rainfall levels and cold climate. 

Celebi - This one makes up 5% of the Marmara Region olives and originates from Lake Iznik area. It is harvested mainly for table olive with its 20% oil content and small fruits. 

Domat - This type can be found across Aegean region with its high and constant productivity however it is not very hardy. It has large fruit and considered suitable for green olives with stuffing. 

Erkence - This is a very vigorous and large variety In Aegean region. It has medium production capacity and high (25%) oil yield. This is used primarily for olive oil but not considered as high quality oil as Ayvalik, Memecik or Memeli. It has low removal force, natural fruit drops occur, making it easier for hand picking. 

Gemlik - With its very high oil content (29%) , glossy black color and good taste and texture, this type serves the dual purpose of table olives and olive oil. Its productivity is high and constant. 

Izmir Sofralik - This variety is found in old olive orchards located in monoculture areas of Izmir. Due to low productivity and soft nature of its fruit which makes it prone to damage during transport and handling, it is declining. 

Memecik - This high oil yield, hardy type is very adaptable to different climate and soil conditions. It has high and alternate productivity profile. Its green olives  are processed as Spanish-style olives. 

Memeli - This large fruit variety is found widespread around Izmir. It has medium and alternate productivity. Its harvest is used for green olives in brine, split green olives and black olives. After Ayvalik and Memecik, this is considered the 3rd most important variety in Aegean. 

Uslu - This hardy and vigorous type has medium productivity. Its soft fruits makes is prone to damage during transport and handling. 

This is just a handful in the immense world of olives. According the Truth in Olive Oil website, there are more than 700 varieties around the world. There is a lot of tasting to do! 

Ilke McAliley2 Comments