There are hundreds of olive varieties in the world, but a few reign supreme. The Picual olive is such an olive. Grown primarily in Spain – and increasingly in other places around the world, like California and Portugal – the Picual produces a whopping 30% of the world’s olive oil. How did this olive reach such an exalted status? We’ll explore the world’s most prolific olive here.
For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to live in the Mediterranean, the olive can seem like something of a mystery. We’re used to seeing them soaking in brine at the grocery store or drizzled atop bread in olive oil form. Of course, they underwent quite the process to get to us.
First of all, here’s a potentially surprising fact: There is no difference in the origin of green olives and black olives. The only difference is the ripeness. When olives are unripe, they are green. When they are fully ripe, they are black.
As green olives have a natural bitterness, they need to be cured before they can be eaten. Olives are cured by oil-curing, brining, dry-curing, and more. Curing is a preservation and flavoring process that adds salt to draw moisture outside of the food.
Keep in mind that the olives that go into oil are not cured. This is where good extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) get their telltale peppery, slightly bitter taste. Olive oils that are very spicy and peppery were harvested early, when they were green. Sweeter olive oils were made from olives harvested later in the season.
What types of olive are used for olive oil?
There are hundreds of different olive varieties (also known as “cultivars”) that are grown around the world. According to Eataly, there are at least 400 known varieties just in Italy. There are more than 262 different cultivars grown in Spain.
The cultivar affects the olive’s shape, color, and flavor. Olive oils are either a blend or monovarietal (also called monocultivar), which means they were made from a single olive cultivar. As with wine, however, it’s not just about the fruit itself. The taste of the olive, and the eventual olive oil, depends upon the cultivation, the harvesting, and the terroir in which it’s grown.
Over time, a few cultivars have risen to the forefront thanks to their wonderful properties for making olive oil. The most popular is the Picual olive, which originally comes from Spain. Here’s what makes the Picual olive so special.
What is a Picual olive?
Picual olives are the most common variety in Spain, the country that produces the greatest supply of the world’s olive oil.
The word “picual” refers to the shape of the olive, which comes to a pointed tip. According to Olive Oils from Spain, there are approximately 900,000 hectares producing Picual olives in Spain, primarily in Jaén, Córdoba, and Granada. The tree has spread to other areas in the country, like Castilla-La Mancha, and other parts of the world, like California, Morocco, and Australia.
Why is the Picual olive so special?
- The size
This medium-to-large olive weighs about 2.1 to 3.7 grams, with the average at about 3.2 grams. It has a high oil content, sometimes reaching 27%, which means producers get more bang for their buck.
- The nutrients
As told by Olive Oil from Spain, “The excellence of the oil it produces is due to the fatty acid content and the antioxidants. It usually contains 80% monounsaturated oleic acid, an important factor in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, and only 4% linoleic acid, which is detrimental in excess.”
According to Dr. William Li, M.D., internal medicine physician and author of Eat to Beat Disease, monovarietal olive oils made from olives like the Picual are a great way to take in more polyphenols.
Polyphenols are believed to have a variety of health benefits. Research shows that they help reduce morbidity and slow the development of neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Some of the polyphenols found in extra virgin olive oil are oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and oleocanthal.
- The stability
The Picual olive is also popular because it has a high stability, which means it has a high resistance to oxidation. As such, it works well for preserving raw and cooked foods.
- The flavor!
It’s not just about function – Picual olives also have wonderful flavor. They are a full-bodied olive, with a fruity flavor, a light peppery taste, and a little bitterness. Some say the olive has a green flavor of tomato leaf, green herbs, and cut grass.
When these olives are grown in lowlands, they tend to have a slightly bitter taste, a fuller body, and a bit of wood. When grown in the mountains, they are often sweeter and fresher tasting.
What are the best olive oils made with Picual olives?
There are many award-winning olive oils made from only Picual olives or a blend. In fact, at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, Picual olives often take home the most awards each year. Here are a few award-winning olive oils made with Picual olives.
The best Spanish olive oil made with Picual olives
There are a few municipalities that make PDO olive oil using Picual olives: Priego de Córdoba, Sierra de Segura, and Sierra Mágina. That said, some of the best Picual olive oils in Spain come from other parts of the country.
- The Hispasur Gold is an award-winning olive oil from Priego de Córdoba. This medium monovarietal starts sweet, then finishes with the bitterness that Picual olive oils are known for. Some of the tasting notes are herbs, fig leaf, bitter almond, and spice.
- Campos de Sanaa by Sustento Global SL from Andalusia is a particularly interesting Picual olive oil. It’s made from olives that were harvested in October – early on in the season – so it has a robust, spicy flavor. The tasting notes include radish, pink pepper, green tea, and chicory.
- The Montsagre Picual from Catalonia is an organic, medium, monovarietal olive oil. It’s an intense oil that’s fruity without feeling acidic. As it is harvested early, there is a spicy, slightly bitter touch, as well as flavors of green fruit, grass, herbs, arugula, and green tomato.
- The Oleocampo Premium by Oleocampo, S.C.A. is a monovarietal from Jaén. It has a greenish tone and fresh, fruity scent. The tasting notes are artichoke, arugula, fig leaf, and olive leaf. It has a distinctive, bitter aftertaste.
Picual Olive Oils Outside of Spain
Picual olives are now being grown outside of Spain. Here are a few Picual olive oils made elsewhere in the world that have won gold or silver at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
- The Grumpy Goats Farm Picual is an award-winning olive oil produced in Yolo County, California. It’s a pungent oil with a green fruit flavor. The tasting notes are green herbs, cut grass, tomato leaf, and a black pepper finish. The fertile soil and Mediterranean climate in this part of California provide an ideal habitat for Picual olives to grow.
- The Monterosa Picual is a medium, monovarietal oil made from hand-picked Picual olives grown in Eastern Algarve, Portugal. This is a balanced oil that’s both fruity and peppery, with tasting notes of dry fruit, chili pepper, pink pepper, grass, and artichoke.
- The Zouitina Prestige is produced in Morocco, near the Atlas Mountains, with a blend of Picual, Picholine, and Arbosana olives. Thanks to the elegant blend, this olive oil has a balanced flavor with notes of grass, olive leaf, green fruit, radish, and arugula.
- The Cobram Estate Reserve Picual is from Victoria, Australia. This silver award-winning olive oil is a monovarietal with medium intensity. The Picual olives in this oil were picked at the ideal ripeness and cold-pressed within four hours of harvest.
Food Pairings with Picual Olive Oils
The Picual olive has a lot of personality, which means it can hold up to bold flavors or be used in more subtle recipes to highlight the qualities of the oil. Highlight the Picual olive with one of the following recipes.
- With its flavor of tomato leaf, it’s a natural pairing with tomato dishes. Dress a caprese salad or drizzle on top of a homemade tomato soup.
- Flavor your fresh salads, either on its own or mixed into a citrus vinaigrette.
- Add as an elegant finishing oil over grilled meats.
- Drizzle over french fries or roasted potatoes.
- A dipping oil with crusty bread. Add some high-quality balsamic vinegar (like this Compagnia Del Montale Vigna Bordo Balsamic Vinegar IGP), or serve it on its own with a little sprinkle of salt.