Olives – The Best Time to Harvest

strong>How olive maturity affects flavor profile
The main determinants of olive oil flavor are maturity, variety, cleanliness and time to milling. Olives picked a week apart for the same tree can have strikingly different flavor profiles. Like any tree fruit, more mature olives will have more sweet and fruity notes through the development of alcohols, esters and aldehydes. Oil picked from mature fruit can often be consumed immediately without racking. Some varieties such as Mission can produce bland oil if picked too late.

Greener fruit may produce oil with more antioxidants in the form of polyphenols so can have a longer shelf life. Green fruit tends to make a more bitter, peppery oil which takes several months of storage before it is palatable.

Fruit maturation will depend on temperature, sunlight and irrigation. A hot Fall can cause fruit to ripen quickly, resulting in a narrow window for optimum picking. A cool Fall may result in green fruit hanging on the tree well into winter. Some farmers are forced to pick green fruit to hedge against frost damage.

How olive maturity affects oil yield
Generally, the oil content of olives goes up as the fruit grows then plateaus when the fruit has reached its maximum size. Per ton oil yields may go up as the fruit ripens due to dehydration of the olives.

Using the Olive Maturity Index
The maturity index depends on the color of the skin and flesh to assess maturity. Olives are picked from representative trees in a random manner to fill a large container. 100 olives are picked out at random. An olive is picked from the 100 to represent each of the 8 maturity levels below. The rest of the 100 are now compared to the reference olives and sorted accordingly. The number of olives in each group is counted. The olive Maturity index is the sum of the number of olives in each category multiplied by the score, with the sum then divided by 100. The olives in a grove may reach this maturity index sooner or later in the year depending on weather but olives picked year after year at the same maturity index should produce similarly flavored oil.

Source: http://oliveoilsindia.com/Olive-When-to-Pick.htm