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Arbequina: A Little Olive That Could

Posted by Jennifer Thornton on

Indeed Arbequina is the olive variety that seems to have taken over the world! Here at The Olive Tap, we feature Arbequina 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil from various origins throughout the year. So why is Arbequina so popular and just where did it come from? To answer that we travel back to 17th Jerusalem...

Where legend has it that the Duke of Medinacelli discovered an extraordinary tasting olive oil and brought back the seedling plants to the Iberian peninsula, where he was Lord of Arbequa. Arbequa, which today is Arbeca, sits northwest of the coastal city of Tarragona, near the city of Lleida in Catalonia, Spain. Arbequina olive trees proliferated throughout the region, but the massive olive oceans which roll through the Southern hills of Andalucia were filled with Picual trees and this became the dominate variety of Spain.

With the resurgence in artisan olive oil popularity in the 20th century, Arbequina olives and their oil went through a period of rediscovery--so much so that this tree now proliferates most New World olive groves: California, South America, Australia, South Africa, and more. 

What has made this such a popular variety? The tree is compact, hardy, and reaches maturity to produce fruit at a younger age than other varieties. The fruit is small and offers a great oil yield of up to even 25%! This yield is offered early in the harvest period. While most varieties need to mature longer on the trees in order to produce a higher yield, subsequently sacrificing important nutrients, Arbequina can be harvested earlier and retain it's high yield, nutrient rich oil with the ideal flavor characteristics.

This early oil is clean, fresh, and herbal with notes of apple, sweet almond, and artichoke undertones. It is fruity without much bitterness and slight pungency. It's delicate flavor profile make it the perfect everyday olive oil. This variety of oil should be consumed everyday because it's ideal flavor also gives it a more limited shelf life than other olive oils. These olives contain fewer polyphenols than other varieties, thus yielding an oil with little bitterness but also less of a defense against oxidation. It also shows to have a higher content of linoleic acid, a shorter chain omega-6 fatty acid, which simply because it is shorter will break down quicker in the oil than medium and long chain fatty acids.

The tree's small and hardy characteristics make it the perfect variety for high density and super high density planting, especially popular in New World orchards. These New World plantings now give us two annual harvests: October/November in the Northern Hemisphere and May/June in the Southern Hemisphere. This allows for us to carry truly fresh Arbequina 100% Olive Oil all year round.

In homage to Arbequina's classic Catalonian roots, featured is an Allioli recipe perfect for Arbequina's flavor profile. This is not to be confused with aioli, a Provençal specialty which also contains egg yolks, making it more of a garlic mayonnaise. Allioli is sublime and delicious served with meats, fish, vegetables and bread. Californian Arbequina olive oil has found it’s way into both an old California tradition and a new one. The Santa Maria BBQ is a Central Coast tradition with roots to the Spanish settlers, and is perhaps little known in the rest of the country. This tradition always includes grilled bread, which now uses Arbequina to fulfill its’ Spanish/Californian heritage. Perhaps better known is the Olive Oil Sundae, a more recent tradition started in the hills of Marin County. Arbequina’s wonderful fruity flavor make it the ideal olive oil for drizzling over creamy vanilla bean ice cream, with just a sprinkle of sea salt to finish it off. This is a simple recipe that will simply wow your guests, even the most skeptical! If you would like to make a more elaborate dessert, try this recipe for Olive Oil Ice Cream.