There is generally a widespread confusion on the question of the number of different varieties of Greek olives. A quick search on the internet is certain to show this. Some websites claim that there are over a hundred, whereas some others claim there are only three.
After a fair bit of research I have come to the conclusion that there is not one definite answer to this question, the problem being accentuated due to the fact that many olive cultivars come under many different names some of them pertaining to the way a local population calls them. However, if one takes into account the most widely used methods of classification and the importance a cultivar has in the agricultural production of the country, then the main (not all) varieties for Greece are about 8 or 9.
I will briefly discuss below some of these varieties with a focus on the ones that are important at Isle of Olive since they are olive varieties that are used in the products we have on offer and briefly mention some of the remaining ones.
1) Kalamon olive, also known as Kalamata olive (Olea europaea var. ceraticarpa calamata)
REGION: Messinia, Lakonia & Lamia (mainly)
USE: Dual purpose (olive oil & table olives)
So starting with the olive variety that is most widely known outside of Greece and enjoying a status of one of the tastiest table olives. These take their name from the region of Kalamata in south-east Peloponnese where they originated. They are harvested when the fruit has undergone full colour change, between late November and January. This is an almond shaped olive with a colour that varies from deep purple to black. They have a firm and meaty flesh and their taste is rich and fruity. The Kalamon olives are collected when mature on the tree, ideally hand picked to avoid bruising. The usual process of preparation involves them being incised to allow the marinade to penetrate the flesh and then cured in brine before being steeped in wine vinegar which gives them a unique taste.
One thing to note is that the Kalamon olives enjoy a PDO status meaning that only those that come from the region around Kalamata can be called under this name. However this olive variety is grown in other regions of Greece (as well as outside of Greece) however the olives originating from these other regions should properly be called Kalamon-style olives. I think that specifically with these olives and exactly because of their popularity, many that are sold as Kalamatas are not really such, so be careful about what you are getting when you ask for them.
2) Chalkidiki olive, also spelled as Halkidiki
USE: Table olives
These are green olives that take their name from the region of Chalkidiki of central Macedonia, Greece (the birthplace of Aristotle). They are harvested when young, so beginning in mid September and finished no later than end of October. This is an elongated and slightly asymmetric shaped olive with a pointed apex. Due to the fact that they are collected when young and immature, they need to go through a process of curing to remove the bitterness and make them softer, ready for consumption. There are a few different methods that can be applied, one of them involves being treated with caustic soda (lye) and after being thoroughly cleaned, placed in a brine solution for fermentation and another involves them being cured in a brine solution with both citric and ascorbic acid in a fermentation procedure that takes around 3 months. This results in a taste that is briny and pleasantly sour with a firm textured meat. The colour can range from bright to pale green and as for their size, it can generally vary but in general they come in fairly big sizes, hence the reason why they are also known as donkey olives (Gaidourolia). The fact that they have a firm skin and come in big sizes is the reason why this is the most common Greek variety that you can find stuffed with ingredients such as garlic, almonds or red peppers. Oh, and finally, very recently (05/2012) the Chalkidiki olives have also obtained PDO status.
3) Konservolia, or sometimes spelled Conservolea (Olea europaea var. med. rotunda)
REGION: Amfissa, Volos, Agrinio, Atalanti and many more
USE: Dual purpose (olive oil & table olives)
If you made the assumption that Kalamata olives are the most popular table olive to be consumed inside Greece, then think again. It is the Konservolia that proves the most popular with Greeks, maybe because it is cultivated in so many different regions such as Amfissa, Agrinio, Volos and Epirus). It is estimated that roughly 70% of olives cultivated in Greece are of that type. The Konservolia from Amfissa which is grown in the plain of Amfissa near Delphi, in the central mainland of Greece and which enjoys a PDO status is probably the most famous table olive of the Konservolia family. These olives are spherical and even though they can be harvested green, they most commonly come as black with the colours varying widely from light purple, to brownish to very dark purple or black. The olive is meaty with a soft flesh and a mellow flavour which is pleasurably sweet. It is worth mentioning that the Konservolia from Amfissa can also come as black wrinkly olives. These are only picked from the tree when really mature and then treated with salt which is eventually washed off and the olives preserved in oil. The black wrinkly Amfissas are meaty with an intense aftertaste and a very popular choice in our deli..
4) Koroneiki (Olea europaea var. microcarpa alba)
REGION: Peloponnese, Zakinthos, Crete & Samos
USE: Olive oil
This olive variety gets its name from the town of Koroni in Messinia and is a very important variety to Greek agriculture as most (60%) of the olive oil coming from Greece comes from this variety which is ranked as one of the world’s best in terms of taste and health benefits. Koroneiki has been grown in Greece for more that 3000 years. The Koroneiki tree gives a high fruit yield, but the actual fruit is relatively small in size. The olives should ideally be harvested when young (green colour) so that the best quality olive oil can be obtained (“early picked” or Αγουρέλαιο). Studies show that Koroneiki olive oil has a high concentration of polyphenols, a natural antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease. The olive oil has a golden-green colour and a taste that is mild, fruity and fresh. Our Crete Importers and Kalamata PDO olive oils in our deli come from this variety.
5) Ladolia or Kutsurelia (Olea europaea var. mastoides or microphylla)
USE: Olive Oil
The fruit of this cultivar is spherical and has a characteristic mastoid protuberance. The fruit matures from November onwards and this is considered a good cultivar for olive oil production. The olive oil has a light yellow-golden colour and a taste that is more grassy and herbal compared to the Koroneiki variety. Our All Organic Greek Garden olive oil from the Manoussakis estate comes from this cultivar.
6) Thasitiki, Thassou, Throumba or Throuymbolia
USE: Dual purpose
A cultivar grown specifically in the island of Thassos in northern Greece. The most widely known mature black wrinkly table olives called ‘Throumbes’ come from this variety.
References: (1) ‘Olives’ Volume 18 of Crop Production Science in Horticulture CAB books by Ioannis Therios. CABI, 2009
(2) World Catalogue of Olive Varieties, International Olive Council,