Java Olive

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Java olive the name given to the seeds of Sterculia foetida, a tall tree common from Africa through India and SE Asia to Australia. The tree is called ‘fetid’ because of the smell of its flowers. The seeds themselves smell and taste pleasant, although they are only safe to eat after being fried or roasted. They are the size and shape of olives, dark brown, and borne in a big, red, flat pod with lobes arranged like the blades of a propeller.

S. foetida is the commonest tree of its genus throughout the region, but there are others. In Latin America, S. chicha has seeds which are used as a substitute for cola ‘nuts’ and are also reputed to taste like chocolate—not surprising since these trees belong to the same family as the cola nut and the cacao tree.