Only a small proportion of the olive harvest is processed as table olives, and around 70 per cent of these are consumed by those living around the Mediterranean Sea and in Middle Eastern countries.
Olives intended for preserving and table use (or use in cookery) are harvested at various stages of ripeness with very different results in texture and flavour.
Unripe olives are green, very bitter, and with firm flesh. Their flesh is often cracked, by a gentle blow with a mallet, to allow water and marinades to penetrate. As the olives ripen they become oilier, and their colour changes from green to purple. Fully ripe, black olives are oilier still, soft in texture, and relatively free of bitterness.