White olives known as leucocarpa, or leucolea, is a rare variety of olive tree, mainly found in the south of Italy, in the region historically known as “Magna Graecia,” or Greater Greece.
Derived from the Greek words for white (leucos), olive (elaea), and fruit (carpos), the leucocarpa, or leucolea, olive is primarily characterized by its small shape. During the process of ripening, the fruits take on a delicate ivory or pearly-white color.
Experts claim that this particular fruit was most likely first introduced to the south of Italy during the years of Greek colonization of the Italian peninsula and Sicily.
Magna Graecia and Greek colonization of Italy
There are two minority Greek languages officially recognized in Italy’s south. Greko and Griko — both spoken by the “Calabrian Greeks” — are timeless testaments to the ancient Greeks’ colonization of southern Italy in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., some 2,700 years ago.
Nowadays, both languages find themselves on the brink of extinction, and Calabrian Greeks, who are the last living trace of the Greek population who once formed “Magna Graecia” in ancient times, are trying to preserve their language.
A brief history lesson reminds us that Greek was in fact the dominant language and cultural influence throughout a large portion of Italy, including modern-day Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia, and eastern Sicily up until the 14th century.
The incredible white olives known as leucolea, or leucocarpa
This unique white olive tree is part of the broader family of olives, known to the scientific world as ”olea Europea,” which means “European olive.”
Southern Italy is not the only place where this ancient olive is produced, but this region is the main area of production for Leucocarpa olives in modern times.
Similar white olives are found in Greece today, but they are quite rare. They can also be spotted in some areas along the Mediterranean coasts of northern Africa and all the way west to the Atlantic shores of Portugal.
However, the Leucocarpa olive is mostly known by different local names, and its products are not exported in an organized and systematic way.
The Leucocarpa was traditionally used in past centuries by the communities of the Mediterranean and mainly for religious purposes since its white color became synonymous with purity.
There is evidence that even the Christian churches of the region were known to use the special olive oil produced from this variety to anoint emperors and kings, for example.
Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, the Leucocarpa was propagated less and less over the years, and its olives and oils are now rare products, but its delicate beauty is truly astounding.
Anyone interested in seeing how this ancient olive or the olive oil produced by this olive tastes will have to be extremely persistent since these products are not available in most supermarkets.
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