Olive wood products are an investment worth protecting. Without proper care, the wood can become dry, cloudy, and will eventually crack. Therefore, it’s important that you take some time to learn how to properly treat your olive wood utensils, bowls, cutting boards, and other products.
Olive wood should be kept clean using a solution of either hydrogen peroxide and water, lemon juice, and salt, or distilled white vinegar. Avoid using soap, as soap can dry out the wood. If your olive wood utensils ever become dry, apply a coat of oil to restore its lacking shine. Finally, never let olive wood soak in water.
This guide will help explain everything you need to know about caring for olive wood and what to do if your olive wood products start to deteriorate. We’ll explore the best products and methods for treating your wood and explain how to keep it clean.
What Makes Olive Wood So Special?
As you can probably guess, olive wood comes from the olive tree—a species of sub-tropical evergreen tree most famous for sprouting olives. Olive trees grow across the Mediterranean, including the Middle East, Southern Europe, and even Northern Africa.
Olive trees are short, with twisted, gnarly-looking branches that rarely grow taller than 25 ft. tall. At first glance, you may confuse an olive tree for an oversized bush, however, their dark brown bark, soft green leaves, and ubiquitous savory fruit set them apart from smaller, bushier plants. Furthermore, olive trees live incredibly long lives.
Some olive trees have lived as long as 1,500 years, making them far older than any living animal. With so much time to grow, olive wood hardens and condenses into a thick, twisty wood, unlike anything else. It’s amber in color with streaks of rippled brown and creamy yellow. You can hardly even see the growth rings as they become densely packed after hundreds and hundreds of years.
If not treated correctly, olive wood can dry out and crack and samples taken from smaller branches tend to warp over time. This is particularly troublesome since olive wood isn’t very common. Olive trees are generally small, twisted, and take years to reach full size, meaning the annual olive wood harvest is relatively small and expensive.
Nonetheless, olive wood is hard and durable, though it’s susceptible to environmental conditions and is a common target for termites and other pests. Most commonly, olive wood is used to make small furniture, bowls, cutting boards, eating utensils, boxes, carvings, and other pieces of decorative adornments.
Can You Serve Food on Olive Wood?
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Although environmental conditions can affect olive wood, it’s surprisingly well suited for serving food. Olive wood is quite durable thanks to its hard and dense composition, making it naturally stain-resistant and anti-bacterial. Therefore, as long as you properly clean and treat olive wood, it’s perfectly safe to use with food.
In fact, we can trace olive wood back thousands of years to Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia. As far back as 2,500 BC, people were using olive wood to create bowls, plates, and other utensils. If it was good enough for our ancient ancestors, it’s certainly good enough for us today.
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Is Olive Wood Good for a Cutting Board?
Olive wood is one of the best materials you can use to make a cutting board with. Its dense and durable composition allows it to stand up to knife blades without scratching like pine or other cheap woods. Additionally, its high density keeps meat juices from seeping into its pores. Whereas other woods can cause cross-contamination, olive wood stays clean without much difficulty.
Most olive wood cutting boards are expensive but are crafted using a single plank of well-marbled olive wood. Use these cutting boards to present food, like a charcuterie board, or bring them out for special events like dinner parties and holidays. Your friends will marvel at the quality of the wood and appreciate your attention to detail.
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How to Wash Olive Wood After Everyday Use
Although olive wood is naturally anti-bacterial, you should always wash it after everyday use. Spray the wood with warm water and gently apply a mild detergent to clear away any food particles. Rinse the detergent away and allow the wood to dry completely before using it again.
Never place olive wood products in a dishwasher. Olive wood is not dishwasher safe as the intense heat of the dishwasher can warp and damage the wood. Additionally, never leave olive wood products to soak in water for extended periods. The wood will begin to swell, causing the grain to raise and the wood to crack.
If your olive wood utensils ever become stained, you can quickly remove the stains by gently rubbing the wood with fine-grained sandpaper. Stains won’t penetrate deep into the wood and you can repolish the damaged area after rubbing away the stain.
Do You Need to Oil Olive Wood?
As with most wood products, you should apply a thin coat of oil to your olive wood utensils to keep them healthy. Oiling the wood fills in its pores, keeping it protected, moisturized, and supple. As the oil absorbs into the wood, it oxidizes and hardens to become a part of the wood. This creates a non-greasy finish that protects the wood from water, stains, dust, and other contaminants.
If you forget to oil your olive wood utensils, they will eventually dry out and crack. Before they reach this point, though, you’ll notice the wood become dull and hazy. It may take on a dusty whitish appearance, signaling that it needs conditioning. Take the time to treat your wood before it reaches this point, and your olive wood utensils should last for years to come.
What is the Best Oil for Olive Wood?
Olive wood should be regularly conditioned with oil if you want it to last. That being said, not all oils work as well as others. To help you get the most life out of your olive wood products, we’ve compiled a list of some commonly used oils and appraised how well they work as olive wood conditioners.
1) Olive oil – When you think of olives, you probably think of olive oil. Many websites recommend olive oil for conditioning olive wood but it’s not the best choice. Olive oil and other common cooking oils can go bad over time, causing your olive wood to take on a foul, rancid aroma. If you use olive oil, make sure it is fresh and be wary of dark, sticky residues.
2) Beeswax – Beeswax is a thick, sticky substance naturally made by bees to create a honeycomb. It’s commonly used to condition olive wood cutting boards and leaves the wood shiny, varnished, and well hydrated. Beeswax is thicker than oil, meaning you don’t have to use it as much, but it is not a vegan-friendly product. If you are vegan, do not use beeswax.
3) Refracted coconut oil – Coconut oil has become a hot topic in recent years for its health and beauty benefits. It’s also an ideal oil for conditioning olive wood. Standard coconut oil is rich in saturated fats that will eventually go bad, though, so always be careful to use refracted coconut oil. Refraction is the process of steam distilling the oil, removing excess saturated fat. It is shelf-stable and wood-safe.
4) Food-grade mineral oil – Also known as liquid paraffin, mineral oil is a non-toxic anti-drying product made from petroleum. It’s completely odorless, colorless, and won’t affect the flavor of your food. Mineral oils prevent olive wood from absorbing moisture, thus extending the life of your products. Not all mineral oils are food safe, though, so be careful to read the label before buying a product.
5) Carnauba – Carnauba is another common wax made from the leaves of a Brazilian palm tree. Since it comes from Brazil, Carnauba is also sometimes called Brazilian wax or the Queen of All Waxes. Carnauba leaves a beautiful glossy varnish and is highly water-resistant, making it popular with automobile detailers, cosmeticians, woodworkers, and even dentists. Many commercial wood polishes include a mixture of carnauba, liquid paraffin, and beeswax.
We do not recommend using standard wood polish to treat your olive wood products. Most commercial wood polishes are toxic and will contaminate your foods. If you have consumed wood polish, contact poison control immediately and explain the situation.
How Do You Condition Olive Wood?
Conditioning olive wood might sound like a daunting task but it’s surprisingly easy and will only take a few minutes. Start by gathering the appropriate supplies and then follow these quick steps:
1) Find a lint-free cloth or a small kitchen towel. Avoid using anything abrasive, such as a sponge or steel wool. These materials can scratch your olive wood and invite bacteria into the gauges.
2) Apply a small amount of oil or wax to the cloth or towel.
3) Gently rub the oil or wax into the wood using small circular motions.
4) Continue to apply more oil or wax to your cloth as needed until the entire surface of the wood is covered in a thin layer of conditioner.
5) Allow the wood to sit for at least 12 hours.
6) If any oil or wax remains on the wood, wipe it away with a clean cloth or towel.
Avoid over-oiling your olive wood. You only need a thin coat of conditioner to restore the wood to pristine condition. If you over oil the wood, it can feel slick and greasy, making it hard to hold and use. Furthermore, don’t use the utensil until the oil has absorbed into the wood.
What to do if You Haven’t Used Your Olive Wood Products in a While
The biggest risk of using olive wood products after a long time is that dust, dirt, pests, or bacteria may have penetrated into the wood. Even if it doesn’t look hazy or dried out, it could be contaminated. Therefore, you’ll want to sanitize your olive wood products after letting them sit for more than a month or two.
Follow these steps to sanitize your olive wood utensils:
1) Make a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide and water.
2) Gently rub the solution into your olive wood products.
3) Let sit for 5 minutes and then rinse the olive wood clean.
4) If there are any visible stains, combine lemon juice with sugar and rub the mixture against the wood.
5) Wash away the sugar and lemon juice using a gentle detergent.
6) Alternatively, you can use distilled white vinegar to clean olive wood.
7) Allow the wood to dry completely and then condition it using the method shown above.
Avoid using overly acidic products, such as commercial cleaners, as these products can damage olive wood and leave nasty stains.
What to do if Your Olive Wood Begins to Smell
Part of the appeal of olive wood is its naturally sweet and bright scent. However, after prolonged use, the wood can begin to smell if it’s not properly cleaned. If your olive wood products start to smell rancid from bad oil, you can neutralize the scent by applying a mixture of baking soda and water to the wood.
Let the mixture sit for at least 30 minutes and then wash it away. If the rancid scent lingers, squeeze the juice of one lemon onto the wood and gently massage it into the utensils. Wash the juice away and let the wood dry completely.
Olive wood is a centuries-old delight that makes a wonderful addition to any home or kitchen. Keeping your olive wood clean and well-conditioned will help it last for years to come. Always wash it by hand using gentle detergents and keep it well-oiled with food-safe products. If you go without using it for too long, sanitize your olive wood before eating from it.