` Are Mission Olives Actually Picholine Marocaine?

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Are Mission Olives Actually Picholine Marocaine?

Oct. 18, 2012
By Liliana Scarafia

Recent News

Mis­sion olives have spread over Cal­i­for­nia since their intro­duc­tion in the late 1700’s to the mis­sions dot­ting El Camino Real. With time they became the pri­mary cul­ti­var for table olives and olive oil, so widely cul­ti­vated that Mis­sion is listed as the only olive cul­ti­var from the United States in the World Cat­a­logue of Olive Vari­eties. The under­stand­ing was that, in spite of its Old World ori­gin, Mis­sion was a dif­fer­ent cul­ti­var that under­went genetic changes in the New World and was unlike any other. How­ever, mod­ern DNA fin­ger­print­ing tech­niques sug­gest oth­er­wise.

In the last decade, olive germplasm banks based in the Mediter­ranean basin (the ances­tral birth­place of the olive) have used DNA tech­niques to char­ac­ter­ize, iden­tify and pre­serve wild and com­mer­cial olive vari­eties. Such work has been used to set­tle con­flict­ing cases of syn­onyms (dif­fer­ent names applied to a sin­gle cul­ti­var at dif­fer­ent loca­tions) or homonyms (the same vari­ety name used for two dif­fer­ent cul­ti­vars). At Agbi­o­lab we use the same fin­ger­print­ing meth­ods to match olive plants that could have been mis­la­beled or misiden­ti­fied.

Thus it was sur­pris­ing that olive sam­ples col­lected from sev­eral Mis­sion olive orchards and from ancient trees shared a DNA fin­ger­print match­ing the one from Picholine Maro­caine. As its name implies, Picholine Maro­caine (not to be con­fused with Picholine from France, or Red­ding Picholine from the USA) is the most com­mon vari­ety in Morocco. It shares agro­nomic and mor­pho­log­i­cal traits with Mis­sion olives, and both are dual pur­pose olive cul­ti­vars that yield good qual­ity oil.

Could this tan­ta­liz­ing genetic find­ing be cor­rob­o­rated by his­tor­i­cal records? Are Mis­sion olives actu­ally Picholine Maro­caine? Why were they cho­sen for the New World mis­sions? We wel­come any con­tri­bu­tion that can shed some light into this conun­drum.

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