You’re familiar with the green olives that bob in a martini and the shiny black olives you see on pizza. But don’t pass up a chance to try Kalamata olives. These wrinkly, dark fruits — yes, the olive is a fruit — can enhance recipes, as well as serve up a host of nutty-flavored nutritional benefits.
Real Kalamata olives are only found on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece. Growing under the Grecian sunshine, Kalamata trees have much larger leaves than other types of olive trees and absorb more sunshine. This gives their dark purple fruit a dense texture and a flavor some compare to fine wine.
They’re more bitter than the canned black olives most Americans are familiar with, but they’re brined in water, salt, and red wine vinegar, which mellows their bitter bite and softens the flesh. The vinegar also enhances the olives’ already winey flavor.
The earliest cultivation of olive trees was probably over five thousand years ago. The olive’s native habitat is the western Mediterranean and in the Middle East. Both the Quran and the Bible mention olive trees, and some olive trees standing today are older than those texts. Carbon dating has shown that an olive tree in Crete is over 2,000 years old.
Are Kalamata Olives Good for You?
Olives are a good nutrient source. And though Kalamata olives are usually packed in brine, you can buy low-salt versions if you want to lower the amount of sodium you’re taking in.
As you might guess, Kalamata olives are abundant in the same healthy fat found in olive oil. Monounsaturated fats may reduce your cholesterol and your chance of heart attack and stroke, according to Harvard Medical School. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that two tablespoons of olives contain about 1.5 grams of monounsaturated fat.
The nutrition in olives adds up. A serving of about 20 olives, which you might enjoy in an olive-rich recipe like a tapenade, provides nearly 10 percent of your daily recommended intake of iron.
Kalamata olives are also a source of calcium. Getting enough calcium keeps bones strong and can encourage sleep. Your body absorbs calcium best when you also consume potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C. Try combining sliced Kalamata olives with tomatoes and kale and serving with pasta or quinoa.
Kalamata olives contain small amounts of vitamin A, which supports eye and skin health. Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the developing world. Getting too much vitamin A can cause liver damage, so food sources offer a welcome alternative to taking a vitamin A supplement.
Just six olives contain half as much fiber as a raw orange. That means you can enjoy olives as part of a meal that otherwise wouldn’t provide much roughage. Try Kalamata olives with feta cheese on a homemade Greek-style pizza, or add them to a savory plantain recipe like pastelón.
These olives can be a very nutritious part of a balanced diet, but you might not want to overdo your intake if you’re trying to lose weight. Three to five Kalamata olives have around 45 calories. Luckily, you don’t need many to add great flavor to any meal.