Among the many varieties of delicious table olives, the kalamata olive stands out for its uniquely fruity, tangy flavor and notable health benefits. Named after the city of Kalamata in southern Greece where they originate, kalamata olives have gained popularity around the world.
In this blog, we’ll unravel why kalamata olives taste so different than other olives, what nutrition they provide, how to eat them, and their possible downsides. Read on to become a kalamata olive aficionado.
What are Kalamata Olives?
Kalamata olives are a Greek olive variety that derives its name from the port city of Kalamata in the Messenia region of the Peloponnese peninsula. The area’s warm climate and fertile soil have been ideal for olive cultivation since ancient times.
These olives thrive well today in the groves of southern Greece and make up about 40% of the nation’s total olive crop. Beyond Greece, kalamata olive trees are also grown in regions with similarly hot, dry conditions like California and South Australia.
Kalamatas are designated a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) product in the European Union, meaning only olives grown in the specified southern Greek regions can be labeled as true kalamatas.
These olives are harvested in late fall and typically processed by the method of natural curing and fermentation. Their trademark dark purple-black skins develop via oxidation of the natural plant pigment anthocyanin.
What Sets Kalamata Olives Apart?
Several key attributes distinguish kalamatas from other popular table olive varieties like manzanilla, nicoise, and ligurian:
- Shape and Size – Kalamata olives are oval to egg-shaped, with a rounded pointed tip on one end. They are medium-sized for olives, generally between 1 – 1 1⁄2 inches long.
- Flesh – The flesh or meat of kalamata olives is smooth and firm, not overly meaty but not too mushy. When eaten, they have a notably juicy, briny texture.
- Flavor – The rich flavor of kalamata olives has subtle fruity notes, like figs, berries, and red wine. A pleasant tanginess comes from their natural fermentation. They taste robustly olive-y without being too salty or bitter.
- Color – Fully ripened kalamatas are deep reddish-purple to black. Green kalamatas are also sometimes harvested before full pigmentation develops.
- Pit – The inner stone or pit tends to be quite large in proportion to the olive flesh. The pits are oval like the olives.
- Uses – Kalamatas are most popular as a table olive enjoyed by itself. Their rich flavor also makes them ideal for olive spreads, tapenades, sauces, pastas, pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and cheeses.
Compared to milder, less complex green olives, kalamatas provide a more intense, nuanced eating experience that makes them a favorite for olive connoisseurs.
Nutritional Profile – Why Kalamata Olives are Good for You
Like all olives, kalamatas derive most of their calories from heart-healthy unsaturated plant fats primarily in the form of oleic acid. Here is how 3.5 ounces or 100 grams of kalamata olives measure up nutrition-wise:
- Calories – 115
- Fat – 12 grams
- Carbs – 4 grams
- Protein – 1 gram
- Vitamin E – 11% RDA
- Iron – 10% RDA
- Copper – 18% RDA
- Calcium – 5% RDA
- Sodium – 740 milligrams
Beneficial Plant Compounds
Kalamatas also contain beneficial bioactive plant compounds like:
- Hydroxytyrosol – A polyphenol with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that may protect blood vessels and heart health.
- Oleuropein – A polyphenol linked to improved artery function and lower LDL cholesterol. It also has antimicrobial properties.
- Anthocyanins – Pigments with antioxidant effects that may help combat oxidative stress.
- Phytosterols – Plant forms of cholesterol linked to lowered LDL cholesterol absorption.
As a minimally processed whole fruit, kalamata olives provide more nutrition and healthful compounds than heavily refined oils.
6 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Kalamata Olives
Research suggests kalamata olives may provide these wellness advantages:
1. Heart Protection – Studies show olives positively impact heart disease risk factors like inflammation, blood pressure, and cholesterol. The oleic acid, polyphenols, and antioxidants in kalamatas appear protective for heart health.
2. Cancer Prevention – Nutrients in olives like oleic acid, vitamin E, and squalene demonstrate anti-cancer benefits in research. Kalamata olive extracts suppressed growth and spread of breast cancer cells in one lab study.
3. Diabetes Aid – The polyphenols in olives may help regulate blood sugar in people with diabetes. Human studies found olive leaf extracts improved insulin sensitivity and reduced hemoglobin A1C levels.
4. Brain Health – Oleuropein from olives boosts production of proteins involved in eliminating beta-amyloid plaques implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. The antioxidant effects of olives also benefit the brain.
5. Anti-aging – Nutrients like vitamin E, polyphenols, and squalene in olives act as antioxidants that counteract skin-aging free radicals and inflammation.
6. Digestive wellness – Fermented olives like kalamatas contain probiotic bacteria that support digestive health. The fiber in olives also promotes regularity and gut microbiome balance.
While more research is still needed, the many healthful compounds in kalamata olives show promise for warding off chronic diseases and optimizing wellness.
Selecting the Best Kalamata Olives
You can find kalamata olives at well-stocked supermarkets, gourmet stores, and online retailers. When shopping, look for:
- Authentically Greek canned or jarred kalamatas for the best flavor, though other regions produce similar styles.
- Labels noting “Kalamata olive PGI” for genuine Greek origin guaranteed.
- Olives packed in olive oil, broth or vinegar rather than lower quality seed oils.
- Cans or jars without significant dents, damage, or broken seals – signs of compromised quality.
- “Best by” dates as far in the future as possible for maximum freshness.
- Dark purple-black color of ripe olives. Avoid faded or dull looking olives.
- Firm, plump texture indicating intact olive meat when you open and inspect contents.
Buying quality kalamata olives ensures you can enjoy their signature flavor and nutritional benefits.
Serving Ideas – Simple Ways to Eat Kalamata Olives
Kalamatas truly shine when enjoyed raw by themselves or incorporated into recipes. Here are easy serving suggestions:
- Add whole pitted kalamatas to green salads, grain bowls, pasta salads, and cheese plates for tasty pops of flavor.
- Stuff pitted olives with soft cheese like goat cheese or cream cheese for quick appetizers.
- Skewer alternating olives, cheese cubes, and bite-size vegetables for party picks.
- Mix chopped or halved kalamatas into tuna or chicken salad for added flavor.
- Use small amounts of chopped olives to top pizzas, focaccia, pastas, and flatbreads just before serving.
- Pair kalamatas with cheeses like feta, manchego, parmesan, and sharp cheddar that complement their flavor.
- Make quick olive tapenade for bruschetta or crostini by pulsing kalamatas, olive oil, garlic, and herbs in a food processor.
- Add kalamata olive slices to sandwiches and panini for a Mediterranean twist.
Always remove pits from whole olives for safety, especially when serving to children who can choke on them. Enjoy kalamata olives most often raw or with only light cooking to retain nutrients.
Potential Downsides of Kalamata Olive Consumption
Kalamata olives offer many benefits when enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. However, some potential drawbacks to consider include:
- High Sodium – Like most cured olives, kalamatas are high in sodium from the brining process. Those with hypertension or on salt-restricted diets should limit intake.
- Allergies and Sensitivities – Olives contain natural chemicals like oleuropein that may cause reactions in people allergic to olive pollen. Stop eating them if any itching or swelling occurs.
- Acid Reflux and GERD – The high acid content of pickled olives can trigger reflux symptoms in those with gastrointestinal conditions.
- Pesticide Residues – Non-organic olives may contain traces of pesticides used in commercial growing. Choose organic when possible.
- Oxalates – Olives contain oxalate compounds that can contribute to kidney stone development in prone individuals.
- Drug Interactions – Very high olive oil intake may inhibit absorption of some medications. Check with your pharmacist about possible interactions with any prescription drugs you take.
Enjoy kalamata olives in moderation as part of a healthy, high-fiber Mediterranean style diet for the best results. Those on restricted diets or with medical conditions should check with their healthcare provider about any concerns with olive consumption.
Discover the Tradition and Flavor of Kalamata Olives
Kalamata olives are beloved for their intense fruity flavor, smooth juicy texture when eaten, and culinary versatility. Grown in the rich soil of southern Greece for thousands of years, these antioxidant-packed olives are now savored globally as a delicious table olive and nutritious ingredient.
Savor kalamatas on their own as a snack, in salads, on pizzas, mixed into dips, paired with cheese, or incorporated into Mediterranean cuisine. Their many polyphenols, beneficial fats and other nutrients will add flavor and wellness to your diet. Just enjoy them in moderation if you need to control sodium intake.
Now that you’re a kalamata olive expert, branch out and try some of the many other enticing olive varieties from around the world. Olives are a true taste of the Mediterranean.