For thousands of years, human beings have been harvesting, curing, and eating green olives. They're still one of the most beloved foods in the Mediterranean basin and can be found in the pantries of millions of kitchens around the world.
Packed with nutrients and antioxidants, they make a healthy and delicious addition to any diet. Whether you enjoy them as a snack, in a salad, or as a topping on your favorite pizza, this cured fruit can add flavor and nutrition to your meals.
Let's explore the health benefits of green olives, the various culinary uses, and some frequently asked questions about this amazing fruit.
What are Green Olives?
Green olives are young olives that have not yet ripened to black. If you have the chance try biting into one. But beware, they're incredibly bitter and pungent. Sometimes we find it hard to believe that such a beautiful, tiny food can pack so much flavor and bitterness.
The olive fruit is made up of very thin skin, flesh, and a very hard pit. The flesh is composed of water, oil, and pulp.
Young green fruit is quite hard and when pinched between two fingers it's challenging to squeeze out any oil or pulp. This is because it's underripe. But there's a good reason for this, which we share below.
Green olives are loaded with health benefits, research indicates they can help prevent cancer, Alzheimer's disease, decrease blood pressure, and more! They have more polyphenols and antioxidants compared to more ripe, purple fruit.
Related: The Power of Polyphenols
Types of Green Olives
There are more than 2,000 cultivars of olives in the world. There are some that are better for making oil and others more suited for eating.
Some that are suitable for eating include:
Green table olives are harvested in late summer. Large companies will use tree shakers, to get the fruit off the trees. Smaller companies often use branch shakers. Families looking to process fruit for personal use will pick by hand or use a small old-fashioned tree rake.
In southern Italy, table harvest often takes place in August and is always followed by oil harvest which usually takes place in October.
Farmers harvest green olives early for a few reasons:
- For flavor, the fruit has an incredibly vibrant and bitter flavor that mellows out perfectly during the brining process.
- To keep its shape, young fruit is underripe and therefore really tough. It maintains its shape very well and doesn't fall apart during brining.
- For nutrients, green olives have incredible health benefits. They are full of antioxidants and healthy fats!
Different Types of Products
Brined, cured, baked, fried there's really no limit to what you can do with green olives. And it's this versatility that keeps the food stocked in the household of millions.
Brining is the first step of the curing process. Green olives are cured with salt water and spices. First producers remove the bitterness from the fruit, which must be washed away.
The fruit is then rinsed and left in fresh water for several days. The water is changed several times a day. Then the fruit is left in a brine made of salt water and spices for several weeks to months depending on the personal taste and preference.
When they're removed from the brine they can be rinsed and eaten immediately, used for cooking, stuffed, or stored in jars under oil.
You've probably seen stuffed green olives at your local grocery store or farmer's market. They're often stuffed with blue cheese or anchovies! You can also find them in most bars as a cocktail topper, especially with martinis.
Under Oil (sott'olio)
We call olives stored under oil, sott'olio in Italy. Calabria in particular is famous for making all sorts of foods sott'olio. Green olives are first cured by brining and then stored with spices, such as fennel, under olive oil. The oil really helps to keep the the fruit moist and adds flavor.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Italian EVOO
Influence in Mediterranean Cuisine
Green olives are a staple in Mediterranean cuisine. They're often included in the appetizer, first course, second course, or sides.
In Italian cuisine in particular they're a must have for a proper aperitivo, AKA happy hour. A cocktail or glass of wine is usually served with an assortment of nuts, cheeses, cured meats, and a mix of purple and green olives.
In addition, there are dozens of pasta sauces that call for green olives, one of the most famous being pasta alla puttanesca. They help to create depth and build the perfect sauce.
You can also find them on foods like focaccia, an extremely common street food in Italy, as well as in small loaves of bread. And while we're on the topic of bread we can't forget about delicious tapenade!
Related: Make the Perfect Rosemary Focaccia
How to Shop and Use Green Olives
You can find green olives at your local super market. They come canned and jarred. Usually the ones in the cans are brined and those are best used in slow cooked sauces and as an added ingredient to entrees.
The jarred ones comes brined, stuffed, or under oil. Those are usually reserved for making cocktails or adding to charcuterie boards for snacking.
Green olives can be used in a variety of dishes, from salads to pasta to pizza. Here are some popular culinary uses :
Appetizers: Serve them as an appetizer, either on their own or stuffed with cheese or other fillings.
Salads: Add them to salads, such as Greek salad or pasta salad, to add texture and flavor.
Pizza Topping: Green olives are a great pizza topping, especially when combined with other Mediterranean ingredients such as tomatoes, cheese, and basil.
Pasta Sauce: Add them to pasta sauce to give it a salty and tangy flavor and to cut through sweetness.
Mains: Add them to chicken or fish dishes to add brininess, depth, and tang.
Can you grow green olives at home?
Yes, you can grow olives at home!
Are green olives good for weight loss?
Yes, green olives are a good food to include in a weight loss diet. They are low in calories and high in fiber, which can help you feel full and satisfied.
How should green olives be stored?
Green olives should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They can also be stored in olive oil, which can help preserve their flavor and texture.
Green olives are a delicious and nutritious food that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Whether you're looking to improve your heart health, boost your brain function, or add flavor to your dishes, green olives are a great choice.
Next time you're at the grocery store, be sure to pick up some up and experiment with different culinary uses. Your taste buds and your body will thank you!
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