The health benefits of olive oil are well known, as are the advantages of a Mediterranean diet. In part, this is because of olives themselves, including Kalamata olives.
There are significant Kalamata olives benefits – and the fruits (yes, fruits) are a tasty addition to the diet as well.
Even if you’re not a major fan of olives, they are a powerful way to make meals more interesting, while offering a range of health benefits along the way.
And Kalamata olives make a very good choice.
What are Kalamata Olives?
Kalamata olives are named for their city of origin, called Kalamata, which is located in Greece.
The term is legally protected, so all Kalamata olives are actually grown in that region or in nearby Laconia.
The olives themselves are almond shaped and are typically brown or dark purple. They are also oval and larger than other varieties of olives.
Kalamata olives are also different in their taste and their texture compared to other types of olives. This includes being ‘meatier’ overall and having a stronger olive flavor.
As a result, some people love Kalamata olives and hate other types of olives.
The Different Olive Varieties
Like other fruits, olives come in many different varieties. Some are common, while others are more obscure.
The variety of olive will impact the visual appearance and taste of the fruit, as well as what it is used for. For example, some olives are used to make olive oil only. Others are mostly for eating.
Kalamata olives are used in both ways.
One common distinction is green vs black olives. The color mostly comes from how ripe the olive is when it is picked, although the curing process plays a role too.
Nutritionally, green and black olives are similar to one another. As such, most people choose based on flavor and texture.
Green olives tend to be more dense, firm and bitter compared to black olives. Some people also find that they have a nutty flavor.
That’s just an average though. Individual products will vary from one another. There are also many types of green and black olives out there, so you’ll see differences between them.
Even the terms green and black are simplistic. In practice, you’ll see ‘black’ olives that range anywhere from dark brown to deep black, with various red and purple shades in between.
As a general rule, a darker color means the olive was riper when it was picked.
Kalamata olives are classified as black olives, which is clear from their color alone. In fact, they cannot be harvested green. They also need to be hand-picked.
How Kalamata Olives are Cured
All olives go through a curing process. This is essential for reducing the bitterness and ensuring that the olives are appealing.
The exact approach varies depending on the producer – but there are two main options for Kalamata olives. The first is a short method, where the olives are packed in weak brine or water, for roughly a week. The longer method can take up to 3 months and the olives are slit and placed in salt water.
In either case, some polyphenols remain, which creates a slightly bitter flavor.
That aspect is critical, as the polyphenols are where many of the health benefits come from.
Following curing, Kalamata olives are often slit and then packaged in a white wine mixture. This approach helps the olives absorb more flavor.
The process means that most olives, including Kalamata olives, end up being salty. It is possible to cure olives without salt but this is rarely done.
What Do Kalamata Olives Taste Like?
Kalamata olives retain a somewhat bitter taste even after processing. The natural olive flavor is also stronger than most other black olives.
In many cases, Kalamata olives will be saltier than other varieties. But, there are exceptions and brands do tend to vary from one another.
Some people say that the olives taste like sour grapes or salty grapes, but the overall flavor is difficult to describe. This means the best approach is to simply try them – and be aware that olives are often an acquired taste.
Many people do enjoy the flavor, myself included. Still, olives are one of those foods that some people love and others hate.
Kalamata Olives Nutrition
For 100 grams, Kalamata olives offer roughly 240 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein and 23 grams of fat (1).
So, most of the energy comes from fat. Much of that is from oleic acid, which is a type of omega-9 fatty acid. Omega-9 fatty acids aren’t discussed often but Paleo Leap offers a detailed consideration of why they are so relevant to health.
This type of fat alone may be responsible for significant health benefits, including those associated with olive oil.
For example, one study found that oleic acid is the reason that olive oil can help to lower blood pressure (2). Research also suggests that oleic acid may play a key role in overall health, including the ability to promote wound healing, lower inflammation, improve immune responses and promote heart health (3,4),
Vitamins and Minerals
Kalamata olives do contain a range of significant nutrients, including iron, calcium, vitamin A, copper, fiber and of course, sodium. Many of these compounds are essential to the body’s function and can offer benefits.
For example, iron is critical for how the body transports oxygen. That’s partly why iron deficiency often results in fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath.
In most cases, you’d be eating a small amount at a time, so these compounds won’t have a radical impact on health. Still, Kalamata olives do help ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
As with many fruits, the advantages of Kalamata olives aren’t immediately obvious from the nutrient composition. Instead, the benefits come from the plant-based compounds, including the polyphenols and oleic acid.
Many of these compounds are antioxidants, which help to reduce disease risk and improve health in a range of ways.
Aside from oleic acid, some of the most significant plant-based compounds in Kalamata olives include gallic acid, hydroxytyrosol, oleanolic acid, tyrosol and oleocanthal.
All of these can impact the body in a range of ways, which includes acting as antioxidants. There are many potential health benefits of increasing antioxidant intake, including decreasing the risk of cancer (5) and of atherosclerosis (6).
For example, research in humans has found that oleocanthal helps to lower levels of oxidative stress (7). Likewise, tyrosol can lower the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. By doing so, the compound helps to decrease heart disease risk (8,9).
Health Benefits of Olives and Olive Oil
So then, it’s clear that Kalamata olives are powerful, mostly because of their plant-based compounds. These compounds are also present in other types of olives and in olive oil.
As a result, the researched benefits of those products also apply to Kalamata olives.
Heart Disease Risk
This includes reducing LDL oxidation (13), decreasing LDL cholesterol levels (14), improving the function of HDL (15,16,17), lowering oxidative stress (18,19) and increasing endothelial function (20).
Olive oil is a powerful way to reduce inflammation. For example, one large-scale review found that olive oil interventions can significantly decrease levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) (21).
Additionally, inflammation can be promoted by omega-6 fatty acids, which are common in many modern oils, such as canola oil (27). As such, shifting to healthy fats like olive oil helps decrease omega-6 levels and may lower inflammation in this way as well.
As mentioned previously, olive oil is a key source of antioxidants.
Some similar impacts have been found for The Mediterranean Diet as a whole (30). Olive oil and olives are key components of that diet, which reinforces the conclusions.
Impacts on Cancer
Research also suggests that olive oil may decrease the risk of cancer and even help to fight it. Both effects are the result of the various plant-based compounds, along with their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (33,34).
The antioxidant impacts are particularly relevant. These help protect human DNA against oxidative damage. That type of damage can contribute to cancer development (35).
One important compound is oleocanthal, which can promote cancer cell death. There has been interest in using this mechanism in cancer research and therapies (36).
Where to Buy Kalamata Olives
Kalamata olives are a common product, so you will often find them in grocery stores and health food stores. In most cases, the olives will be stored in brine. As such, you get a considerable amount of liquid at the same time.
You can also buy olives on Amazon, which is perfect if you want something convenient. One of the most popular options is the baby Kalamata olives in the image below.
Plastic isn’t the ideal container for olives but it is much more resilient when it comes to shipping. Additionally, the seal should be effective and more durable than with a regular jar.
There are also more traditional jars of olive available, such as the example below.
One final option is packets of olives, like the ones that Mario Camacho produces.
Unlike most options, these olives are packed without brine. Instead, oil is used to keep them moist. That oil provides some seasoning as well, thyme in this case.
The oil does still make them a little messy to eat but the style is more convenient and portable than other types of products.
The individual pouches are small too (around 1 ounce). The idea is that you can have these as easy-to-eat snacks. In fact, they would even make good savory keto snacks because of their low carb content.
The brand doesn’t just focus on Kalamata olives either. Instead, they have black and green olive-based products as well.
There are other options too, including what you can find in local stores. Nevertheless, these three examples are all good ways to get the various benefits that Kalamata olives offer.
As a general rule, Kalamata olive reviews tend to be positive, although some people do get frustrated by the amount of brine. Still, most olives will come in brine and the process is important for keeping them moist and flavorful.
Do You Have to Eat Kalamata Olives?
Olives tend to be fairly similar to one another nutritionally. As a result, you will get most of the same benefits regardless of the type of olive you choose.
So, you could pick green or black olives instead if you prefer their flavor profile.
In a similar manner, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) offers most of the health benefits that Kalamata olives do. After all, the oil is produced by pressing the olives.
Indeed, olive oil is healthy because of the nutrients contained in olives. This means you could simply choose high-quality olive oil brands and get many of the same benefits that Kalamata olives offer.
You can also find Kalamata olive oil. This offers a different flavor profile than regular olive oil and is a good way to get the best of both worlds. One particularly interesting brand is the one below, which gets consistently good reviews.
Kalamata olive oil can be an interesting option to try, especially if you enjoy Kalamata olives. If nothing else, it’s a nice change and gives you the chance to experience something new.
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