July 8, 2016
Vol. VIII No. 14
Olives: The Ancient Fruit
Centuries ago, ancient Greeks believed the olive tree was a gift from the Greek goddess Athena, and they used olive oil in their religious rituals. Referred to as "liquid gold" by Greek poet Homer, olive oil has been considered sacred for years now and remains significant for the people of the Mediterranean as a source of food and health. 

Olives are thus an integral part of the Mediterranean diet; they are delicious and healthy when eaten on their own, they are incorporated into many recipes from fish dinners to salads to dips and spreads, and, on top of all that, they provide us with olive oil, which is added to most Mediterranean recipes in a variety of ways. To learn more about olive oil, check out our newly-updated resource, Olive Oil 101

Olives are a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, important fatty acids, natural antioxidants, and iron. Studies have shown that incorporating olive oil into your diet lowers the risk of many different types of chronic illnesses and diseases. One study showed that replacing just 5% of daily calories from saturated fat with monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil) is linked with a 15% lower risk of heart disease. 

In addition to all of the health benefits olives provide, they also contribute wonderful flavor to numerous recipes popular in the Mediterranean. Estimates for the number of different olive varietals are in the hundreds and though they all stem from the same olive tree species, Olea Europaea, they vary in taste. The Kalamata olive, for example, is a varietal that is brine-cured for - cured for 4-6 months in salted water - and is one of the darker, late harvest olives. Its flavor profile is smoky, fruity, and sharp, and it is often paired with cheeses like feta, blue, and pecorino. The Black Cerignola is referred to as the "childhood olive," since it's picked green and oxidized until black. It is milder and subtler than the Kalamata, and it is often paired with goat, ricotta, and fontina cheese. A good way to choose the best varietal of olive is to consider its flavor profile as well as the foods that it will be paired with or cooked with. 

Although we celebrated National Olive Day on June 1st, we like to celebrate them and incorporate them into our cooking every day. Here are a couple of ways we like to enjoy olives:

In salads and pastas. Olives have a unique flavor and are often enjoyed accompanied by other ingredients like pastas, meats, and other vegetables. Toss olives into some whole grain orzo along with tomatoes, herbs, and feta for a tasty pasta salad.

On a traditional Greek mezze plate. When lightly coated in vinaigrette or pickled in garlic, olives serve as an important part of a Mediterranean mezze plate, which is often enjoyed as an appetizer. Eaten alongside hummus or pita bread, or just enjoyed on their own, olives are bite size and add a kick to any assortment of Greek food.

In spreads or dips. In a food processor, combine olives with herbs, garlic, and nuts for a dip enjoyed with raw vegetables or atop crostini.

For more delicious ways to use olives, check out our 12 Great Way to Use Olives and the three recipes below.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.

Strawberries are not just for snacking and dessert - they taste great in salads too! Salty Kalamata olives pair wonderfully with their sweetness, and create a delightful color combination on the plate. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of FOODMatch

This tasty dish takes everything that's appealing about the traditional French Niçoise salad and transforms it into an easy weeknight supper. Colorful, flavorful and healthful, it is packed with protein, vegetables and fresh basil, all with a family-friendly price tag.  

Recipe and photo courtesy of the National Fisheries Institute

This salad is Crete on a plate. Tomatoes and barley rusk (a twice-baked bread, also called paximadi in Greece) are combined with extra virgin olive oil, Kalamata olives, and smooth feta spread with yogurt. It's a perfect light lunch for the summer.

Recipe and photo courtesy of GAEA

Books We Recommend

Mediterranean Harvest by Martha Rose Shulman
by Martha Rose Shulman

Martha Rose Shulman captures the vibrant flavors of the Mediterranean in more than 500 delicious vegetarian dishes gathered from her travels through France, Spain, Italy, the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, North Africa, and the Middle East. 

by Diane Kochilas

A cookbook like no other, this ingredient-driven volume, with chapter titles such as "herbs", "artichokes", and "cheese", at once meets a growing interest in Greek cooking and serves as a homecoming for all those of Greek descent.
by Christopher Bakken

Combining memoir, travel literature, and food writing, Christopher Bakken explores the traditions and history behind eight elements of Greek cuisine: olives, bread, fish, cheese, beans, wine, meat, and honey. Illustrations by Mollie Katzen. 

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.   

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit: