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Olives
Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Indulging in a small handful of olives a day just might keep the cardiologist away. Between 75% and 85% of the caloric content of olives is monounsaturated fatty acid, which, when replacing saturated fat in the diet, may have significant cardioprotective properties. Numerous studies have shown that people who live in certain Mediterranean regions and who consume large amounts of olives and olive oil tend to have a decreased incidence of coronary heart disease and certain cancers. The monounsaturated fatty acid content of olives can help to lower LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) levels and it also prevents the build up of dangerous arterial plaque on artery walls. While olives are relatively low in calories, and high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, it is important to note that if you are on a low-sodium diet you should try to go easy on your consumption of olives. Depending upon how they were processed, some olives can be quite high in sodium.

Olives are primarily grown in the Mediterranean countries, and in some parts of the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Olives are a piquant, healthy snack enjoyed worldwide. This much beloved tiny fruit is originally a native of Asia Minor, and in fact, the olive tree is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world. The appeal and allure of olives can be attributed to their flavor, texture, and aroma, with a complexity in flavor that varies from sour, to bitter, to piquant, to sweet.

Varieties

Climate, method of cultivation, and the type of tree determine variety in shape and size of an olive. The color of an olive depends on the degree of ripeness (green olives at the unripe end of the scale and black at the fully ripe end) as well as the curing process used--which can result in purple, red, and yellow olives in addition to the basic green and black. Although the blackness of an olive is usually an indication of its ripeness, there is an exception to this: Some "black" (canned) olives processed in the U.S. are picked green and then processed by soaking in an alkaline solution; subsequent oxidization via exposure to air turns the olives black.

All fresh olives are very bitter because of an acrid, bitter tasting compound, oleuropin, present in olive skin. To remove this bitterness, and make olives suitable for consumption, they are ?cured? (processed) by one of several techniques, including: Oil-cured: (soaked in oil for several months. ), water-cured (rinsing and resoaking in water for many months), brine-cured (soaking in brine for 1 to 6 months), salt-cured (storing in salt for one to several months). Brine-cured olives have a moist-looking exterior and a smooth, shiny skin. Dry-cured olives are wrinkled and shriveled (they have been packed with salt), and usually have a strong, bold flavor. The flavor of each variety of olive depends upon its ripeness, where it is grown, and the type of processing it undergoes.

Here are a few of the many varieties of olives available:

Agrinion: Huge, dull green, brine-cured Greek olive with sour taste and very soft flesh that is easily torn from pit.

California Sicilian-Style: Brine-cured, very big, sometimes cracked, dull green variety with crisp bite. Hard to pit.

French Oil-Cured: Small, sleek, wrinkled black, with strong, intense flavor. Easy to remove pit.

Gaeta: Salt-cured, small, Italian variety with strong flavor, salty, black, wrinkled. Often hard to pit.

Greek Black: Brine-cured, large, dark brown to purple variety, with soft pulp and a gentle flavor. Easy to pit.

Greek Green: Brine-cured, medium-size, plump, juicy, pale green variety with an acrid flavor. Easy to pit.

Kalamata (or Calamata): Brine-cured, medium-size, oval-shaped, dark purple Greek variety with strong aftertaste. Often packed in vinegar. Popular in the U.S. Easy to pit.

Manzanilla: Brine-cured, small to medium-size Spanish variety with crisp flesh and smoky flavor. Popular in the U.S. Easy to pit. Often sold pitted and stuffed with pimiento or almond.

Moroccan Oil-Cured: Oil-cured (also is sometimes salt-cured), medium-size, shiny, black variety with slightly bitter, smoky flavor. Easy to pit.

Nicoise: Salt-cured, small, dark brownish-purple French variety, with tart, sharp flavor with a hint of a buttery flavor, and a large pit that is often hard to remove.

Picholine: Brine-cured, long, pointy, French variety, pale green, sweet, slightly acidic-flavored and crunchy. Often used for cocktails. In the U.S. they are usually packed in citric acid. Hard to pit.

Sevillano (or Queen): Brine-cured, huge, green, bland variety grown in California and Spain. Marketed in U.S. as "Super-colossal." Hard to pit.

Sicilian Green: Brine-cured, large, pale, greenish-brown variety with dense flesh, sour taste. Easy to pit.

Availability

Assorted olives are available year round.

Shopping

If a good selection of olives is not available at your supermarket, shop for them at a gourmet store. Gourmet stores often carry a wide assortment in large barrels where you can pick and choose the ones you like. If your store doesn't display the olives this way, ask the counterperson if you can taste to find the one(s) you prefer.

Storage

Olives are best kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator. To prevent rancidity, keep them away from excessive sunlight or heat.

Preparation

While olives are high in fat and calories, a little goes a long way. Pitting olives other than tiny nicoise olives can easily be done with the flat side of a chef's knife. Place an olive on a flat work surface, cover with the flat side of the knife, and press down until you feel the olive give. The flesh will split, making it easy to remove the pit. Large brine-cured olives will be easier to pit than smaller, oil-cured olives.

Use olives like a condiment to spike the flavor of a sauce (pasta or other), to enliven a pizza, to toss in salads or grain dishes, or to serve on sandwiches. Olives may be served whole, sliced, pitted, unpitted, or stuffed.

Olives can be crushed to create tapenade, a savory paste made from olives, capers, red peppers, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and ground black pepper. Tapenade can be spread on toast or crackers, used as a crudite dip, or used as a seasoning in sauces.

Nutrition Chart

Brine-Cured Olives/1 ounce pitted

80
Total fat (g)
7.5
Saturated fat (g)
0.9
Monounsaturated fat (g)
5.7
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.9
Dietary fiber (g)
0.2
0.5
Carbohydrate (g)
3
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
462

Oil-Cured Olives/1 ounce

162
Total fat (g)
12
Saturated fat (g)
1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
8.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
2
Dietary fiber (g)
2
0
Carbohydrate (g)
6
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
668


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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