Black olives can be a divisive ingredient. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Although, their popularity in many places around the world suggests that most people have an affinity for the savory spheres. Or at least a majority will enjoy a slice of pizza without picking off every last piece of olive!
But did you know that olives are technically fruits and not vegetables? Read on to learn the tasty benefits of black olives. Plus, find out how to get the most out of these sour, salty, and slightly bitter morsels!
Black Olives vs. Green Olives
First things first, what exactly is their difference? Olives change color as they ripen. Green olives are fruits picked before they are completely ripe. The black variety is their mature counterpart. They are either harvested fully ripe or artificially ripened.
The signature saltiness associated with olives comes from a fermentation or curing process. As for flavor profiles, the taste of black olives is less salty, tangy, and bitter than the green.
Black Olive Recipes from Around the World
The olive tree is said to have originated in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. Unsurprisingly, olives and their many variations are a big part of Turkish cuisine. Locals simply enjoy them as a salty snack, while olive oil is a welcome feature in every meal of the day. A traditional breakfast is incomplete without a bowl of olives, feta, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and a crispy-on-the-outside simit bagel.
Another local treat, the kumpir, is a Turkish version of a baked potato topped with olives. They also have a popular street food served piping hot and loaded with butter, cheese, grated carrot, red cabbage, mushrooms, corn, sausage, ketchup, mayo, and olives. Try recreating both meals at home after a quick trip to the grocery.
From the Middle East, olives reached the Mediterranean and integrated into Greek culture. The ancient Greeks even believed that their goddess Athena created the olive tree. Local uses go beyond cooking: as a perfume or fuel, to anoint the dead or elite, and for medicine or cosmetic purposes.
Greece is home to numerous olive varieties, identified according to where they're grown. The most famous is the Kalamata olive, from the town of the same name. These are the kind mixed into horiatiki, the traditional Greek salad. The spheres are also part of the Cypriot version of olive bread. The eliopita is made with phyllo pastry and filled with olives, onion, and herbs before rolling into a roulade and baking.
A hop and a skip over the Mediterranean Sea takes you to Italy, another land famous for olives and olive oil. During the Renaissance, Italy became the largest producer of the oil globally. Nowadays, they are the second largest after Spain. Locals use it in most cooking methods, from frying and baking to grilling and marinating.
Whole olives are common in pasta recipes, pizza, and focaccia. Spaghetti puttanesca, one of the famous pasta dishes from Naples, is easy to replicate. It only calls for tomatoes, olive oil, olives, anchovies, chili peppers, capers, and garlic.
Although the French olive industry is nowhere near as large as Spain's or Italy's, the quality of French olives is something to be noted. The Provence region produces excellent fruits and some of the best olive oils in the world. The most distinguished French variety is the olive de Nice, used in the famous salad Niçoise.
Tapenade is another highlight of Provençal cuisine. This recipe was once very protected, and you were only allowed to use the term by following precise proportions. Nowadays, you can prepare a tapenade with whatever is in your kitchen – olives, capers, anchovies, olive oil, garlic, and herbs. You can even add a splash of Knorr Liquid Seasoning for an umami boost.
Olives have also had a long history in Africa. The olive tree was originally brought to Morocco by Greek colonists from Sicily. The North African country has since become the world’s second-largest producer of table olives and the sixth largest for olive oil. Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya are also key olive oil producers on the north end of the continent, while South Africa leads below.
In Morocco, locals enjoy olives alongside most meals. They also stir the fruits into rice dishes and hearty stews. One example is the quintessential chicken tagine, made with fragrant spices, olives, onions, and preserved lemons.
Many cuisines have enjoyed black olives for centuries, proving their versatility and capability to elevate dishes. Take this as a sign to keep a bottle or two in your pantry! And next time someone turns their nose up at these savory fruits, introduce them to any of these dishes enjoyed around the world.