All About Kalamata Olives and Kalamata Olive Oil
Greece is not known only for the gorgeous beaches and picturesque islands of a dream summer vacation. Apart from the vast and rich history, the traditions and heritage that give the land its unique identity, Greece is also known for its top-quality olives and olive oil.
So much so, that the oil is often called Greece’s liquid gold.
There are around 60 varieties of olive in Greece. Of those, the Kalamata is considered the queen. The olive oil from Kalamata olives is also considered the finest Greek olive oil, which makes both extremely popular within Greece and beyond. As does so much in Greece, Kalamata olives and olive oil have a rich history and tradition intertwined with everything from their production to their consumption.
Read on to find out everything you should know about Kalamata olives, olive oil, and the incredible facts surrounding both!
All About Kalamata Olives
Kalamata olives are DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) so only those from the region of Kalamata in the Peloponnese can be called “Kalamata” olives. All other similar variants, from trees of the same variety as those in Kalamata, are called “Calamon” olives.
Though categorized as a black olive, Kalamata olives are actually a lush, rich deep purple. They are quite large in size and almond-shaped. They are also more tapered in their elongated shape than other varieties of black olive, which often are round. They are grown only in the region of Kalamata, which is a coastal city near Sparta, surrounded by the fertile land of Messinia.
The taste of Kalamata olives is a unique blend of fruity and savory, with a richness and light, fragrant aftertaste that is iconic and slightly reminiscent of wine. That’s why, unlike other black olives that vary in flavor due to herbs added while they are brined, Kalamata olives always have their own distinct taste.
Because of their size and special fleshy nature, Kalamata olives are usually hand-picked to avoid them bruising. This is a risk because unlike other olive varieties, Kalamata olives are picked from the tree only once they are fully ripe. The best season for olive picking is late October.
As with most olives, when first picked Kalamata olives are too bitter to consume. They require a special process to remove the bitterness and bring out their iconic taste. This is called “hardening” and there are two ways this is done.
The shortcut way requires brining the olives for a week, then washing them, and packing them with olive oil, lemon wedges, wine vinegar, and brine. This method increases the amount of sodium in the olives, so keep that in mind if you have to be mindful of your sodium intake.
The long way requires each olive to be sliced along the side with a sharp knife, then soaking them in a salt and vinegar solution of about 10% concentration. Every two days or so, the solution is replaced with a new batch for at least a week, though this could take longer.
The olives are tasted periodically to see if the bitterness has lifted. Once that happens, they are packed with a new, final batch of salt solution, a thin layer of olive oil on top to keep the olives immersed, and a sprig of dried oregano. This process can take up to three months, but it leaves the olives with a lot less sodium and all the taste!
All About Kalamata Olive Oil
Kalamata olive oil is made from Kalamata olives known as Koroneikes, from an olive tree variety used only for making olive oil.
They are picked when unripe and still green and the oil needs to be extracted within 24 hours to retain the fruity, fragrant flavor that Kalamata olive oil is known for. The oil is so iconic that it enjoys DOP status, just like the olives themselves. Kalamata olive oil is considered one of the best in the world.
Kalamata olive oil is always extra virgin (EVOO), made using traditional methods (cold-pressed), and traceable to the region of its origin, in the Peloponnese.
Health benefits of Kalamata olives and olive oil
Kalamata olives are known for a wide range of health benefits. They are rich in antioxidants, which can protect your health in various ways. Studies have been done regarding the benefits of Kalamata olives, and while more research is needed to confirm the findings, there is a strong indication that they have the following significant benefits.
Reduced risk of heart disease and strokes: The olives contain hydroxytyrosol, which is an antioxidant that specifically limits the production of “bad” cholesterol or LDL. Instead, it boosts “good” cholesterol production or HDL. High levels of HDL have been associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease. The same function happens for the risk of stroke, thanks to the same antioxidant.
Reduced risk of cancer: Alongside the antioxidants hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein, Kalamata olives contain oleic acid, which is associated with a reduced risk of a wide variety of cancers, from breast cancer to colon cancer.
Reduced risk of Alzheimer: Gallic acid is also contained in the olives, which is associated with helping nerve cells to repair themselves. This nerve reparation can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, which is a degenerative disease of the nerves.
Helps with regulation in Type 2 Diabetes: The antioxidants, together with the monounsaturated fats that the Kalamata olives have in high concentrations help regulate and control blood sugar levels and even weight loss for people with Type 2 diabetes.
Antimicrobial and antiviral effects: The antioxidants contained in the olives also make it more resistant to infection, including herpes and rotavirus.
The cultural significance of olive oil in Greece
For Greece in general, olive oil is more than just the staple of the Mediterranean diet and Greek cuisine. It is part of the cultural heritage and identity. There is archaeological evidence that olive trees and their systematic cultivation has been ongoing uninterruptedly for several millennia. As early as Neolithic times, and definitely by the rise of the Minoan civilization, olives and olive oil were central in the dietary habits of the region.
The value of olive oil and olives is also found in ancient Greek myths, such as the myth of how Athens got its name: in a contest between Athena and Poseidon for who would lend their name to the city, Athena won because she gifted the Athenians the olive tree as opposed to Poseidon’s water spring. During the Olympic Games in antiquity, oil was used to coat the bodies of the athletes, and olive tree branches to crown the winners.
In modern Greece, this intensely spiritual link with olive oil carries on in the practices of the Greek Orthodox church, where olive oil is used to anoint during christenings and other rituals. Olive oil is considered a prime ingredient for several extremely popular Greek dishes, and often it is consumed raw for its health benefits. The Peloponnese, where Kalamata olives come from, is considered the heart of olive oil and olive production, where the best of the best has been made since the time of Greek legends.
Kalamata olive oil brands
The best of Kalamata oil comes directly from the source, so if you ever find yourself in the area, make sure to look up local small farm producers as there are many. But that isn’t feasible for everyone, so what are the best labels that bring you Kalamata olive oil no matter where you live?
The best Kalamata olive oil is always the extra virgin oil from the Koroneiki variety. Here are a few labels that have earned international acclaim and are as good as having access to that very grove in Kalamata.
Laconiko: Easily one of the most acclaimed Koroneiko olive oil brands, with certifications for its beneficial elements such as polyphenols and other antioxidants. Like all top quality premium Koroneiko olive oil brands, the oil making process is done the traditional way.
Vatsiko: Also coming with prestigious awards for its quality, Vatsiko boasts its PDO accreditation and its traditional methods producing some of the best quality extra virgin Koroneiko olive oil.
Argali: Argali Messinia is a label with many prestigious awards and certifications, just like the rest on this list! It’s 100% Koroneiko extra virgin and comes directly from the grove in the Peloponnese to your table.
Terra Creta Grand Cru: Though this internationally awarded Koroneiko olive oil isn’t produced in Messinia, it is 100% made from Koroneiko olives from trees in another region of Greece renowned for its top-quality olive oil: Crete.
Eating Kalamata olives and olive oil
What is the best way to have Kalamata olives and olive oil?
Over the centuries, Greeks have come up with several ways of enjoying this produce, but the basics are remarkably simple. Perhaps because when something is already rich in flavor and texture, you don’t need to cook it much!
Here are some of the most popular and easy ways to eat Kalamata olives and olive oil, the two often going together.
As a dip and hors-d’oeuvre
Often in Greek restaurants you will be served a cup of Kalamata olive oil with some oregano, Kalamata olives, and freshly baked bread. Dipping the bread in the olive oil has been traditionally considered a treat and it allows you to fully appreciate the flavor of the oil.
Kalamata olive oil is the perfect dressing for almost any kind of salad! It is especially great, however, with the iconic Horiatiki or Greek salad: cucumber, tomato, onion, Kalamata olives, a hefty slice of feta cheese, and a generous drizzle of Kalamata olive oil make for one of the healthiest salads out there! Make sure to use your bread to mop up the extremely tasty juices from the tomato and olive oil!
Beyond the Horiatiki salad, any salad with lettuce, wild greens or other vegetables is bound to be enhanced with Kalamata olive oil.
As a marinade or sauce
Kalamata olive oil mixed with lemon juice, vinegar, salt, oregano, or other herbs can make a great marinade for meats and fish before baking, grilling, or roasting.
Traditionally in Greece, an olive oil and lemon dressing is used for large grilled fish such as pandoras or trout. The same goes for shellfish such as lobsters and shrimp.
For vegetarians or vegans, Kalamata olive oil is perfect drizzled over vegetables or cheese before roasting or grilling!
Least but not last, the best tapenade, a Mediterranean olive-based dip, is made with Kalamata olive oils. Kalamata olives are also a great addition to a flavorful caponata or a Nicoise salad.
Kalamata olives and olive oil are a flavorful, healthy addition to your kitchen. They will enhance your salads, your roasts, and any other dish you cook with them, giving them a unique, fragrant boost without burdening your health. That’s why Kalamata oil is Greece’s liquid gold and why the Kalamata olives are considered the queen of all varieties. Make sure to look out for them!
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