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Kalamata olives are beloved around the world. Although they’re often served straight from the brine as an appetizer, it’s also possible to cook with them with delicious results.
From party-ready olive tapenade to one-pot pastas perfect for a quick family dinner, there are many ways to showcase the fabulous flavour of these tasty (and good for you!) Greek treasures.
You’ll find lots of inspiration in this collection of delicious kalamata olive recipes for appetizers, entrees, sides and even dessert!
And of course, there’s a perfect recipe for classic Greek village salad.
What Are Kalamata Olives?
An important part of the healthy Mediterranean diet, table olives are one of the world’s oldest fermented foods.
Along with Spain and Italy, Greece is one of the largest producers of table olives.
It’s also the birthplace of the Kalamata olive.
I just returned from almost two months exploring the city of Kalamata and the Peloponnese region of Greece.
After visiting the olive oil museum in Sparta, taking cooking classes and meeting with olive producers, I can tell you that not every black olive is a Kalamata olive!
The Kalamon or Kalamata olive is harvested from a specific olive tree varietal of the same name, the Kalamon.
It’s from this olive tree variety that producers harvest and produce the famous Kalamon or Kalamata table olives found in stores, delicatessens and restaurants around the world.
How Kalamata Olives Are Made
The first thing I learned in the Peloponnese region of Greece is that olives can’t be eaten directly from the tree!
Don’t expect to go wandering around an olive grove snacking on olives like from a charcuterie board.
Although they’re a fruit, olives are unpalatable raw. They must be treated by curing and fermentation to reduce the bitterness which comes from a compound called oleuropein.
The fermentation process also adds healthy probiotics and gut-healthy bacteria to the olives which contain daily values of dietary fibers, fatty acids and antioxidants.
During a gastronomy walking tour with Maria Monastirioti of Mama’s Flavours, we stopped in at Trofopoleion 51, one of the oldest olive oil shops in Kalamata.
In addition to getting a tutoured tasting of extra virgin olive oil, we learned about table olives.
During our visit, co-owner Kely Koutelas explained how people prepare Kalamata table olives using traditional methods and pure, simple ingredients.
Olive processing begins as soon as the fruit ripens between November and December. Kalamata olives intended for the table (rather than oil) are harvested by hand or mechanically when they’re almost mature but not over-ripe.
The producer makes a superficial cut on each olive with a razor. The cut helps the olive absorb the brine and flavours of the dried herbs that will be added later.
Then, they place the olives in a pot and cover them with water to soak.
The water is changed every 2 days for 15-20 days. Then, they strain the olives, sprinkle them with coarse sea salt and leave them in a vessel for 1-2 days, stirring occasionally.
After they’ve soaked in salt, a high-acidity homemade vinegar is added and the olives are left to marinate for 24 hours.
Finally, when the fermentation process is complete the olives are packed in clean glass or clay jars. Dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano and/or dried orange peels and garlic cloves can be added.
🌟 Fun Fact: Unliked Spanish olives which are produced by lye curing, with Greek olives the bitter oleuropein compound is removed by enzymes produced by fermentation.
Choosing the Best Kalamata Olives
The International Olive Council (IOC), an international intergovernmental organization, recommends standards for the characteristics of olive oils and table olives.
This complex set of chemical and sensory tests can take decades to learn!
According to a research study of table olives by the Faculty of Bioscience at the University of Teramo, an over production of yeast produced during fermentation can cause softening of the olive tissue.
Creating a quality product begins at harvest. Kalamata table olives are selected for their high flesh-to-stone ratio, fine flesh and ease of detachment from the stone.
Curing the olives also shapes their flavour, texture, appearance. When shopping for the kalamata olives to use in a recipe, look for olives that:
- elongated in shape
- firm in texture, not mushy.
- free of added preservatives.
- don’t have cloudy brine.
- have no off odor.
- if wrapped in plastic, the package should not be bulging.
Several studies have shown that fermented Kalamata table olives are beneficial as a probiotic food. They’re rich in bioactive molecules with nutritional, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In addition to their health-promoting bioactive compounds, Kalamata olives are an excellent natural source of unsaturated fatty acids including oleic, linoleic and palmitic acids.
No wonder they’re an important part of the Mediterranean diet.
In Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, you’ll see olives served at most traditional meals, including breakfast!
Should Olives Be Pitted or Unpitted?
The quality (especially the texture) of a kalamata table olive begins to deteriorate as soon as it’s pitted.
The flesh begins to absorb liquid, becomes mushy and loses its savoury flavour. It also becomes saltier.
If being eaten straight from the brine as an appetizer or a salad, Kalamata olives are generally served with the pits inside.
Most recipes will specify whether the olives should be pitted or not. Most often they will need to be pitted, especially if being served to people who are unfamiliar with eating olives.
It’s best to pit the olives yourself rather than buy unpitted olives in a jar.
How to Pit a Kalamata Black Olive
The good news is that because of the way they are produced, it’s relatively easy to pit a Kalamata olive.
Begin with an olive at room temperature. Then, place the whole olive on a cutting board and press down on it with the flat of a large chef’s knife.
The olive will split and you can easily slip out the pit and discard it. Then prepare the olive flesh according to the Kalamata olive recipe you’re using and chop it, put it into a food processor or use it as is.
Storage and Food Safety
If you’ve enjoyed the salty, briny flavour of these tasty Greek morsels in these kalamata olives recipes, you’ll want to keep a supply on hand for easy meal planning.
How long do olives keep without going bad?
According to food safety research, table olives along with other fermented or acidified vegetable foods (such as pickles and sauerkraut) have a long history of microbial safety due to salt concentration, acidity and other inhibatory compounds.
But that doesn’t mean that olives can’t go bad or harbour food borne bacteria.
In Greece, brined kalamata olives prepared in a traditional way and stored in a dark place away from the heat would be good for 12-18 months.
However, outside Greece, most of us purchase Kalamata olives in the grocery store or delicatessen in jars or at a salad bar.
An opened jar of olives if stored in the refrigerator will be good for up to six months. Olives purchased from a deli display case are good for 3-4 days if stored in brine, covered in the refrigerator.
Health Canada guidelines say avoid purchasing or using cans that are damaged or bulging. Contents could be contaminated and may not be safe to eat.
As always, when in doubt, throw it out.
Kalamata olives can be eaten without any special preparation. They should just be drained from the brine and served at room temperature. They don’t need to be rinsed.
Kalamata olives can be used as an appetizer, a snack or in recipes for tapenade spread, olive bread, Greek salad and dips. They’re a very versatile table olive.
The briny, salty flavour of Kalmata olives pairs well with herbs such as oregano and thyme, garlic, fruits such as lemon and orange as well as mild vegetables such as green pepper and cucumber. Creamy cheeses such as feta and gruyere also complement its intensity.
Other Popular Recipe Collections
- 1 orange sweet
- 8 ounces syglino (or pasto) smoked pork
- 1/2 cup Kalamata olives pitted
- 1 green onion
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil Greek
- 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
- Peel, segment and chop one orange into bite-sized pieces.
- Remove ends and slice green onion thinly.
- Slice chilled siglino into large, bite-sized pieces.
- Whisk olive oil and balsamic vinegar together. Add salt.
- Combine orange pieces, siglino, green onion and kalamata olives in a bowl. Pour dressing overtop and mix lightly.
- Serve immediately.
- black Korinthian raisins,
- Sfela cheese (similar to feta but spicier. It’s known as fire cheese),
- boiled potatoes,
- aromatic greens,
- hard cooked eggs,
- halangia (fried ribbons of dough).
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Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
Read more about Michele Peterson.