All About Kalamata Olives

Published Categorized as Food
A photo of Kalamata olivescharolettelake /123RF

Kalamata olives: you know you love them! Now find out where they come from, how to store them, and what to use them for.

Olives were originally cultivated in Asia Minor some 6,000 years ago. Soon after, they spread to Iran, Syria, modern Israel, and then throughout the rest of the Mediterranean Basin.

Olives were highly prized by both the Greeks and the Romans during antiquity. The fruit of the Olea europaea tree, olives were cultivated on the island of Crete during the Minoan period some 3,000 years ago and were said to be the source of that kingdom’s great wealth.

In modern times, olive cultivation has spread to California stateside and Australia and Japan across the Pacific, among other distant lands. Olives are used as a food staple and as a source of oil, used both for human consumption and for cosmetics and perfumery.

Kalamata Olives

According to Culture Trip, Kalamata olives are grown in the vicinity of Kalamata in Southern Greece, primarily in the Messinia Valley, though also in nearby Laconia.

The olives are of a dark brown to purplish color and are noted for their sweetness and fruitiness. They are high in healthy fats and antioxidants, making the olives a prime part of a Mediterranean diet, writes Healthline.

Kalamata olives are grown in a mild, Mediterranean climate. Harvest season is in late fall when they are picked by hand to guard against bruising.

The olives cannot be eaten right off the tree because of their extraordinarily bitter taste. Instead, they are stored in brine to ferment for several weeks to several months, depending on the variety and producer. Then, the Kalamata olives are packed in water and red wine vinegar for sale to supermarkets and restaurants.

Kalamata olives are also grown outside of the Kalamata region of southern Greece, primarily in the United States and Australia. However, because of the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) laws—which allow only olives grown in a certain geography to be labeled Kalamata—these are designated as Kalamon olives.

The taste and texture are not that different, especially on a Wednesday dinner at home, though the country of origin should be noted on the jar or can in which the olives are sold.

Kalamata Olives as Food

Kalamata olives are a great asset to an appetizer board. Include them along with green olives, various kinds of cheese cubes, sliced carrots, sliced cucumbers, salami, pepperoni, and so on.

Greek salad usually consists of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, along with feta cheese and kalamata olives. The style of salad is usually dressed with olive oil or some kind of oil and vinegar dressing. A Greek salad makes a good first course or a main meal. 

Pitted olives taste saltier because their skin has been pierced. When the brine penetrates the flesh, the olive becomes pulpier and less appetizing. Unpitted olives have a more complex, fruitier flavor as the skin is intact and the fruit retains its qualities.

It should go without saying that it is always better to buy your olives unpitted. You can still buy a good olive pitter on Amazon or any store that sells kitchen gadgets. Be careful with some of the smaller olives because they can tear apart inside the pitter.

Olive oil made from kalamata olives is darker in color than most other varieties. Kalamata olive oil is highly prized for its qualities and is suitable for marinades, salad dressing, dipping sauce, or pan-frying over medium-low to medium heat (remember: olive oil has a low smoke point).

Shelf Life of Kalamata Olives

Unopened Kalamata olives, jarred or canned, are shelf-stable and maintain their best quality for 2 to 3 years. Discard all jars with bulging caps or cans with rust, leaking, or severe denting.

Once opened, Kalamata olives should be kept in a sealed jar or transferred to an airtight container along with the brine and stored in the fridge, where they will stay good for several months to a year.

That being said, it is better to consume the olives within a few months, because then they smell and taste the best.

Signs of spoilage include mold, an off odor, or excessive mushiness of the fruit. When in doubt, be cautious and discard the olives if you suspect they have gone bad; otherwise, they can give you food poisoning.

Cooking With Kalamata Olives

Of course, kalamata olives make an excellent ingredient for a wide variety of dishes.

Greek-style pizza:

Olives have been put on pizza, likely since that wonderful dish was first introduced in the United States in the early 20th century.

One recipe for a Greek-style pizza calls for the standard crust and tomato sauce. You add spinach, feta cheese, kalamata olives, and ground black pepper.

You can also add kalamata olives (which are available sliced in most supermarkets) to any mix of pizza toppings. The meaty flavor of the olives goes well with salami, pepperoni, and/or ham.

Mediterranean pasta dishes: 

Kalamata olives make an excellent addition to a wide variety of pasta dishes.

A recipe offered by Food and Wine Magazine offers a spaghetti dish that combines kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, mint leaves, oregano leaves, and chicken stock to create a pasta dish with a decidedly Greek flavor. The sauce and pasta are cooked in a single pot. 

Food.com has a recipe that combines chopped, pitted kalamata olives, halved cherry tomatoes, parsley, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano with penne pasta.

You cook the penne pasta in boiling water while mixing the other ingredients except for the parsley, garlic, and olive oil. Sauté the garlic for about four minutes in the oil.

Then add the tomatoes, kalamata olives, pepper flakes, and dried oregano—and sauté for about a minute. Toss the pasta with the parsley, and then mix the other ingredients. Plate and serve with Parmesan cheese. 

Kalamata Olives with Chicken

Feed Me Phoebe has a recipe for chicken with kalamata olives. The dish starts with a marinade consisting of red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil, and minced garlic.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs and chopped, pitted kalamata olives are covered with the marinade and kept for between an hour to overnight. 

The chicken and marinade mixture is transferred to an oven-safe skillet with white wine and salt added. The mix is then baked for an hour and a half in a 375-degree oven. Then the dish is plated and served. 

Oldways has a chicken recipe that incorporates the olives in the marinade.

The marinade consists of pitted kalamata olives, Greek yogurt, garlic, and the zest and juice of a lemon. The chicken is kept in the marinade for between half an hour and overnight before being roasted along with potatoes and onions. 

Kalamata Olives in Hummus

Hummus is a spread that originated in the Middle East but now can be found in supermarkets around the world. Hummus is delicious when served with pita bread.

You can make your own version of hummus with a recipe from Spruce Eats. Combine chickpeas or garbanzo beans, kalamata olives, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and cumin in a food processor. Blend the ingredients until they form a smooth spread.

You can serve immediately or store the hummus for up to two days in the refrigerator, 

Kalamata martini, anyone?

Most cocktail enthusiasts would think you’re a barbarian if you put anything but a green, Spanish olive in a martini. However, the Food Network has a recipe for a martini with a kalamata olive for those who want to be different.

The trick is adding some of the juice that the kalamata olives are packed in, along with the gin and vermouth. Naturally, this martini, called the Mykonos Martini or the Dirty Greek Martini, is shaken, not stirred.