What Are Kalamata Olives? Here’s Everything You Need to Know About This Prized Fruit

Including how to use them in the kitchen

Smashed large black kalamata olives in hand
Liubov Isaeva/Getty Images

The Mediterranean diet has been all the rage for quite some time now—and if you’re familiar with any such recipes, you’ve probably tried a kalamata olive or two. What’s more, these uniquely Greek olives are also a highly snackable salad bar staple that’s well-suited to many cheese and charcuterie boards. So what are kalamata olives, exactly? Well, they’re not green and they mustn’t be mistaken for any garden variety black olive, either. Read on for the full scoop, including everything you need to know about how to use them in your culinary endeavors.

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Kalamata olives

What Are Kalamata Olives?

Kalamata olives are a widely recognized and much-loved type of Greek olive that grow on the Kalamon tree and hail from the Peloponnese region in southern Greece. (Note: no olives grown outside this area of Greece can call themselves kalamata, as their production falls under a PDO or protected designation of origin). There’s a lot more that distinguishes kalamatas from other types of olives too—including their appearance, the way in which they’re harvested and their unique flavor profile. 

In terms of appearance, kalamata olives can be identified by their almond shape and signature dark brown-purple color, which is owed to the way in which they’re harvested. Indeed, unlike other olive varieties, kalamata olives are left on the tree until they have developed a deeper color, meatier texture and richer taste. According to the experts at Greek Flavours, the kalamata olives are then picked by hand in early October—a carefully timed harvest that optimizes their size, flavor and nutritional benefits. 

Once harvested, the naturally bitter kalamata olives are soaked in a brining solution and left to ferment in order to increase their sodium and water content, whilst achieving a plumper, tastier finished product; only then are the olives ready to eat. (Fun fact: the exceedingly bitter taste of unbrined kalamata olives is due to the health-boosting phenolic compounds they contain, but more on that below.) 

So how do they taste, you ask? Kalamata olives stand out for their exceptionally rich, salty and fruity flavor—the latter of which is owed to the inclusion of red or white wine vinegar during the brining and fermentation process.

What Are the Health Benefits of Kalamata Olives?

Medical sources like WebMD and MedicineNet confirm that kalamata olives boast a myriad of health benefits—namely because they are rich in antioxidants and phenolic compounds that have been found to help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s Disease and even ameliorate symptoms of those living with the degenerative condition, as well as promote heart health by lowering bad cholesterol while raising the good kind. 

Aside from the health-boosting phenolic compounds, a 2020 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science concluded that kalamata olives also have considerable nutritional value, due to their high concentration of monounsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber and vitamin E.  

That said, all the aforementioned sources note that the health benefits of kalamata olives only apply when they are consumed in moderation, since their high sodium content can have significant negative consequences as well.

Olives for Sale at Market in Antibes
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Kalamata Olives vs. Black Olives

When it comes to comparing kalamata olives and black olives, it’s important to note that kalamata olives are indeed a type of black olive. Still, not all black olives are created equal, which is why the kalamata variety has a protected designation of origin.  

Indeed, kalamatas are grown in a different place than other black olives on the market and, as previously mentioned, they are also harvested differently; most other black olive varieties are harvested when they are still green, while kalamatas aren’t picked until their signature hue appears. Additionally, other black olives are typically processed in a lye solution, as opposed to the salt water brine used for kalamatas. The end result is that kalamatas are fleshier and not as soft as other black olive varieties.  

Finally, due to a variety of factors—including the natural characteristics of the kalamata variety, as well as the harvesting and processing methods used—other black olive varieties tend to have a more subdued and less fruity taste than the robustly flavored kalamata.

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How to Add Kalamata Olives to Your Diet

Kalamata olives are easy to incorporate into your diet, since they are excellent on pizzas and in salads, are a favorite ingredient in all manner of Mediterranean dishes, and make a mean tapenade too. See below for some of our favorite recipes featuring kalamata olives. 

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...