The humble olive is a culinary gem associated with the Mediterranean region. For thousands of years, ancient cultures in Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia and Mesopotamia cultivated olive trees and used the fruits. Today, nutritional gurus continue to tout the health benefits of this small fruit that is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. This Mediterranean delicacy is healthful, flavorful and versatile. Although olives are officially fruits because they contain a seed, they are used like a vegetable. Cured green and black olives make a tasty garnish for pizzas, salads and appetizers. Experience their complex flavors by trying a few olive dip recipes.
According to ancient mythology, the Egyptian goddess Isis taught common people to cultivate olives and to use the fruit. The practice spread to other early civilizations and made its way to Greece. Even Homer referred to olive oil as liquid gold. Due to its importance as a food source and a fuel for oil lamps, the olive is an important religious and cultural symbol.
In modern stores, shoppers will find green and black olives. Unripe olives are green, and fully ripe olives are black. Because raw olives are bitter, they are cured, fermented or seasoned with herbs and spices. To cure olives and remove the bitterness, they are soaked in brine or a lye solution. Many varieties of olives are grown throughout the Mediterranean region, and they are prepared in different ways.
The Manzanillo is a popular green table olive from Spain. They’re often sold un-pitted, or they can be stuffed, cured in a lye solution and packed in a brine of salt and lactic acid.
Green Picholine olives originate in the south of France and are an important fixture in the gourmet olive market. These olives are cured in salt brine, seasoned with herbs and preserved with citric acid for the U.S. market.
French Niçoise olives are small, meaty black olives that are used to make Niçoise salads. They’re harvested when fully ripe and possess a nutty, mellow flavor that is enhanced by herbs.
Black Kalamata olives from Greece are cured in brine and have a deep and slightly fruity flavor. They’re harvested when fully ripe. They have a beautiful purple color and a graceful almond-like shape.
Black Ligurian olives are grown along the Italian Riviera and have a rich, vibrant flavor. These black olives are cured in salt brine and sometimes packed with the stems attached.
Italian black Ponentine olives have a mild, nutty flavor that is ideal for salads and appetizers. They’re cured in salt brine and packed in vinegar.
Black Italian Gaeta olives are dry cured and have a wrinkled appearance. After curing, they’re rubbed with oil and packed with rosemary and herbs.
Italian Lugano olives are salty olives that are popular at olive tastings and are sometimes packed with olive leaves.
California Sevillano olives are cured in brine and preserved with lactic acid, which produces a crisp texture.
Any of these olive varieties can be used in olive dip recipes alone or in combination with other cultivars. Olives are naturally low in fat, contain very little sugar and have almost no cholesterol. Each olive contains approximately 32 calories. Due to the curing process, olives are high in sodium. When used in dips and salads, olives enhance surrounding flavors and complement almost any meal.