The small, tasty, round fruits of the olive tree are amazing in their variety, uses and health benefits. Here’s a roundup of the most popular kinds and their uses in a low carb diet.
The origin of olives
In the fertile, sun-drenched lands of what is now Turkey, thick forests of olive trees grow – it’s been this way for thousands of years. In fact, fossils of olive leaves from the area
date back to 12000 BC. And long before humans even learned to write, some began cultivating these gnarled, fragrantly blossoming evergreen trees – first in the Middle East and then throughout
the Mediterranean and the Americas.
Frequently symbolizing fertility, peace or abundance, their branches, oil and fruit (yes, olives are fruits) are featured in the Bible, the Koran, Greek mythology and countless other works of
literature and faith. That’s because, even in ancient times, people sensed the fruits and their oils offered benefits to their health, comfort, appearance and well being – properties that
modern medicine, of course, has documented well.
Olives are healthy and low in carbs
Today, olives are produced mostly in the Mediterranean countries, though they grow throughout the sunny, temperate regions of the world. Available in a dizzying variety of colors and flavors,
they’re prized for their tastiness, texture and versatility. Best of all, they’re excellent sources of healthy fats, iron, vitamin E, copper, dietary fiber…and luckily for us,
they’re also low in carbs – according to the USDA Nutrient Database, just 2 grams for 10 small ripe black olives (1 gram net carbs if you count the 1 gram of fiber they contain!).
Olives are ultra versatile
Olives vary in color (most notably green, black, purple and red) and flavor (rich, buttery, tangy, bitter, salty and so much more) depending on when they are picked and how they are processed. Young
olives are green, deepening to red and then purple as they ripen – fully ripe olives are black. All freshly picked olives are bitter and tough, but processing adds or emphasizes delicious
flavors and preserves the fruit.
Processing begins with a bath in sodium or potassium hydroxide or salted water. In some cultures, the olives are simply rinsed in water repeatedly. The goal is to remove oleuropein, a bitter but
nontoxic substance unique to olives. After that, the sky’s the limit on flavorings and curing agents. There are many recipes which have evolved throughout the world to bring out each olive
species’ delectable characteristics.
Common types of olives
Kalamata: These rather soft Greek olives are green or black, cured in red wine vinegar and wonderfully tangy. Great in dips, Greek salad, pizza.
Black: The most common here in the US, these are cured in lye and canned in salt water. Buttery and mellow, they’re tasty on their own.
Green: Processed in the same way as their black counterparts but not exposed to oxygen so that they retain their green color.
Spanish: Fermented for four to six months in acid, then packed in brine for a distinctively salty flavor.
Sicilian: Large, green and crisp, these cure in brine and are preserved with lactic acid. They’re often packed with red pepper flakes and garlic for a spicy kick.
Gaeta: A black, wrinkly Italian variety that is cured in dry salt and rubbed with olive oil. Typically packed with herbs, they’re mild but flavorful.
Nicoise: A small, brownish French variety that packs lots of flavor and a big pit.
Manzanilla: A large, green, fleshy olive typically stuffed with pimientos, garlic cloves, feta cheese, jalapenos or other ingredients.
Picholine: Green, medium-sized oblong type with a nutty, mild flavor.