You may have picked up a jar of olives from your local market to only find out that they taste different from the regular black olives you used to eat. Look closer. They may be Kalamatas!
What is the difference between Kalamata olives and black olives? Kalamata olives are dark purple, almond-shaped, and have a rich, fruity taste. Black olives are rounder and have a milder, even salty, taste. Kalamata olives are harvested when they are fully mature, but black olives can be harvested green and artificially ripened through brining.
Both of these olive varieties come from the Mediterranean, but they are very different in many aspects. In addition to their different harvesting, if you look closely, you can see a difference in their appearance. And you can certainly taste the differences.
Continue reading to find out all the differences between Kalamata and black olives and how you can use them in cooking.
Differences Between Kalamata and Black Olives
Olives (Olea europeana) are classified as drupes, also known as stone fruit. If you are surprised to hear that olives are fruits, think why they shouldn’t be? The fleshy part surrounds the pit which contains a seed. Just like mangoes, cherries, or plums.
While olives taste savory and it would be just right if they were vegetables, botany has its own rules.
There are many different varieties of olives. Black olives and Kalamata olives are two widely known olive varieties, but many differences set them apart.
Kalamata olives are a black olive variety. They are one of the most popular Greek olive varieties growing in Messinia, a regional unit in Greece. The olives are named after the city of Kalamata near which they have been cultivated.
If you live in the European Union, the name Kalamata is used only for olives that are grown in the Messinia region of the Greek Peloponnese peninsula.
Kalamata olives are harvested when they are fully matured. These olives are handled with care and picked by hand in order not to damage the skin.
Black olives, however, are unlike Kalamata olives. Kalamata olives have a distinctive name and are their own variety, but there are numerous types of black olives.
Black olives also come from the Mediterranean. They were first cultivated over five thousand years ago.
Nowadays, countries that have suitable climate conditions for growing olives are involved in their production. Among the list of countries producing olives, you will find not only Greece but also the United States, Australia, Argentina, etc.
Black olives are also called ripe olives, as they can be harvested when they are fully ripened.
There are also artificially ripened black olives. Green, semi-mature olives are harvested and matured with oxygen and lye. These are known as California olives.
You can easily differentiate between Kalamata olives and black olives as Kalamatas have that deep purple color. The shape of Kalamata olives is also more oblong and almond-like, whereas black olives are more rounded.
Kalamata olives are generally bigger than black olives. However, since black olives come in many varieties, they can also come in different sizes.
If you look into the black olive shelf in the supermarket, you will see olives classified into different sizes. From small olives to very large ones, there are a lot of options to choose from.
Texture and Taste
Both Kalamata and black olives are bitter when first harvested. They are de-bittered during the curing process. Once cured, olives become palatable and reveal more nuances of flavor.
If you are not much into olives and don’t like their pronounced taste, we recommend you go with black olives. Compared to Kalamata olives, the flavor of black olives is milder.
Italian Ponentine black lives, for example, have a very soft taste. And so do Gaeta olives, another Italian black olive variety. Lugano black olives, on the other hand, are on the saltier side.
However, the taste of black olives may be altered with the addition of various herbs during the brining process.
The flavor of Kalamata olives is unique and more distinctive than the taste of many black olive varieties. The taste of these olives is rich and is sometimes described as fruity. If cured in red wine vinegar, you may experience wine notes in Kalamata olives.
As Kalamata olives are bigger, they are meatier than regular black olives. These deep purple olives are also much plumper.
After being harvested, olives undergo what is called a ‘curing process’. Kalamata and black olives are cured differently.
Black ripe olives are cured with lye, an alkaline solution. This helps to enhance the natural flavor of olives while removing the bitterness.
When curing black olives, iron is usually added to preserve and stabilize the color. Before olives are canned, carbon dioxide is added to the solution. The cans are then sealed and steamed.
As for Kalamata olives, there are two ways to prepare them. The shortest way to cure these olives is by preserving them in plain or slightly salty water and changing it until the olives lose their bitterness. This takes around 7 days.
Once ready, Kalamata olives are transferred into a jar with brine solution and vinegar. A small amount of olive oil and lemon wedges are added to perfect the taste.
Another method of curing Kalamata olives is keeping them in a strong salty solution for around 90 days. Olives are sometimes cracked before being transferred into the solution. While this method removes most of the bitterness, they remain slightly pungent.
Compared to black olives, Kalamata olives are almost twice as high in calories and fat.
However, both Kalamata and black olives are rich in monounsaturated fats. These fatty acids contribute to the improvement of cholesterol levels. Not only that. They also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and have a positive impact on heart health.
Kalamata olives and black olives are a good source of vitamin A and iron.
What these olives are not is a major source of is carbs and fiber. If you are on a low-carb diet, olives are perfect to incorporate into salads. They can also be a great snack if you like to eat olives by themselves.
Olives are also Keto-friendly as they are a good source of fats. Here is a short summary of the nutritional content in Kalamata and (typical) black olive varieties:
|100 g||Kalamata Olives||Black Olives|
|Total Fat||22 g||34%||10.8 g||17%|
|Carbohydrates||5.5 g||2%||6.3 g||2%|
|Sodium||621 mg||26%||737 mg||31%|
|Cholesterol||0 mg||0%||0 mg||0%|
|Potassium||6.9 mg||0%||7.9 mg||0%|
While Kalamata olives and black olives are different in flavor, they can be often be used in the same way when it comes to preparing food. Here are some popular ways you can use these olive varieties.
- Salads. A fresh Greek salad with olives can never go wrong. Both black and Kalamata olives will taste delicious along with feta cheese and vegetables.
- Tapenade. What can be better than a flavorful tapenade spread on a slice of fresh crusty bread? You can also use it to stuff chicken or fish before baking,
- Pasta sauce. Make a delicious pasta sauce with black olives and Kalamata olives for the ultimate Italian feel. Puttanesca sauce or spaghetti alla puttanesca is one option you can go for.
- Dips. If your dipping sauces have been getting boring, add some chopped olives to them. A cream cheese dip with black or Kalamata olives served with crackers is a good way to start the dinner.
- Wine Platter. Olives are the perfect addition to wine platters. They pair well with wine and different types of cheese.
- Toppings. Sliced olives can be used to top pizzas, pasta, sandwiches, and wraps. They will add the final touch to the dish and an extra layer of taste.
Storage and Shelf Life
Olives need to be stored properly in order to preserve their qualities longer.
An unopened jar of olives can be stored at room temperature in a dark and dry place where it will keep for over a year.
Once you open the jar of olives, it is best to store it in the fridge. Keep olives in the liquid they come in. It is best to transfer them into a glass jar or an airtight plastic container. Olives will keep from 4 to 8 weeks in the fridge.
If you buy olives from an olive bar, refrigerate them once you bring them home.
Can You Substitute Kalamata Olives with Black Olives?
You can often substitute Kalamata olives with black olives if you don’t mind the slightly milder taste of black olives.
Gaeta black olives are a good choice as an alternative to Kalamata olives. If you want to tone down the olive taste in the dish, California black olives can be used as their taste is less distinctive and rich.
However, as there are many varieties of black olives and they all have different taste properties, it is always good to taste them before using them in a dish.