Olives have been a staple in the Greek diet since prehistoric times, and they’re one of the many preserves I always keep stocked in my pantry. It’s hard to think of a dish that isn’t enhanced by the addition of olives. They add a complex flavor and richness to almost anything, and because they’re preserved, they can keep indefinitely. In Greece they are traditionally eaten on their own or added to a salad, but they make a tremendously versatile cooking ingredient. I love to pair them with other pantry staples like beans or pasta but also baked with proteins like fish or chicken.
Olives, naturally, offer the same amazing health benefits of their derivative, olive oil. They are a good source of iron, calcium, copper, and vitamin E. The calcium in olives has been especially important to Greeks who have traditionally observed 180 days of religious fasting from animal products. In fact, studies have shown that osteoporosis is less common in the Mediterranean than other parts of Europe primarily because of the high consumption of olives and olive oil.
But what makes olives such a nutritional powerhouse is their abundance of polyphenols. They rank among the fruits (yes, they’re fruits!) with the highest concentrations of polyphenols, or antioxidant plant compounds. The polyphenols in olives benefit us in two main ways—by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress (or cellular damage). And these two effects benefit virtually every system in our body. The laundry list of health benefits includes reduction of cardiac risk factors and inflammation—and even fighting cancer! While olives are delicious in their own right, you can’t make a better nutritional case for incorporating them into your diet.
There are so many different varieties of olives but also various ways of processing them that contribute to their unique flavors and textures. Many Greek olive varieties have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status—meaning they’re only grown and processed in a particular part of Greece. In my shop, I’ve sourced some high-quality, artisan varieties that you hardly find outside of Greece. They truly are a pantry workhorse, adding so much flavor and nutrition to virtually any recipe.