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What Are Kalamata Olives?

Kalamata olives are a type of “table” olive (processed to eat whole more than for its oil) that is named after the city in Greece where it was first reported to grow. 

Deep purple or black Kalamata olives are more oblong and thin than their green or black olive cousins, more pungent tasting, and are processed differently. 

I wondered why kalamata olives look so appetizing but they tend to have a bitter finish that transcends the typical vinegar and salt brine that so many olives have.

It turns out there are polyphenols that remain in their processing that leave the pucker on the tongue.

So, what do you know about kalamata “table” olives? Do you like them, hate them, or LOVE them?

What are kalamata olives?

Kalamata olives refer to the type of olive that is found in the olive tree, Olea europaea, which is native to the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.

They have an almond shape, smooth and meaty texture, and more intense flavor than their cousin, black olives. 

The fruits are green in hue when unripe and brown or deep purple when ripened. 

Kalamata olives also contain a stone or pit in the middle, which makes them classified as drupes or stone fruit. 

This dark, almond-shaped beauty is named after the city of Kalamata where the fruit is believed to be first grown. 

Cultivated over five thousand years ago, the olive tree is believed as a symbol of honor and culture and even used as a prize for victors at the Olympic games.  

And depending on the region and brand, kalamata olives are sometimes harvested by hand when they’re fully mature to avoid bruising the fruits. 

They’re naturally bitter so they cannot be eaten immediately and need to be cured or processed. 

In Greece, people place the olives directly in brine or saltwater with yeasts to get rid of the bitter compounds of the fruits. 

When ripened, kalamata olives can be eaten on their own or used as a key ingredient in a plethora of dishes, including Greek salads, pasta sauce, pizzas, wraps, and spreads. 

The olive fruits work great with feta cheese, capers, tomatoes, basil, red onion, oregano, goat cheese, and so much more. 

On a different note, get to know more about black olives in another walkthrough guide.

What do kalamata olives taste like?

Kalamata olives have a similar bitter taste to black olives when first harvested. 

However, when they have undergone a curing process, the flavor profile of kalamata olives becomes rich, fruity, meaty with a notable sharpness that other olive varieties don’t have.

They have a more unique and distinctive flavor than black olives and these nice undertones can even be enhanced when you cure them in red wine vinegar.

Kalamata olives vs black olives

Kalamata and black olives are added to various dishes such as salads, pasta, and pizzas. They can also be eaten as is or as appetizers. 

A lot of people have been relying on these two olive varieties, especially during special occasions, but some of them don’t really know the difference. 

If you’re wondering what are the differences and similarities of these fruits, you’re in luck! 

Today I’m going to reveal some of them, from taste, appearance, and their culinary uses.

AppearanceTasteCulinary usesOther differences
Kalamata olivesKalamata olives have an almond shape, smooth and meaty texture, and a brown or deep purple color when ripened.Kalamata olives have a more intense flavor than their cousins, black olives. 

They also have a rich, meaty and fruity mouthfeel with a notable sharpness that other olive varieties have.
Kalamata olives are commonly added to salads, pasta sauce, pizzas, wraps, and spreads.Kalamata olives are placed in brine or saltwater with yeasts to get rid of the bitter compounds of the olives.
Black olivesMeatier with a softer textural nuance, black olives feature oval in shape and up to half an inch in length. 

Just like kalamata, black olives tend to have a green color when unripe.
Black olives offer a rich, nutty and milder flavor than kalamata olives. 

Similar to kalamata, black olives taste bitter when unripe.
Black olives can add rich and bright flavor to a variety of dishes including sandwiches, bread, salad, tapenade, taco dip, and pizza.Black olives are cured with lye, an alkaline solution to remove the bitterness of the fruits.

How to use kalamata olives

Here are some great ways on how to use your kalamata olives:

  1. Remove the pit, then chop or slice for toppings on sandwiches and pizzas. 
  2. To flavor and accent pasta dishes, like our Authentic Greek Baked Ziti (Pastitsio). 
  3. Of course, toss them into your Greek salad. 
  4. Create tapenade or taco dip out of them!
  5. Add a nice texture to your bread with finely chopped kalamata olives.
  6. Toss sliced or whole kalamatas into a braising dish with your baked chicken legs.
  7. Combine them with creamy avocado, New Mexican chiles, and crabmeat to create a Mexican seafood cocktail.
  8. Include them in stews, roast fish, and slaw. 
  9. Include kalamatas with other kinds of your favorite olives on your next charcuterie or cheese board. Provolone cheese goes great with kalamatas!

Do kalamata olives have pits?

Yes and no. All olives grow on the tree with pits. But some are processed (pitted) so that they are packaged and sold without their hard pits in the middle. 

You can buy kalamata olives with pits or without pits (also called seeds or stones). 

The package will say PITTED if the stones, seeds, or pits have been removed from the olives. 

If you’ve purchased whole kalamata olives, you can slit each olive and remove the pits yourself. 

if you’re curious, a pitted olive means IT HAS NO PITS, and that the seeds have been removed from the olives.
 
It’s best to use pitted (seedless) olives when serving, so whether you buy them with the pits already removed, or do it yourself, it may save the teeth of someone who bites down on a kalamata expecting no pit.

How to store kalamata olives

To extend the shelf life of your kalamata olives, you must know how to store them correctly.

How to store kalamata olives (opened)

The best way to keep your kalamata olives fresh is by storing them in the fridge. 

If you successfully store them, you’ll be able to enjoy their unique flavor for up to eight weeks. 

Here are some easy steps on how to store your kalamata olives in case you already opened the jar: 

Materials needed:

    • Kalamata olives
    • Airtight container 
    • Fridge

Instructions:

    1. Retain the jar with lid or transfer the kalamata olives to an airtight container, like a clean mason jar. Keep the liquid brine to help keep your olives fresh. 
    2. Place the container in your fridge. 
    3. Consume the olives within eight weeks.

How to store kalamata olives (unopened)

Here’s how to store an unopened jar of kalamata olives: 

Materials needed:

    • Unopened jar of kalamata olives

Instructions:

    1. Keep the kalamata olives in their original jar. 
    2. Place the jar at room temperature in a dark and dry place. 
    3. If stored properly, the olives can last for over a year.

Substitutes for kalamata olives

Have you ever wondered what possible replacements for kalamata olives are? 

Fortunately, you can substitute the ingredient with capers, Maddalena olives, Nicoise olives, black olives, and Gaeta olives. 

But keep in mind that every replacement has its own unique flavor, texture, and some of these options may not give you the same result as you would use kalamata in your recipes. 

1. Capers

Capers feature a similar salty, tangy, peppery bite as kalamata olives. 

It also has a soft and smooth texture, making them great to add to your seafood dishes, sauces, and cocktails. 

2. Nicoise olives

Though these are reported to have a nutty and bitter taste with notes of almonds and hazelnuts, Nicoise olives are still a great substitute for kalamata olives, thanks to their salty and briny mouthfeel. 

Some reviewers on Amazon are saying Nicoise (“from Nice, Italy) are heavy on the herbs de provence, but the consensus is mostly favorable. Here, someone comments on their origin and how “Nicoise-style” differs: 

“Excellent quality, very close to true Nicoise, which would be about three times more expensive. When drained and sprinkled with good olive oil they are true delight as is, and [a] great supplement to salads and dishes. If transferred into smaller glass jars, can last up to three or four months, provided they are topped with olive oil, refrigerated at 36 degrees, and jars finished within a week to ten days after the first opening. Btw, many high end stores sell them as Nicoise, rather than “Nicoise style,” and buyers don’t seem to mind…”

You can use them as a kalamata olive replacement in your salads and tapenades.

3. Maddalena olives

If you can’t stand the sharp taste of kalamata olives, then Maddalena olives may be an ideal option for you! 

These olives offer a soft and juicy texture as well as a signature purple color similar to kalamata olives. 

Toss them into your favorite salad dishes and let us know what you think!

4. Black olives

Black olives have a milder, sweeter flavor than kalamata olives. So with a little bit of tweaking, you’ll be able to achieve the same flavors of kalamata! 

Add black olives on pizzas, sandwiches, bread, salad, tapenade, taco dip, and pizza!

5. Gaeta olives

Gaeta olives have a meaty texture and less salty flavor with colors that range from browns to purple, making them a good replacement for kalamata olives! 

Their name comes from the small fishing town in the northern Campania region in Italy. 

They can be used as appetizers just like kalamata or as a key ingredient for salads, pasta, and cooked fish. 

One reviewer mentions: “A nice, far less salty alternative to kalamata olives. Flavor is similar but with less salt, you can actually taste the olive flesh.”

Good to know!

The bottom line

Kalamata olives are as varied as any other luxurious food, and often are sold flavored, stuffed, and folded into many appetizers, dips, and the like. 

Olives are a rich, delicious snack and heighten the flavor of all kinds of foods.

The best research is your own taste-testing, and we hope you get to try kalamata olives in some of your favorite dishes very soon!

How To Store Kalamata Olives (Opened)

How To Store Kalamata Olives (Opened)

Here are some easy steps for how to store an opened jar of kalamata olives. 

Ingredients

  • Kalamata olives
  • Airtight container
  • Fridge

Instructions

  1. Transfer the kalamata olives to an airtight container, preferably glass such as a mason jar. Keep the liquid brine to keep your olives fresh. 
  2. Place the container in your fridge. 
  3. Consume the olives within eight weeks.

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