I’ve loved olives for longer than I can remember, as this photo (age 2?) will attest. I was conceived in Greece while my parents were living there for a year. And though I wasn’t born in Greece, Greek olives were one of my first solid foods. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Italy, and was in olive-heaven at the local markets. A plethora of varieties that we’ve never seen in the states, and the were soooo tasty.
Olive trees have been around for thousands of years, and their fruit has been a staple of the Mediterranean people for just as long. Olive oil has been in the limelight a lot lately for all of its nutritious properties (as well as its connection to the Mob…but I’ll save that for another post.) So what about the olive itself? How does it stack up nutritionally against olive oil?
Olives and their oils both contain phytonutrients with a whole host of healthy benefits, including:
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Immune boosting properties
- Anti cancer properties
- Cardiovascular protection
- Raising HDL (good) cholesterol
But some olives have an additional health benefit that the oil does not have. As I mentioned in my previous post on sauerkraut, many cultures around the globe have a traditional fermented food. In the Mediterranean, olives were traditionally cured by the fermentation process.
Fermentation creates lactobacillus – a natural probiotic, beneficial for digestion. Today however, most canned and bottled olives are processed using lye, and ferrous gluconate, to reduce processing time. Therefore, they don’t contain the beneficial lactobacillus probiotic.
Traditionally cured (fermented) olives can be found in bulk in some specialty food stores and grocery store olive bars. Look for olives that are “oil cured”, “water cured”, “brine cured”, and “dry-salted”. Remember to keep an eye on the sodium content if you are watching your sodium intake, as olives can be quite high in sodium.