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Olives have been a part of the Mediterranean region since biblical times. Here in the United States, California takes the prize of olive production, producing 95% of the olives grown in the nation. Table varieties include Manzanilla, or black “California-style,” Sevillano and Ascolano. Mission and Arbequina varieties are generally best suited for olive oil.

The average consumer may not care so much about the variety, but rather the color and processing treatment. Green olives are simply unripe olives, while naturally black olives are picked fully ripe. Slight color variations may also depend on how they are processed. Green olives are cured, and some may be fermented as well. Different curing treatments may produce different type of olives, such as Kalamata or Spanish-style. Whether green or black, olives are too bitter to enjoy without processing. Therefore, black olives are cured as well, and they are exposed to air to oxidize and gain a deep dark color.

While olives are botanically a fruit, the culinary world treats them as a vegetable. We eat them in savory dishes and hors d’oeuvres. Enjoy olives in egg dishes, casseroles, pasta or on top of pizza, baked potatoes or salads. Process them into a tapenade for a spread on crackers. Olives are low in calories, are good source of monounsaturated fats, but high in sodium. Nutrition composition may vary slightly depending upon brand and type of olive. Just five Manzanilla olives are 25 calories but 330 milligrams of sodium. Rinse olives to remove some of the sodium.

So which olive do you like? Olive them! (Sorry…bad olive joke).

Greek Salad

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ fresh lemon, juiced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

14 ounces quartered artichoke hearts, drained

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4 ounces pitted Kalamata olives

½ red bell pepper, chopped

½ green bell pepper, chopped

½ red onion, chopped

½ pint grape tomatoes

4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

4 ounces spring mix salad greens

In a large bowl, whisk olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and oregano. Add artichokes, olives, red pepper, green pepper, onion, tomatoes and feta cheese. Toss gently to combine. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Serve Greek Salad over a bed of fresh salad greens.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 230 calories, 16 grams fat, 960 milligrams sodium, 15 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 7 grams protein

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Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306. 

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