Kalamata Olives: Health Benefits & Nutrition

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on January 23, 2024
6 min read

Named after the city in Greece where they were first grown, kalamata olives, like all olives, grow from the olive tree. Kalamata olives are a variety of black olive that grows in Messinia and Laconia, two regions in Greece. In Europe, the olives grown in only these two regions can be called kalamata olives. However, the same variety is also grown in other countries, including Egypt, Turkey, and Chile. So, olives sold outside of Europe may be labeled “kalamata olives” even though they weren't grown in one of these two regions of Greece.

Kalamata olives are almond-shaped with a shiny, dark purple-brown skin. Olives are bitter when they're first picked, so they're usually put in a saltwater solution for some time. Then, they are cured to make them taste better. Kalamata olives are more intensely flavored than other varieties of black olives and have potential health benefits because they have a lot of healthy fats (especially monounsaturated fats), minerals, vitamin E, and other antioxidants.

In addition to adding a unique, salty Mediterranean flavor to your favorite dishes, regular servings of olives are linked to many health benefits, studies suggest.

Reduce risks of heart disease

Kalamata olives may reduce your risks of heart disease. This is due to the presence of hydroxytyrosol in olives.

Hydroxytyrosol is an antioxidant that has been shown to decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

High levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with increased risks of heart attack and stroke, while high levels of HDL cholesterol are associated with a decreased risk of heart attack and stroke. Eating foods, such as kalamata olives, that help regulate your cholesterol ratios can benefit your overall heart health.

May reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Kalamata olives contain a compound called gallic acid. A recent study showed that gallic acid can help repair nerve cell damage caused by Alzheimer’s Disease in rats.

Although more studies are needed to see if gallic acid would have the same effect on humans, these initial findings suggest that kalamata olives could be beneficial to people living with Alzheimer’s disease or at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Even though olives are generally high in sodium, kalamata olives are good for you because they're a nutritional powerhouse loaded with micro- and macronutrients, including:

  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium

Nutrients per serving

One serving of kalamata olives is about 15 grams or 6-8 olives, depending on their size. One serving has:

Portion sizes

Kalamata olives are healthy when eaten in moderation, but it’s important to remember that, like all olives, they’re high in sodium. For a person who eats 2,000 calories per day, one serving has about 13% of your daily recommended limit of sodium. Having too much sodium in your diet forces your heart to work harder to do its job and can lead to conditions such as congestive heart failure and kidney disease. Limit yourself to a maximum of one serving of olives per day, and try to keep your sodium intake at or below 2,300 milligrams each day.

To help reduce the amount of sodium in olives, you can also rinse them in water before you eat them.

Kalamata olives originated in the Mediterranean, so it should come as no surprise that they’re often required in Mediterranean-style dishes.

Here are some ways you can add kalamata olives to your diet:

  • Eat them on their own as a snack.
  • Add them to a cheese platter.
  • Add them to your sandwiches.
  • Sprinkle them on pizza.
  • Add them to your homemade spaghetti sauce.
  • Toss them into a Greek salad.
  • Pair with fish.

You can find pitted kalamata olives at the grocery store and you can buy olive pitting gadgets, but there's an easy way to pit olives at home without any special equipment:

  • Lay your olives down on a flat surface (you can pit more than one at a time with this method).
  • Cover them with the flat side of your chef's knife.
  • Press on the flat side of the knife until the olives break open.
  • Pick the pit out with your fingers.

This method works well for kalamata olives because their meat doesn't tend to cling very tightly to the pit. It may not work as well for other types of olives that cling to the pit. If breaking them open doesn't work, you can use a sharp knife to carefully cut the flesh from around the pit. Be careful to hold the olive steady as you cut because it's likely to roll around if you don't.

Kalamata olives and black olives are similar in that they are both good for you. They don't differ much in nutritional value. However, kalamata olives and black olives are different in color, shape, texture, and taste because they are picked at different levels of ripeness and are processed differently.

Kalamata olives have a shiny, slightly rough skin that's dark purple to purplish-brown in color, almost like an eggplant. This is because they aren't picked until they're completely ripe. They're almond-shaped or slightly elongated with pointed ends. Black olives (also called California black olives), on the other hand, have a smooth, dark brown-black or blue-black skin and are more rounded. Black olives are usually picked when they are green and then ripened during the curing process.

Some people describe kalamata olives as “meaty” because they have a chewier texture than black olives, which are slightly soft. Kalamata olives also have a strong, almost fruity taste because they're tree-ripened. Black olives taste mild and less fruity since they're picked before they're ripe.

At the grocery store, you usually find kalamata olives unpitted or pitted and packed in salt brine or vinegar in jars. Black olives are usually pitted and canned. Some people prefer buying unpitted olives because they can retain their shape, texture, and taste more effectively during the packing process than pitted olives.

The difference in color between black and green olives is due to ripeness. Green olives are picked before they're ripe and then are cured in their unripened state so they stay green. You may be familiar with pimento- (sweet pepper) or garlic-stuffed olives. Stuffed olives are usually green olives because the firmer texture of the unripened olive makes them easier to stuff. Some varieties of green olives include Manzanilla, Arbequina, Castelvetrano, and Picholine.

Green olives have a slightly bitter flavor when compared with kalamata olives or other black olives. However, the varieties can vary in flavor from tomato- or apple-like for the Manzanilla to buttery for the Arbequina and lemony for the Picholine.

Kalamata olives are a variety of black olives grown in specific areas of Greece and processed in a particular way. They're shiny, dark purple, or purple-brown olives and have a strong, fruity flavor because they're left on the tree until fully ripe. They have a lot of sodium because of the way they are brined and cured, but kalamata olives are good for you in moderation because they have a lot of healthy fats, minerals, and antioxidants. Eat a few on their own as a snack or add them to sandwiches, pizza, salad, or your favorite Mediterranean recipe to take advantage of their tasty good nutrition.