Olive oil is considered an essential food item in the Mediterranean diet. When consumed in moderation, it can be an extremely healthy food choice that promotes heart health and reduces the risk of certain cancers.
Still, not all foods derived from olives are created equal — specifically, not all of them are acidic or alkaline.
Many people avoid consuming olives due to worries about their acidity, but is it really that big of a deal?
Olives are fruits that come from the olive tree, which grows all over the world, and humans have been eating them since ancient times.
They come in different varieties, from black to green and purple to stuffed with other types of fruit. They also have varying degrees of taste, from pungent to sweet and salty, depending on where they’re grown and how they’re prepared.
So does this mean you should start adding more olives to your diet?
Let’s get to the bottom of this olive debate once and for all!
The Great History of Olives
Olives have been around for over 6,000 years, and their history is intertwined with the history of the Mediterranean region (1). The first evidence of olive cultivation is from Crete, where archaeological finds date back to 3,000 – 3,500 BCE (2,3).
Olives were an essential part of the diet of ancient Greeks and Romans and were used as a form of currency.
In fact, the Latin word for olive, “olea, oleum “is believed to be the root of the word “money” (4,5) Olives were also a symbol of peace and prosperity and played an important part in religious ceremonies.
Today, olives are grown in warm climates around the world and are used to produce oil, which is used in cooking and cosmetics. Olives are also a popular ingredient in many dishes, such as salads, pasta, and pizza.
Olives continue to be a staple of Mediterranean cuisine and culture regardless of how they are used.
Olives All Around the World
Olives have been grown for centuries, and they play an essential role in the cuisines of many different cultures.
In Mediterranean countries like Italy, Greece, Spain and Croatia, olives are often used as a garnish or appetizer. They are also a key ingredient in many traditional dishes, such as ratatouille, tapenade, and za’atar.
In Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon and Syria, olives are commonly used in salads and dips such as hummus and tabbouleh.
In North African countries like Morocco and Algeria, olives are often used to flavor couscous and tagines.
No matter how they are used, olives add a unique depth of flavor to any dish.
Most Common Types of Olives
Although many types of olives exist, but six varieties account for the majority of olive production around the world.
- Cara cosa: Cara cosa olives are a type of black olive that is native to Spain. These olives are large and oval-shaped, with violet-black skin and meaty flesh. They have a mild, fruity flavor with hints of balsamic vinegar and black coffee. Cara cosa olives are typically used in salads and garnish, but they can also be stuffed or used in tapenades and other dishes. If you’re looking for a versatile and yummy olive, Cara cosa olives are a great choice.
- Gordal olive: Gordal olives are a type of olive that is grown in Spain. The name “Gordal” comes from the Spanish word for “fat” and these olives are indeed known for their large size. They’re firm in texture and have a mild, slightly salty flavor. Gordal olives are often used as an ingredient in recipes, such as Spanish omelets and potato salads. Additionally, you can enjoy them casually as a tasty snack.
- Picholine olive: The Picholine olive is a type of olive grown in the south of France. It is a large olive with a greenish-yellow color. The Picholine olive is known for its high quality and its unique flavor. The Picholine olive is used in many different dishes, including salads, pasta dishes, and pizzas. The Picholine olive is often used as a garnish for meat and fish dishes.
- Kalamata olive: Kalamata olives are a type of olive typically large and purple-black in color. They are grown in the Kalamata region of Greece and have a slightly fruity, mildly bitter flavor. In addition to their culinary uses, Kalamata olives are also known for their health benefits (6). Studies have shown that they can help to lower cholesterol levels and lessen the risk of heart disease (7). Moreover, they are also a good source of antioxidants, which can help to protect against cell damage.
- Arbequina olive: The Arbequina olive is a small, oval-shaped olive that originated in the province of Aragon in northeastern Spain. The name “Arbequina” is derived from the town of Arbeca, where the olive is thought to have first been cultivated. Today, Arbequina olives are grown in many parts of the world, including California, Italy, Portugal, and Chile. The olives are prized for their delicate flavor and are often used in salads and other dishes. Arbequina olives are also popular for their oil used in cooking and cosmetics.
- Liguria olive: Liguria olive is a type of olive grown in the Mediterranean region. The fruit is small and oval-shaped, with a smooth, dark green skin. The flesh of the fruit is firm and mild-flavored, with a hint of sweetness. Liguria olives are typically harvested in October and November. They are incorporated into several dishes, including salads, pasta dishes, and pizzas. Liguria olives can also be pressed to produce olive oil. The oil has a fruity flavor and a slightly peppery finish and is often used in salad dressings and marinades. Liguria olive oil is also a popular ingredient in soaps and cosmetics.
Each of these types of olives has its unique flavor and texture, making them all worth trying.
Are Olives Acidic?
While olives are not as acidic as lemons or vinegar, they do have a pH level that is lower than 7 (8). This means that olives are considered to be slightly acidic.
However, the acidity level of olives can vary depending on their ripeness and type.
For example, green olives tend to be more acidic than black olives. As a result, it is crucial to taste olives before using them in a recipe to determine how much acidity they will add.
What Contributes to the Acidity of Olives?
While the taste of olives can vary depending on the variety, they are generally classified as bitter or sweet.
The overall acidity of olives is determined by many factors, including the type of olive, ripeness of the fruit, and growing conditions.
Unripe olives tend to be more acidic than ripe olives, and green olives are typically more acidic than black olives. The soil in which the olive tree is grown can also affect the acidity of the fruit.
For example, olives grown in limestone-rich soils tend to be less acidic than those grown in other types of soil.
The acidity of olives is also influenced by the process used to cure them. Olives can be cured through fermentation, lye treatment, or a combination of both methods.
Fermentation is typically used to produce sweeter-tasting olives, while lye treatment produces a more bitter flavor. Olives that are cured using both methods tend to have a balanced flavor.
Health Benefits of Olives
Olives are a tasty and healthy addition to any diet. Here are some benefits of olives for your health:
1. A Good Source of Healthy Fats
Olives are often used in savory dishes. They are an amazing way to deliver healthy fats, including monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats to your body, helping lower cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease (9).
Olives are also a good source of antioxidants, which can help to protect cells from damage.
Also, olives contain vitamins A, E, and K and minerals such as iron and copper. While olives can be a healthy addition to your diet, they should be eaten in moderation due to their high fat content.
2. Protection Against Cell Damage
According to recent research, olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthal which has the ability to prevent the build-up of harmful toxins in cells (10,11). This is especially important in the case of brain cells, where cell damage can lead to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Oleocanthal also helps to reduce inflammation, making it a valuable tool in the fight against conditions like arthritis. So if you want a way to improve your health, add some olive oil to your diet – it just might be the key to protecting your cells from damage.
3. They Help to Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
Olives are a fantastic healthy fats and antioxidants source and have been shown to help improve insulin sensitivity (12).
Also, olives can help reduce inflammation, a common complication of diabetes. Including olives as part of a healthy diet can be an effective way to help keep blood sugar levels under control.
As you can see, olives offer many health benefits. So, next time you’re looking for a healthy snack, reach for some olives instead of chips or cookies!
4. Cancer Prevention
Olives contain compounds that can help to prevent cancer (13,14). These compounds work by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, and they have been shown to be effective against many cancers, including breast, colon, and skin cancer (15).
Moreover, olives are also a rich source of antioxidants, which can help protect cells from damage and reduce inflammation (16). Adding some olives to your next meal can help boost your health.
In conclusion, while there is no black-and-white answer as to whether or not olives are acidic, most evidence points towards them being alkaline due to their high levels of glutamic acid and low levels of sodium.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I Eat Olives Daily?
Anything in excess is dangerous for health. You can eat olives daily, but make sure to take this factor into consideration.
2. Which Country Produces the Most Olives?
Italy is the world’s largest producer of olives, followed by Spain and Greece. California produces the most olives in the US.
3. Are Olives Good for Gastritis?
While there is some debate on whether olives are acidic or not, most agree that they are at least somewhat acidic. This can be problematic for those with gastritis, as the acidity can irritate the stomach lining.