Olives are truly love ‘em or hate ‘em snacks. But, chances are, if you’re reading this article, you absolutely love them. You will also likely know that there are many different kinds of olives.
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Two of the most popular are kalamata olives and black olives. But what’s the difference between these two delicious snacks? I love a black olive and feta cheese with a little extra virgin olive oil or some Greek olive oil.
When ordering a selection of olives in a restaurant, you can never really be sure what you might get. Kalamata olives and black olives might look pretty similar but they are actually very different.
This is generally because we consider “black olives” to be a specific type of olive. In actuality, black olives are a family of olives.
Kalamata olives are classed as “black olives”. But that doesn’t mean what we generally consider to be black olives and Kalamata olives aren’t very different.
They are different in taste, texture, size, and stone. So, it’s a little complicated if Kalamata olives are technically black olives. But what we consider to be black olives are very different from Kalamata olives.
So let’s try to straighten this all out...
You likely associate olives with Greece. Or perhaps the Mediterranean in general. Kalamata olives are grown only in a very specific region. Whereas black olives can be found across the world.
Kalamata olives originate from their namesake, Kalamata. Kalamata is an area within Messinia in Greece. But this doesn’t mean that every olive grown in Kalamata is a “Kalamata olive”.
Black olives are grown in many different places. These include, of course, Greece. But they can also be grown in lots of other hot countries and across the Mediterranean.
When you are presented with a bowl of olives at a restaurant, the first thing you will obviously notice is how they look. The most standard olives are medium-sized green olives. But you very often will receive a selection, all of which look surprisingly different.
When you imagine an olive, you will likely see something tough and green. But, of course, there are many other different types of olives. Kalamata olives and black olives look a little similar but are actually very different.
Kalamata Olives Appearance
Kalamata olives are larger than black olives. They are usually about twice the size.
They are also differently shaped. Kalamata olives are longer and thinner with a sharper end. They are also a soft purple color.
Black Olives Appearance
Black olives are generally smaller than Kalamata olives. They are squatter and more of the traditional olive shape that you would imagine.
Black olives also have a much stronger taste. Their flavor really packs a punch, whereas Kalamata olives are much more subtle.
Although it’s important to be able to tell these olives apart on sight.
The most important aspect is, of course, the taste. Black olives and Kalamata olives have very different flavors.
Kalamata Olives Taste
Kalamata olives have a much milder taste than black olives.
They are almost sweet and fruity. But they do still have the sharpness that you associate with olives in general.
Black Olives Taste
Black olives have a much more intense taste. They aren’t quite as strongly flavored as green olives.
But they are salty and a lot of richness and flavor is packed into those little foods.
The texture of olives in general is quite strange.
So what’s the difference between the texture of Kalamata olives and black olives?
Kalamata Olives Texture
Kalamata olives are very soft in comparison to almost any other type of olive.
They almost fall off their stones and are very easy to eat. They almost fall apart in your mouth before you have a chance to chew them.
Black Olives Texture
Black olives are very different in comparison. In terms of texture, black olives are more similar to standard green olives than Kalamata olives. They have a tough and chewy flesh. It is hard and almost rubbery.
The exterior is smoother and takes a little more effort to eat. But this is negligible and they are no more difficult than standard olives.
Facts About Olives
Now you know all of the main differences between Kalamata olives and black olives. So what else do you need to know about olives? Here are a few interesting facts to boost your olive knowledge just a little bit more.
- You can’t eat olives straight from the tree. You might think that there is nothing better than walking down a Grecian street and eating an olive straight from the tree. But you would be very wrong. Olives straight from the tree are actually so bitter that they could shrivel your teeth. This is due to the oleuropein compound. Olives are treated and cured so that they taste much better. This is why they often come in brine.
- Olives are fruit. You might never have thought of it before but it would be difficult to class olives as one specific type of food. To most people, olives are almost a food type in themselves. But olives are technically classed as “drupes”. Drupes are fruits that split from the plant (known as indehiscent fruit) and whose flesh surrounds a stone. Peaches and apricots are also drupes.
- On average, an olive tree can live to around 1,000 years. We don’t generally think of trees and plants as having a life span. But this is more of an average life-expectancy.
- Olives were used for their oil long before they were eaten themselves. The outer flesh of an olive contains around 30% oil. They were so predominantly known for their oil that the English word “oil” comes from the Greek “elaia” which means oil.
- Olives are, of course, still renowned for their oil. Olive oil, especially extra-virgin olive oil, is excellent for cooking. It is also great for your health. Many people avoid oil as they assume it is bad for them. (And sure, anything deep-fried in oil isn’t particularly rich in nutrients). But extra-virgin olive oil is great for you and can be used to cook any meal.
Organic Kalamata olives make a zesty tapenade with a little lemon juice. They're great in a Greek salad or any recipe that calls for pitted olives. I love pitted Kalamata olives mixed with some red wine vinegar, salt, garlic, and a little red onion. I love black olives on pizza or in pasta with crusty bread and garlic. Canned black olives are good for baking but I prefer sliced black olives right off the table.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are kalamata olives the same as black olives?
Although green olives are the most popular, followed by black olives, there are plenty of other types of olives, providing a vast variety of differences and tweaks in flavor. A type of olive that you might have come across, without realizing it as such, is kalamata olives.
They are often confused with black olives, as they look similar at first glance, but there are plenty of differences to set them apart. So no, they are not the same as black olives at all!
Both black olives and kalamata olives come from the Mediterranean (as to most types of olives), and they can often be used interchangeably in salads and meals. But they are not the same!
They have three main differences:
While black olives are round and completely black (hence the name), kalamata olives are actually more almond-shaped, and they’re not black but rather a dark purple in color.
Black olives have a mild, slightly salty taste. Kalamata olives, on the other hand, have a rich flavor, with a pang of fruitiness that sets them apart from most other types of olives.
- The way they are harvested:
Black olives can be harvested at any point, including when they are still green. This is because they can be artificially ripened through the brining method. Kalamata olives, on the other hand, need to be only harvested when they are fully matured, as there is no way to artificially make them ripe.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are many different types of black olives, while the kalamata olives are a specific variety that stems from black olives, so they are related in that sense, hence why they can be easy to confuse.
Kalamata olives, specifically, are grown in a region of Greece called Messinia, and they have been named after the nearby city of Kalamata, to honor the origin of their cultivation. They are also one of the most popular varieties of black olives, so it is very likely that you’ve tried them at some point!
Can you substitute kalamata olives for black olives?
In most recipes and meals that use kalamata olives, you can instead use black olives, as they are a pretty good substitute and alternative. However, it’s important to note that the black olives will be a lot milder, and the overall flavor won’t be as rich, and might also be slightly more bitter.
A better alternative for kalamata olives would be Gaeta black olives, as they are slightly more similar to kalamata olives than black olives are. But once again, the flavor will still be milder than the original.
Do kalamata olives taste like black olives?
The answer to this is no. In fact, one of the main differences between kalamata olives and black olives is that they have a significantly different taste, although they can often be used as alternatives for each other.
Black olives have a mild, slightly salty flavor. When they aren’t as ripe, however, they can taste bitter, and have a strong flavor that not everybody enjoys. (For example, children much prefer green olives for this very reason!)
Kalamata olives, on the other hand, have a richer and stronger taste compared to black olives, and instead of a salty pang, they are slightly fruity.
But overall, they both taste like olives, which is why a lot of people often confuse them, especially if they haven’t tried many different types of olives and know how to spot the difference.
Which olives are the healthiest?
Kalamata olives are considered to be the overall healthiest type of olives, and they are also one of the healthiest foods in general. They are high in sodium, contain healthy fats, and are a natural antioxidant. They also contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, with iron and mineral A.