Kalamata Olives vs Black Olives

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Kalamata olives – are they any different from black olives? Well… The answer is another kind of those ‘yes and no’ situations (oh dear). However, there’s no need to fret because I’ll be going over the real difference between Kalamata olives and black olives. We’ll also be exploring culinary uses and substitutions, as well as comparing nutritional value.

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So, let’s get started!

Kalamata olive tree beside a grecian building

What Are Kalamata Olives?

Kalamata olives – also known as Greek olives – are an olive variety so-named for their origin in Kalamata city in the Messenia region of Greece. They’re usually brined in olive oil or wine vinegar and used as table olives. So, what makes them any different from black olives?

Well, the true difference between Kalamata olives and black olives is not what you might expect…

Kalamata olives are actually a variety of black olives! Despite this, they are still incredibly different from other black olive varieties – and have their popularity to thank for that.

Kalamata Olives vs Black Olives

Similarities And Differences

Kalamata olives are longer and larger than other black olives, generally being lighter in color. They are a softer purple shade in comparison to the rich dark tones of black olives, and they tend to be softer in texture.

In taste, Kalamatas are very distinct. Whether they are sour, salty, or sweet depends on what they were brined in, but most of all they are described as being fruity and strong. Other black olive varieties tend to be milder.

Field full of green and black olives

How Are They Harvested

Most black olive varieties are harvested unripe and then left to ripen, but this cannot be done with Kalamatas. They must be harvested at just the right time – too soon, and they will be bitter. Too late, and they lose all their flavor. To complicate things further, they must be harvested by hand to avoid bruising them, as they are even more fragile in their ripened state. This is another reason why kalamatas are a little pricier than most other black olives.

Price Differences: Olives And Oil

Kalamata olive produce tends to be more expensive because of the way they are harvested and the cost of importation. In some cases, their production takes place entirely within one territory. While Kalamatas olives within themselves may not be PDO-protected, Kalamata olive oil definitely is. Regardless, the cost of importation alone is enough to slightly drive up to the price of Kalamata olives.

Price Range

The price of Kalamata olives range from $6 to $30 at the grocery store, depending on whether you’re buying fresh, pickled, or vacuum sealed. Kalamata olive oil prices are quite a bit steeper, raninging in price from $11 to $50, plus shipping.

Kalamata Olive Oil

Not all olives are suitable for making olive oil. Having such a distinct flavor, you would maybe think that kalamatas would not be used for making olive oil, but this is far from the truth!

Though they may not be suitable for all types of olive oil, they are renowned for their use in extra virgin and virgin olive oil production. These oils are less neutral and are allowed to have more flavor, so the kalamata’s rich, fruity taste works extremely well! So well, in fact, that it is renowned as one of the best (an most exclusive) olive oils worldwide.

Registered as a PDO olive oil, Kalamata olive oil is only available in Messenia or for purchase (from Messenia) online. This is because all aspects of manufacture – from harvest to packing – take place there.

What Does PDO Mean?

PDO stands for ‘Protected Designation of Origin’. This designation is used to protect artisanal crafters, as well as the lands and processes they have been using to make their produce. PDO ensures that the product is unique and not reproducible anywhere else. By doing this, it preserves the cultural knowledge, history and integrity of these producers and prevents them from being priced out by big companies who can reproduce a lower quality product at a lower price. Essentially, PDO is there to ensure that these practices get to live on, as well as the people who make a living from them.

Kalamata Cuisine

What Affects Their Flavor?

The flavor of Kalamata olives is unique and more distinctive than the taste of many black olive varieties, often described as strong, sour, and fruity. There are several reasons behind this, all of which we’ll be exploring below.

Because Kalamata olives cannot be cured in the same way as other black olive varieties, the method used for curing them often causes them to have a higher salinity and vinegar content. In addition to this, Kalamata olives contain phenolic compounds – these compounds are what give them that oh-so recognizable taste.

And this is all without mentioning preserved Kalamatas.

If olives are cured or pickled in red wine vinegar (which Kalamatas often are), they’re likely to a wine-like aftertaste. Brines can also have herbs added, so they may come out of the jar with a hint of rosemary or thyme.

Cooking With Kalamatas

Because of their strong flavor, Kalamata olives tend to be the main highlight when used in a dish. Keep this in mind when adding them to your pantry, and be careful not to let them outshine other ingredients.

Black olives differ from this in that they’re a little more subtle. They work excellently to bring out other flavors in the dishes they are part of but don’t fare as well when a dish is dependent on them for flavor.

For that reason, the best way to enjoy cooking with Kalamatas is to build the dish around them! Make sure that they’re the star of the show rather than the supporting act.

How To Cook With Olives: Pitting

When cooking with olives of any kind, you’ll need to pit them first. Pitting can be done by laying the olive flat against a cutting board, then crushing the longer side with a knife (like you might do a garlic clove). Then, simply squeeze the pit out!

If you intend to buy pre-pitted kalamatas, its important to keep in mind that pitted brined olives will have an altered taste and texture due to the exposure to the brine.

Dish Ideas And Substitutions Explained

Kalamata Olives vs Black Olives: Dishes

  1. Salads
    • Kalamatas and black olives alike would fit perfectly in a salad. In salads where you’d like a stronger player, Kalamata olives are an excellent choice – especially in a Greek Salad!
  2. Pasta Tosses
    • Pasta tosses are another dish that is suited to both regular black olives and Kalamatas! This Mediterranean pasta toss is somewhere that Kalamata olives will really be in their element.
  3. Tapenade With Pitta
    • Tapenade made to be served with bread is an excellent choice to use Kalamata olives in! Here, there is not as much of an issue in having them be overpowering as the pitta balances it out. Alternatively, you can use black olives in a more complex tapenade to bring out some of the other notes!
  4. Pesto Pasta
    • Black olives tend to suit pesto much better as they still allow for herbal flavors to shine through, but there are definitely Kalamata-suited recipes out there!
  5. Baked Feta Appetizer
    • You could go either or with some baked feta – just make sure that your choice in olive suits the flavors within the recipe you’re following!
  6. Bruschetta
    • Again, green, black, and Kalamata olives equally suit bruschetta, but you should use slightly fewer Kalamatas to not overpower the other ingredients.
  7. Sandwiches And Wraps
    • If you like a distinctive flavor in your sandwiches (for me, that’s pickled jalapeños) Kalamatas might make an incredible addition to your sandwich! Black olives are also a go-to classic, so be sure to try them out on your next sub!
  8. Cheese And Olive Crackers
    • Both work great! If you especially like the flavor of Kalamatas, this might be one of the best options for eating them precisely because they provide so much flavor in an otherwise bland(ish) food. These would also be lovely to see on a cheese platter or charcuterie board!
kalamata olives and black olives on a charcuterie board

Can I Substitute Kalamata Olives For Black Olives?

The answer to this question is very dependant on taste. You can certainly substitute them, but it will alter the taste of your dish at the very least. The olive flavor is likely to be more subtle and to bring other flavors rather than be the main attraction.

A more fitting alternative might be Gaeta olives; they share some more similarities to Kalamata olives than other black olive varieties, but they will still be milder than the original.

Comparing Olives: Health

Are Black Olives As Healthy As Kalamata?

Kalamata olives and other black olive varieties have similar nutritional profiles, both being rich in antioxidants and healthy fats. The main difference between them is that there are almost twice as many calories and healthy fat in Kalamata olives. However, it’s important to mention that this is not a monolith; different black olive varieties will have deviations in nutrition, so it really depends on what type of olive you are comparing against Kalamatas.

Kalamata Olives vs Black Olives: Nutrition

To facilitate the comparison, I have created a table below with the different nutritional information of each olive variety.

NutrientsKalamata OlivesBlack Olives
Calories300116
Calcium, Ca0 mg88 mg
Iron, Fe0.40 mg6.28 mg
Potassium133 mg8 mg
Sodium, Na1267 mg735 mg
Protein0 g0.84 g
Fat30 g10.90 g
Saturated FA3.33 g2.28 g
Monounsaturated FAN/A7.65 g
Polyunsaturated FAN/A0.63 g
FA, Total Trans0 gN/A
Carbohydrate6.67 g6.04 g
Fibre6.70 g1.60 g
Sugars0 g0 g
Cholesterol0 mg0 mg
Table follows per 100g of olives

So… Are Kalamata Olives Better Than Black Olives?

So, Kalamata olives vs black olives… Well, the choice is up to you! It mostly depends on what sort of flavor you want in your dish, but it can also be about nutrition.

To summarize, Kalamata olives have a stronger taste than other black olive varieties which will affect your dish. You can substitute Kalamatas for black olives, but they certainly won’t taste the exact same – Gaeta olives may be a help in this sense. Nutrient-wise, Kalamata olives usually have twice the amount of calories as black olives and more healthy fats. And really… that’s all there is to it! I hope you have a wonderful time trying out these olives, and that all your future experimental dishes go well!

By Anna

Hey, I’m Anna; writer, editor and amateur cook extraordinaire! Food has been my life and my passion for the most of my life – it’s crazy to think I didn’t pursue a career in cooking. I’m obsessed! However, keeping cooking as an obsessive hobby has worked for me – my passion grows as the years pass by – maybe I wouldn’t say the same if it was also my day job! I hope you find cooking inspiration, entertainment and “stop and think interesting tid-bits” throughout my writing – and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got anything you want to share. Food feeds the soul – so get eating!

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