Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
14 Nov

Smart Fuel: Olives

OlivesIn that Mediterranean world which begat Western civilization, the olive enjoyed special prominence beyond its culinary properties. Roman aristocracy thought good health depended on two things: wine within, and (olive) oil without. The olive branch was the symbol of peace, and the fruit itself an emblem of wealth and prosperity. Today, the oil extracted from olives is the main draw for many – it figures crucially in Italian, Greek, and Northern African cooking, and it’s the basis for many marinades, dressings, and sauces. As Primal Blueprinters, olive oil is one of the best fats we can use, but let’s not forget about the source. Whether as snack, spread, or salad ingredient, we need to start recognizing the power and versatility of the olive itself.

Black or Green?

Black Olive

The color of the olive corresponds to the ripeness of the fruit when picked. That’s it. Green olives are picked before ripening, and black olives are picked while ripe. And because raw olives are mostly inedible, both varieties normally undergo some form of curing process, either by being packed in salt, brined, pickled, or soaked in oil (or even just water) before being eaten. Generally, green olives are denser, firmer, and more bitter than black olives. The taste and texture of any olive, however, ultimately depend on the method and duration of curation. Any olive – even a green one – will grow softer in a brine. I suppose you could think about it like this: green olives are often used as stand-alone snacks, while black olives are commonly used in cooking, on pizzas, and in salads. Of course, olives can be used in a number of ways (please share your faves!), whatever the color, but those are the usual respective uses for green and black olives.


Jar of Olives

As you might imagine, the health benefits of the olive are pretty much identical to its oil. You already know about the fantastic amounts of monounsaturated fat, but what about the nutrients? Olives are packed with iron and copper, and they’re a Primal friendly source of dietary fiber. They’re also rich in vitamin E – a noted antioxidant – and anti-inflammatory polyphenols and flavonoids. And really, you can’t get much more virgin than the delicate flesh of the whole, unpressed olive in all its purity. As for the green versus black question, there are no nutritional differences between the two.

Oh, and cured olives are pretty salty, so be aware of sodium content.


The thing about olives is that they’re versatile. They pair well with martinis, wine, and cheese. They are used in Greek, Italian, Mexican, and even Chinese (as a restorative soup) cuisine. They can be blended with spices to form dips, or chopped finely to adorn salads and pizzas.

Olive Tapenade

Olive Tapenade

This can be as basic or as complex as you want. Tapenade is the perfect recipe for parties: it’s easy to make large batches and it’s hard to mess up. People will marvel at your culinary skills, when all you did was throw some stuff in a food processor and hit “On.” The basic recipe is as follows:

1 cup cured black olives, pitted
3 canned anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 garlic cloves, peeled
extra virgin olive oil

To do it old school, mash up the garlic, olives, anchovy, and capers with a mortar and pestle, salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle in olive oil until the desired creaminess is achieved. Serve with vegetables for dipping (or crusty bread for your non-Primal friends).

Or, you could toss everything in a food processor and blend away. Feel free to add extra ingredients. Fresh herbs, like basil, parsley, and thyme, are frequently added to tapenades, and you can experiment with adding lemon juice, hot peppers, nuts, or even figs to your custom recipe.

Steak With Olives


Any steak works with this recipe. I like the grass-fed ribeye, personally, but you can use any piece of meat. The real star is the olive sauce. Before you make that, though, cook your steak to the desired doneness and set aside.

1/2 cup cured black olives, pitted
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the pepper flakes and garlic in the oil over medium heat, using the same pan you used to cook the steak. Stir until golden. Add the olives and cook for 2 minutes. Remove and add the parsley. Serve over the steak.

Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just grab a jar of assorted olives and feast away.

Darwin Bell, funadium, Dan Shouse, Another Pint Please…, bloggyboulga Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Olive Oil Does It Again

Natural Alternatives to OTC Painkillers

Mmmmmmmmmmmmm… Fat.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. You know, I honestly thought that green olives and black olives were two different types of olives!

    Thanks for the recipes, I look forward to trying them out!

    Benjamin Teal wrote on November 14th, 2008
    • So did I!

      Elaine wrote on March 13th, 2013
  2. Kalamata olives all the way. My two-year-old can’t get enough of them!

    Jen wrote on November 14th, 2008
  3. You know what? This is one of my favorites that has fallen out of my diet. Sure I use plenty of olive oil but I miss my green olives. I love green olives. Just added them to the shopping list for this week!

    Son of Grok wrote on November 14th, 2008
  4. I love olives. For holidays my mom would always make this big tray of olives, ham pieces, and cheese on a toothpick as a snack for everybody that dropped in for holiday visit, it was pretty good..mmmm!

    Donna wrote on November 14th, 2008
    • Hi Donna…
      I love having olives. If u could kindly help in suggesting few good recipes. ….
      Best regards

      Malik wrote on April 17th, 2014
  5. I was in the same boat as Benjamin. Always thought green olives grew from green olive branches, and black olives grew from black ones, or something of the sort. The more you know…!

    McFly wrote on November 14th, 2008
  6. I’m definitely going to try the tapenade tonight! … Maybe I’ll pair it with the eggplant pizza recipe you posted previously:

    Holly wrote on November 14th, 2008
  7. As far as I’m concerned, the only good use of black olives is sticking them on your fingers. Can’t stand the flavor!

    Trader Joe’s green olives stuffed with garlic are killer. (Both figuratively, and literally when you breathe on people after eating them.)

    dragonmamma wrote on November 14th, 2008
    • You know nothing of good food, I pity you

      Richard wrote on April 5th, 2013
    • Ooooo, I want black olives stuffed with garlic!!!!

      TenorsMom wrote on April 24th, 2013
  8. Make sure you are NOT getting US olives! Greek olives are normally great. Once in a while you can find olives from other countries that are great (but not all). I have never had a good California olive, and see no reason to believe I ever will.

    If you (like dragonmamma) don’t like black olives I’ll bet it because you have only had the garbage that passes for an olive in the US, and not a real olive. There is a big difference. I could never stand olives either, and if forced would eat one green olive. Then I went to Spain and discovered how olives should be. (Actually I discovered how good should be in general)

    Henry Miller wrote on November 14th, 2008
    • where can i buy the good olives from ???

      Bonita wrote on June 16th, 2012
    • We just came back from Spain and FELL IN LOVE with all the amazingly delicious olives over there!!!! We must have eaten a bushel of them! In the market in Barcelona, we met a couple who run an olive store and they really educated us on the differences in variety, ripeness and curing techniques. The variety of tastes was incredible! We are sooooooo lacking in quality olives here in the States…

      Lynntak wrote on July 13th, 2013
  9. Love all kinds of olives. And I often make my own olive dips too. Steak and olives, yum!

    sarena wrote on November 14th, 2008
  10. You’re probably right, Henry. My sole experience with black olives is from a can; I think the brand is Oberti? that you see in most of the chain stores.

    dragonmamma wrote on November 14th, 2008
    • Who eats olives from a can? Flavorless crap

      Richard wrote on April 5th, 2013
  11. I’ve never been a big fan of olives, but hey, I’m gonna try them in my salad because my pallet has definitely changed over the years.

    Thanks for the post!

    All the Best,

    Andrew R

    Andrew R wrote on November 14th, 2008
  12. For all you Paleo followers: Dr. Loren Cordain will be speaking in/near Chicago next week Nov 18/19 details at:

    Neal wrote on November 14th, 2008
  13. If you are from a city with a good international food store you can probably get some pretty awesome olives.

    There is an international food store in Columbia, MO that always has out free samples of the various olives they are selling.

    Que delicioso!

    Derek wrote on November 14th, 2008
  14. I just went to a new market close by that had a great looking olive bar. I love olives, especially with garlic. The recipe for the steak sounds great.

    Crystal wrote on November 14th, 2008
  15. I too had no idea that black olives were a riper version of green olives. Unfortunately I’m not the greatest fan of them but some of these rceipes might help me to get them into my diet. In particular the steak with olives recipe looks scrumptious.

    Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips wrote on November 15th, 2008
  16. I love all kinds of olives and am happy to have broke free of the culturally instilled erroneous fear that they are too fatty to eat very many of them. Now that I purposely include high fat foods in my diet, olives and their oil are a staple.

    I love the looks and questions I get from co-workers when I break out my salad loaded with olives, feta, and avocado and then I drown it all in olive oil dressing. One ’round’ lady told me that I’m gonna get fat eating like that. I wasn’t sure how to tactfully answer her. When I realized she was eating a bagel smothered in cheez whiz I decided it wasn’t worth my effort to try.

    So, go ahead and indulge in the olives! They are lovely! Primal! Nourishing! Exotic! Full of flavor! And they make others wonder how you can eat like that and stay so fit!

    Mmmmmm I’m getting hungry! That picture of the steak is incredibly mouth watering!

    I agree that the canned variety barely qualifies as an olive. The ones sold at the deli are the best.

    new_me wrote on November 15th, 2008
  17. Don’t we worry about high amounts of sodium in our diets?

    I soak the olives in water for a few days to get some of the sodium out of it.

    Cheryl wrote on November 26th, 2008
  18. i am just wondering as i’m having a disagreement with my boyfriend if there is any difference between a green olive and a kalamata olive? I know there is a ripening process involved but i think i’m right when saying they are not related whatsoever!!!! Can someone tell me if they are all grown on the same tree? i won’t sleep till i have an answer just to prove him wrong….Thankyou!!!

    Teresa wrote on February 28th, 2009
  19. Another interesting article from your blog :) When will it stop….hopefully never

    Holiday Apartments wrote on April 23rd, 2009

    CLANCY MILLER wrote on November 28th, 2009
    • No, not correct. If you go back and read the article, you will see black olives are RIPE and the green are not ripe.

      TenorsMom wrote on April 24th, 2013
  21. I love green olives, but I am swelling up something terrible. Can one be allegic to them or is it the sodium? What is a reasonable serving per day?

    anita wrote on April 17th, 2010
  22. Thanks for the info! I’m normally not a big fan of olives but now I got to make sure that I’m asking for them at Subway and getting them on pizza.

    Junqin Li wrote on May 3rd, 2010
  23. Thanks for the recipe! By the way actually olives tree by its own have a life span of 2000 years. So its a power tree, its fruit definitely is good for health. 😉

    Kazuyuki wrote on May 10th, 2010
  24. do black olives contain a lot of salt?
    my daughter in law said that both black, green olives and dill pickels were constipating. is that tru?

    maryann kitner wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • are both black and green olives have a high salt content. are they and dill pickels constipating?

      maryann kitner wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • Actually, olives are not just NOT constipating..they can, er, “loosen things up”… if you do not normally consume olives, start out with a few and build up. There’s LOTS of fiber in that delicious little nibble :)

      Kathy wrote on March 5th, 2016
  25. Avoid the brands with “ferrous gluconate” listed as an ingredient:

    “In 1910, discovery of a method of canning black olives made commercial processing possible. Until that time, processing had been unsuccessful because the olives tended to discolor. The canning method consists of air ripening or lye-curing green olives in an oxygenated solution until they turn black, and treating them with ferrous gluconate. The iron additive fixes the black color, but the whole process removes most of the nutritional value of the olive. The olives are then packed in mild brine and processed in canners using pressure and heat.”

    Juvenal wrote on August 6th, 2010
  26. Here in Spain they use olives in a lot of recipes too. And the Spanish have long lifespans so they must be doing something right…

    olive oil has a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. Studies have shown that olive oil protects against heart disease by controlling LDL (“bad” cholesterol) while raising your HDL (“good” cholesterol).
    No other naturally produced oil has as much monounsaturated fats as olive oil – mainly oleic acid.

    In Italy I’ve often seen mothers give their children a table spoon of olive oil in the morning!

    Timothy wrote on December 8th, 2010
  27. I love olives, I prefer green one by themselves and black one in subs!

    The drinking down water to finish!

    Drinking Water To Lose Weight

    Healthy Weight Loss Advice wrote on January 28th, 2011
    • Drinking water to lose weight?

      How about nixing the mega bolus of empty calories in the “sub” you’re eating? I’d start there.

      Jared wrote on January 28th, 2011
  28. Yum yum sub

    knob head wrote on January 28th, 2011
  29. I LOVE black olives. I will eat them in or on anything. The more the better. When I goo to Subway, I get a tiny bit of lettuce, one tomato, one cumber, a tiny bit of green peppers and loads and loads and loads of black olives. They workers always say “Here comes the olive lady” when I walk into the place. . . ha ha.

    Mary wrote on March 10th, 2011
  30. Like most ppl replied, I don’t care for black olives, the taste or lack thereof just isn’t pleasant. I love green olives, now that I’m trying to eat healthier, when I make a salad, I rinse and cut the green olives and drain and rinse a couple more times before adding to the salad. I also remove the pimentos. They aren’t awful, just not good tasting to me. I wish I could find good green olives without the pimentos. Seems almost impossible unless you find an olive bar at the grocery store. Thanks for the info!

    Royce wrote on September 15th, 2011

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