“Wait, did you purposely order olives on this?”
Yes, I did. Because it’s a pizza, and I’m Italian, and olives are delightful. But this is a problem, because my boyfriend—the one who usually eats literally anything—has an aversion to them.
While I cannot understand this (They’re so briny! So salty! So good!), I know that plenty of people are on his team. Despite their tiny size, olives really trigger some big opinions—it seems like you either love ’em or hate ’em.
If you fall into the latter camp, next time, instead of picking them off the pizza like my BF, may I respectfully suggest plugging your nose and downing some anyways? Olives are a veritable superfood. They’re not only full of healthy fats that improve heart health and antioxidants that combat inflammation, but they even have a unique, pain-relieving compound that’s as effective as popping an ibuprofen! Very impressive, even if the taste doesn’t knock your socks off.
Give these tiny little fruits a second chance—the health benefits are more than worth it, and we’ve got a few recipes that might just convince you to change your stance.
Beneficial nutrients in olives
There are more than 200 types of olives available, but they’re all either black or green and always served cured. Completely inedible in raw form, these fruits—yes, the pits make them fruits—derive their signature salty taste through pickling or brining.
Although every variety of olive tastes a little different—salty, acidic, pungent, bitter, or fruity, depending on how they’ve been cured—all have similar nutritional profiles.
Eighty-five percent of the calories in olives come from oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat (MUFA). Often called the “good” kind of fat, MUFAs are the same fats in avocados, some nuts, and of course, olive oil. According to the American Heart Association, they can reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood, therefore lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Monounsaturated fats deliver vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin that fights against the effects of free-radical damage in cells and has been linked to preventing heart disease. Studies also show that vitamin E can prevent cognitive decline as we age, and has been especially helpful as a supplement for those with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. And E has beauty benefits, too. Super hydrating, it plumps skin cells and encourages wound healing when applied topically.
One cup of black olives contains 17 percent of the daily recommended fiber intake and zero net carbohydrates. (A food’s “net carbs” are equivalent to the amount of carbs that are digested and used as energy. Because dietary fiber makes up the only carbs found in olives, they aren’t absorbed and end up passing through the body.) The combo of healthy fats and fiber make olives a really great snack for dieters, because they’ll keep you full and satisfied but won’t cause blood sugar levels to spike.
Dietary iron is an essential mineral found in the blood—and if you’re feeling tired and kind of blah, you could be deficient in it. In fact, it’s the most common nutritional deficiency in the world! An important component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, iron is key to keeping your energy levels stable. It’s also important for healthy skin, nails, and hair. Just a one cup serving of olives delivers 25 percent of your daily recommended value of iron—and it’s vegan!
Olives could be the key to the best results from your workout. The polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) in olives increase the blood levels of glutathione, a compound that does everything from regulating energy levels to promoting immune function. Athletes often take glutathione as a supplement because it also can help build more muscle.
And as for the soreness you feel after an intense sweat sesh? Olives have your back there too. Oleocanthal, a compound found in olives, has anti-inflammatory properties that can be as effective as ibuprofen at relieving pain. In light of the warnings that now come with NSAID pain relievers, you might consider eating a few olives in lieu of popping pills.
Recipes with olives
So yes, they’re incredibly good for you. But that’s not the only reason to eat olives—they’re a joy to work with in the kitchen and add depth and a salty bite to any dish. Need inspiration? We’ve got you covered.
A zesty, simple hors d'oeuvre that’ll impress guests … or just satisfy your cravings for a salty snack.
One-pan dinners are the best—all of those luscious flavors get to meld together as everything cooks. Here, the natural sweetness of roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh basil are counterbalanced by the brininess of black olives, perfectly seasoning tender chicken breasts. Mangia, mangia!
Crispy crust. Melty, gooey cheese. Crunchy Mediterranean veggies. Oh yeah, you’re making this tonight.
Impress all of your Instagram friends (and your real-life friends, too) with a gorgeous one-pot vegetarian dinner. All you need is a head of cauliflower and a few pantry staples and you’re in business!
OK, picky eaters. If you’re ever going to step out of your comfort zone, this is the dish. Prepare for your tastebuds to be blown away—slightly sweet caramelized onions are accented by salty anchovies and kalamata olives, and the result is nothing short of magical.
No more sad desk lunches—this classy combo looks gourmet, but is so easy to throw together before you walk out the door in the morning.
We love everything our Food Editor Merce Muse makes, but this tart? It’s legendary. Even the olive-haters in the office were won over by the buttery, crumbly crust and super savory filling.
It comes together in 20 minutes, and if this creamy pasta doesn’t make you say, “Olive you,” to the wrinkly, briny, tiny fruits, nothing will!
Photo credit: Paul Delmont