In this article I am going to tell you about the tastiest olives out there, according to my own experience of choosing and consuming them. Olives can be probiotic, meaning their fermentation was done by lactic bacteria. This means that these olives are particularly good for the ‘good’ gut bacteria in the intestines.
There are however varieties, such as Kalamata, which have vinegar in the classic recipe and therefore are not probiotic. I am not saying that they are worse, they are just different and are more related to the topic of gourmet foods. Here we are going to address healthy probiotic olives.
1. Halkidiki (Greece)
Let’s start from Greece, the motherland of olives. This nice savoury light green olive from the Halkidiki peninsula in Greece is one of my top picks. It is properly fermented using just salt and water and has this classic olive taste that many of us love. According to its appetizing flavour, it is not speed-fermented, nor heat treated during the process. It is let to ferment in brine for as long as it needs for proper characteristics.
2. Thassos (Greece)
This olive also comes from Greece, from the round island of Thassos, which is near Halkidiki. If you are looking for something with less salt and more sweetness, then this olive will satisfy your taste buds. It is among the least salted varieties. It is naturally brown in colour and wrinkly because it is picked up from the tree when it is fully mature, therefore the need for curing it with salt is minimal. Salt is rather added to it for flavour, but not so much for reducing the bitterness. This makes this olve a perfect probiotic and prebiotic choice.
3. Castelvetrano (Italy)
This variety is also a healthy option, both from the point of view of probiotics and salt content. If you do not like the taste of a regular olive, then you should definitely try Castelvetrano. It is produced in Sicily, according to a special Castelvetrano technology, which removes the bitterness without adding extra salt. It is very mild and even sweet. Its oil content however is higher than usual, therefore it reminds me of oily and slightly salty popcorn. Usually you will end up eating more than one, because they are very addictive, but be careful of the fat content if you eat a lot. This olive can also be specifically called Nocellara del Belice, after the name of the valley in Sicily where it is grown. Nocellara del Belice is however a more specific certified variety, with DOP protections. You can also come across the ‘dolce’ or the sweet olive in Italy. Its characteristics are similar to Castelvetrano olives, however the texture is softer. If I had an option to choose the best, I would definitely pick the Nocellara del Belice, then the classic Castelvetrano and only then the ‘dolce’ olive.
4. Nocellara (Italy)
Let’s now talk about the more common olives from Italy. If you like the taste of the classic olive more, with all the hints of salty and savoury, then this one might interest you. Nocellara is a classic green olive from Italy, such as Halkidiki is a classic green olive from Greece. The regular Nocellara olive (not treated with the Castelvetrano technology) possesses a wonderful cheesy flavour. It is not too salty, nor too sweet. It personally reminds me of cottage cheese. The fermentation in brine takes its full time in order for the final product to acquire its proper taste.
5. Cerignola (Italy)
The Cerignola olive is a giant olive from Italy. It has a very nice savoury flavour, similar to mature cheese. It is also not too salty and not too oily, just on the point. This olive is fermented full time in brine, which makes its taste really deep. The olive is very healthy from the probiotic point of view.
6. Picholine (France)
These are perhaps one of the most satisfying olives out there for me. They come from France and are very fruity and mild. They have some similarities in taste with Castelvetrano, however their texture is more crunchy and they have less oil. They have a more prolonged shape than other olives. The salt content is not as high. They are properly fermented and as a result we have a very delicate flavour and very healthy ingredients.
7. Lucques (France)
The Lucques cultivar is a French olive grown in the Languedoc region. It is an exclusive variety which is seasonal and can be hard to find. The taste is nutty, not very salty, fatty and quite sweet. It can be compared to the Picholine and the Castelvetrano varieties in its mildness, saltiness and fattiness. It is a very high quality olive, cured and produced properly, to allow for a healthy product.
This concludes the list of my favourite healthy olives. All of them are made without the use of vinegar. Lacto-fermentation or Castelvetrano methods are used instead in their fermentation. Generally speaking vinegar removes the probiotic qualities from the fermented product, therefore I am trying to look out for food prepared without it. The salt fermentation on the other hand fully supports the forming of the ‘good’ bacteria for the gut, making the product probiotic.
Before finishing let’s also address some questions about olives, their quality and their probiotic characteristics.
How can you tell if the product (olives) is probiotic?
It is very easy. When you have a jar, or a transparent container, you can notice white milky-like cloudy residue at the bottom. It is the lactic acid, the by-product of natural brine fermentation, produced by lactic bacteria. You can easily see it in brine-fermented cucumbers, proper sauerkraut and healthy olives as well. You will not see this residue in products which contain vinegar – they will be in transparent and clear liquid instead. Therefore one should watch out for this characteristic when buying probiotic products, including olives.
Which container should olives be sold / bought in?
There can be different containers, which the olives are sold in, however not every one is good for the health and is suitable for storing probiotic products. Metal tins usually carry olives which are the cheapest on the market. You cannot see whether they are properly fermented, and most likely they are not. Metal impedes any fermentation process. I would avoid olives in metal tins. The best options are glass jars, good hard plastic containers and soft vacuum-packed plastic packages. All of these allow you to see the cloudy lactic acid residue – a sign of probiotics and do not interact with the product itself like metal does. Many Greek producers use soft vacuum packs and in them you can clearly see the lactic acid and feel that they are of very good quality. I personally think this type of packaging preserves the most flavour and health benefits.
Which countries have the best healthy olives?
This is a complicated question, however there are countries that treat their olive production as a whole better than others. That means they use better quality olives, allow a fully-fledged full-time fermentation without speeding things up artificially, use a minimum of acceptable ingredients and do not add artificial substances. When buying olives we want to be tasting the real thing without a bunch of extra unnecessary lines in the ingredient list, such as flavour enhancers, stabilizers, artificial preservatives and so on. We want the olives to be fermented naturally, taking their time to acquire the right flavours and healthy nutritional characteristics. We do not want to speed this process with the use of chemicals, unnecessary heat treatment and vinegar. Unfortunately, in some countries the majority of producers (not all) use these practices for quicker production and selling, not focusing on quality and health.
According to my experience in this matter, after years of trying different varieties and being loyal to certain types over others, I have my own list of the best healthy olive producer countries. In no particular order of preference these include: Greece, Cyprus, Italy and France. In these countries olive production is historically a traditional practice, with traditional methods favoured for their quality, even if they take more time and effort.
This concludes my article about healthy probiotic olives. It sums up years of my experience and knowledge about the subject. Hope you find it useful in your life! Stay healthy and happy! Try olives too!