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Last updated: January 26, 2020
Olives are certainly not for everyone, but over the years I have learned to appreciate the flavors and health benefits of the various types of olives.
Popular in the Mediterranean diet, olives are a unique type of fruit. Unlike any other fruit, olives have a very high fat content and usually have a bitter taste. Not exactly what one would expect from a fruit!
But despite, or should I say thanks to, their high fat content, olives offer unique health benefits for everyone.
With their somewhat mild flavors, Castelvetrano olives are one of the more popular type of olives. As I recently wrote about the Kalamata olive, let’s now have a closer look at its green counterpart from Sicily, the Castelvetrano olive.
What Are Castelvetrano Olives?
Native to a town in Sicily in southern Italy that goes by the same name, the Castelvetrano olive has a very recognizable green color and is surprisingly pleasant to eat by itself.
They are also known as Belice Valley olives, or Nocellara del Belice, named after the Belice Valley in the western part of Sicily where the town of Castelvetrano is located.
Firm on the outside but smooth and soft on the inside, the round and medium-sized Castelvetrano olive is often served on cheese platters, in Italian antipasti dishes and in Mediterranean-style salads.
As tasty as they may be as a little fruit, the main reason Castelvetrano olives are cultivated is because of the production of olive oil.
The Processing of Castelvetrano Olives
As with any type of olives, Castelvetrano olives can’t really be eaten straight from the tree! When they are fresh, they generally taste very bitter and are almost inedible.
The processing of olives is necessary to make them edible and taste good, either as a snack or as an ingredient in a salad or other type of meal.
What’s good though is that olives still retain a good portion of their healthy oils and polyphenols (see further below).
After harvesting Castelvetrano olives, they are typically washed in lye to get rid of their bitter taste. While the use of lye may sound a bit scary, this is considered to be perfectly safe.
The olives are then thoroughly washed with water several times to remove the lye. Once washed, the olives are usually packed in light brine in a sealed jar to be sold to the end-consumer.
The brine curing process is a pretty standard food processing method, not just for olives, also for other foods such as meat and fish.
How to Eat Castelvetrano Olives?
Castelvetrano olives are popular because of their mild taste, compared to other olive types.
You can therefore easily eat them as a standalone snack, although this may require a bit of getting used to. They are quite big, so two or three Castelvetrano olives works really well.
Otherwise, olives are a great addition to cheese and meat platters, ideally with a glass of white wine.
You can also easily add Castelvetrano olives to green and citrus salads, or add tiny bits as an ingredient in an authentic pasta sauce.
Beware of Counterfeits
The usually fresh, green color and mild flavors of Castelvetrano olives make them a very popular type of olive.
Unfortunately, as such, you may occasionally come across fake Castelvetrano olives. And the best way to identify imposters is by having a closer look at their color.
The fake ones are often just a little bit too bright or shiny, while the real ones have a more natural, somewhat pale green color.
Health Benefits of Castelvetrano Olives
Olives are a unique fruit. They aren’t particularly high in vitamins and minerals, but they do contain a good amount of healthy fats.
Monounsaturated fats help to reduce cholesterol levels in your body, and as such they are crucial in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Below is a more detailed overview of the nutritional profile of Castelvetrano olives. As you can see, the vitamin and mineral content isn’t super impressive, but their healthy fat content is.
In addition, Castelvetrano olives offer reasonable amounts of dietary fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C.
Also take note of the high sodium content, which is caused by the brine – a saltwater solution – that is used to preserve the olives.
Sodium is not a bad nutrient though. It is in fact an essential nutrient crucial for our health, but we need to make sure we don’t consume too much sodium as this can result in health issues, such as cardiovascular disease.
|Castelvetrano Olives Nutritional Profile (26 pitted olives – 100 g)|
|Fat||10.7 g (16% DV)|
|– Monounsaturated||7.8 g|
|– Polyunsaturated||0.8 g|
|– Saturated||1.3 g|
|Dietary fiber||3.1 g|
|Sodium||728 mg (30% DV)|
|Vitamin A||8.1% DV|
|Vitamin C||1.6% DV|
Olives generally have high levels of polyphenol, which is one of the reasons they are considered a health food in the Mediterranean diet.
Polyphenols are micronutrients or chemicals with antioxidant activity. They occur naturally in plants, vegetables and fruits, and in products manufactured from these fruits.
It is commonly understood that dietary polyphenols play an important role in human health and disease.
Research has shown that polyphenols help prevent and reduce the progression of different types of diseases. In addition, polyphenols can also function as a prebiotic to support gut health.
While the taste of olives certainly may not be for everyone, they are so unique in different ways that I do recommend you try to add them to your diet somehow.
If you find it difficult to eat olives due to their bitter taste, then Castelvetrano olives may be a good option as they have a much more tolerable, almost sweet taste.
Combined with a bit of salami, cottage cheese or goat cheese, Castelvetrano olives work really well as a healthy afternoon snack.