Before getting into the many medicinal olive benefits and answering the age-old question (are olives good for you?) Let us dig a little deeper into this fantastic super-food. If there is a tree that symbolizes Mediterranean civilization, it is the olive. Its fruit has been part of the human diet from the farthest of times as a food in itself and for its oil.
The Phoenicians introduced the olive to Europe, specifically in Greece. From there, it went to Rome and throughout the empire. Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans so enjoyed olives and held such high dietary esteem that they considered them a delicacy. Columela, a Hispano-Roman philosopher in the 1st century after Christ, wrote that more than ten varieties of olives were cultivated in Betica (now Spain’s Andalusia).
Although the various peoples of the Mediterranean knew techniques for extracting olive oil, the Arabs perfected them. Beginning in the eighth century, when the Muslims entered Europe through Southern Spain, the rudimentary olive raising and oil extraction methods were significantly improved.
The Spaniards carried the olive to the temperate regions of the Americas. The first olive grooves in the New World were planted in Central America during the sixteenth century. Soon afterward, the olive went to Peru, Argentina, and California, and recently it was introduced in Australia. However, ninety-eight percent of all the world’s olives come from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean.
The OLIVE FRUIT comes from a white blossom that appears in the spring. It is a typical drupe that consists of a pericarp (the skin), mesocarp (the pulp), and endocarp (pit or seed). Olives vary significantly in size.
Nutritional Value of Olives
Olives are an oleaginous fruit, rich in fats and, as a result, calories. They are also noted for their protein content, which is higher than most fruits. These proteins are of high biological value since they contain all essential amino acids. A study by the Instituto de la Grasa (Oils and Fats Institute) in Seville, Spain, published in a prestigious German scientific journal, pointed out the high digestibility and nutritional capacity of the fats in the olive.
The skin of the olive is rich in vegetable pigments (anthocyanins) and volatile substances that give olives their unique aroma. The pulp is rich in vegetable fiber and fatty substances called triglycerides (up to thirty percent of their weight). Triglycerides are composed of the union of one molecule of glycerin and three fatty acids. The fatty acids that form the olive’s triglycerides are the following:
- Oleic acid (monounsaturated), the most abundant,
- Linoleic acid (polyunsaturated),
- Palmitic and stearic acids (saturated).
You can find more information available about the composition of olive oil and its fatty acids.
Olives contain a significant amount of provitamin A and vitamins B and E. As for minerals, calcium is the most abundant, but with substantial amounts of potassium, iron, and phosphorus. The olive’s high sodium content is due to the salt added during its soaking in brine.
Are Olives Good for You?
The answer is yes; these are the more critical medicinal olive benefits:
Lack of appetite – Olives stimulate the digestive processes and the appetite. Eating two or three olives before a meal is a natural aperitif that increases the flow of gastric juices and improves digestion.
Gallbladder disorders – Olives and olive oil act as a cholagogue, facilitating gallbladder emptying. They are helpful in the case of biliary dyskinesia (a condition that interferes with gallbladder drainage) and biliary dyspepsia (indigestion caused by disturbances in the gallbladder drainage). In instances of cholelithiasis (gallstones), they may be used carefully.
Constipation – Because of their oil and vegetable fiber content, olives have a mild but effective laxative effect. Olives are among the fruit’s highest in fiber.
Green Olives, Black Olives, and Wild Olives
Black olives are more nutritious than green ones since they have spent more time on the tree and have a higher concentration of nutrients. Black olives contain less water and higher amounts of oil, vitamins, and minerals. The greener the olive, the more oleuropein it has. This glycoside is a vasodilator and hypotensor found in olive leaves. It is one of the substances responsible for the bitter taste. Treatment with caustic soda and soaking in water destroys oleuropein.
Wild olives are found throughout the Mediterranean region. Their fruits are smaller than cultivated olives but are more flavorful and medicinal. If harvested ripe, they may be eaten directly from the tree.
Olive Scientific Facts
- Scientific name: Olea europaea L.
- French: Olive.
- Spanish: Aceituna, olivia.
- German: Olive.
- Description: The olive, fruit of the olive tree, of the botanical family Oleaceae. Green olives are harvested at the beginning of fall, while black olives are harvested in December when they are ripe.
- Environment: The olive comes from the region between Iran, Turkey, and Egypt. From there, it has extended throughout the Mediterranean. It was introduced to the American continent in the sixteenth century.
Olives should be avoided or eaten sparingly in the following cases:
- Hypertension, due to their high salt content, which is not natural, but a result of soaking in brine.
- Obesity, due to their high triglyceride level.
How to use and Prepare Olives
- NATURAL – In their natural state, green and black olives are hard and bitter. To make them edible, they are first soaked, changing the water daily until they lose their bitterness. This process is accelerated by making minor cuts in the olives’ skin or pounding them.
- TREATED – To speed the process further, 10 to 20 grams of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) is added to the water. In this way, 24 to 36 hours of soaking are sufficient. The olives are washed in clean water, changing it every two hours three or four times.
- OLIVE PATÉ – This is prepared from ripe black olives, mashing them to a consistent paste. Its exquisite flavor has caused some to refer to it as “vegetable caviar.”
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power. Trans. Annette Melgosa. Vol. 2. Chai Wan: Editorial Safeliz, 2005. 165, 166, 167. Print. [are olives good for you]