Olives have been eaten and the oil used since biblical times but it wasn't until recently that they have enjoyed so much press due to their cardioprotective properties. About 1/3 of the olive is monounsaturated fatty acid, commonly refereed to as "the good fat" which is thought to lower cholesterol levels and help prohibit the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Olives are grown mostly in the Mediterranean countries where they are a large part of the diet. Studies have shown that people in the Mediterranean regions who eat a lot of olives tend to have less heart disease as well as less incidence of certain types of cancer. The olives that we are used to seeing in the stores and eating are not fresh olives from the trees. In their raw state, olives are quite bitter and they must be "cured" in order to be palatable.
Different methods of curing produce different flavors in the olives and today, there are dozens of gourmet olives widely available. Olives can be used to add zest to any dish - but you must pick the right olive to compliment the main food. Some olives can be salty, some sweet and others earthy and rustic. Here's a guide to the different types of olives and the foods they go best with. Sweet Flavored Olives Green olives with herbs de Provence have a vibrant citrus flavored and is a delightful blend of herbs de Provence spices and large green olives.
It is an excellent choice to use in surf dishes and with sweet spices. Earthy Flavored Olives Nicoises is a earthy rich olive commonly used in salad. The curing of this olive in red-wine vinegar gives it a distinctive taste. Mount Athos green olives with sun-dried tomatoes are olives combined with sun dried tomatoes. The heavy flavor of this olive make it a great snack all by itself! Sun-dried olives have a rich flavor that blends wonderfully in sauces for serving over pasta. Spicy and Zesty Flavored Olives Mount Athos green with Sicilian herbs is another olive that utilizes herbs to dominate the pallet.
Rosemary, garlic, mustard seed, and red pepper flakes give this olive a spicy appeal. Mount Athos green stuffed with garlic are olives stuffed with garlic and are great to zip up a martini or added on top of pizza. Kalamatas olives are black olives cured in red wine vinegar which results in a tangy taste.
Alfonsos are similar in taste to the Kalamata and are often found served in antipastos. Another olive that is similar in taste to the Alfonsos and Kalamatas is the Halkididis which makes a great dip when mixed into cream cheese along with garlic. An olive that has a meaty buttery taste is the Lucques, which is great as a snack with cheese and bruchetta.
Lee Dobbins writes for Online Gourmet Foods where you can find out more about gourmet appetizers.