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Olives Are Characteristic of Mediterranean Cuisine


A Mediterranean diet is based on foods and beverages traditionally consumed by people living in countries along the Mediterranean Sea. They generally eat only what they grow or raise.

This diet relies on fresh rather than processed foods. It is lower in saturated fats, sugar and salt.

This diet is rich in plant foods including:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • legumes
  • beans
  • nuts

The primary source of fat is olive oil. While cheese, yogurt, fish, poultry and eggs are eaten in low to moderate amounts. They consume only a small amount of red meats, and of course, wine is included in meals in moderation.

The olive tree is the oldest know cultivated tree in history. Olives were first cultivated in Africa, and then spread to Morocco, Algiers, and Tunisia. Around 600 BC olive tree cultivation spread to Greece, Italy and other Mediterranean countries. Olive trees grow virtually everywhere in Mediterranean countries. The fruit of the olive tree is harvested at various stages of ripeness depending on the intended use: unripe green olives, mature black olives, green-brown or rose-green olives of intermediate ripeness. Olives are usually cured or preserved in some manner.

Chances are you have heard of the Calamata or Kalamata olive. This olive is grown in the Calamata region of Greece. It is dark purple, almond shaped and firm textured. These olives are brine cured, rich and fruity flavored and are harvested fully ripe.

Bella Di Cerignola is grown in the groves of Cerignola, Italy, and its regions. This is a green olive and is large in size and has a mild sweet flavor.

Gaeta is small in size and grown in the Gaeta area of southern Italy. It is dark purple to black in color and firm in texture. It has a sour, salty taste, is brine or dry-salt cured, then rubbed with oil. It has a wrinkled appearance and mild flavor, and is often packed with rosemary or other herbs.

Calabrese is large in size and grown in southern Italy. It has a full flavor and is very meaty. The color varies widely from light to deep brown, and is usually found with pits.

The Ligurua olive is a black olive that is salt brine cured and has a robust flavor. It is sometimes packed with stems.

Ponentine is an Italian black olive that is salt-brine cured then packed in vinegar. It is mild in flavor.

The Lugano olive is Italian and black, very salty and sometimes packed with olive leaves. It is popular at tastings.

The Aberquina is from the Catalonia region of Spain. It is a small olive with a light to dark brown color. It has a distinct nutty flavor.

Manzanilla is grown in Spain and California. It is green in color and is oval shaped. It is firm textured, brine cured and has a slight almond flavor. It is usually found pitted and sometimes stuffed with garlic or pimento.

Sevillano is a large, green olive, usually found with a pit. It is salt brine cured and firm in texture. It is a Spanish Olive, but the trees also grow in California.

This recipe for Pork Tenderloin with Olive-Mustard Tapenade, uses the Kalamata and pitted green or onion-stuffed green olives. A little bit of this tapenade adds a lot of flavor. Don’t let the length of this recipe scare you. It is quick and great served with couscous and a tossed Greek salad with feta cheese. To quickly flatten pork, press with the heel of your hand, no meat mallet needed.

Pork Tenderloin with Olive-Mustard Tapenade

  • 1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut crosswise into 8 pieces
  • One half teaspoon salt
  • One fourth teaspoon black pepper
  • One fourth teaspoon ground fennel
  • Cooking spray
  • One half cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives
  • One half cup chopped pitted green olives or onion-stuffed green olives
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • One half teaspoon bottled minced garlic
  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Press pork pieces into ½-inch-thick medallions.
  3. Combine salt, pepper, and fennel; rub evenly over pork.
  4. Lightly coat pork with cooking spray.
  5. Add pork to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done.
  6. While pork cooks, combine olives and remaining ingredients.
  7. Serve olive mixture over pork.

Makes 4 servings (serving size: 2 pork medallions and 2 tablespoons olive mixture)

To learn more about the Mediterranean Diet, visit our webpage    or contact the Miller County Extension office.

By Carla Due M.S.

Miller County Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service