One of the oldest foods in the world, olives originated in Crete, an island in Greece, and were being grown there as far back as 2,500 B.C. From Crete, the fruit spread to Greece, Rome and other parts of the Mediterranean. Today, olives are commercially grown in California, Australia and South Africa.
Olives can be round or oval, and come in colors of black, green or purple. They are seldom eaten fresh off the tree because they tend to have a bitter flavor in their skin. Olives are either picked green and unripe or are allowed to fully ripen on the tree to a black color, and they are then cured in oil, water, brine or salt. Some black olives are actually unripe green olives that have turned black due to oxidation from the fermentation or curing process.
Olives contain mostly fat, but 75% of that fat is oleic acid which is a healthy monounsaturated fat known for lowering blood cholesterol levels and fighting oxidization. The fruit is also rich in vitamin E and other phytonutrient compounds with anti-inflammatory properties.
Pickled olives are enjoyed as a snack or relish, and can be added to salads and pastas.