Gastronomy in Spain: Spanish Olive Benefits

About ten years ago, when we first traveled to Spain, we were certainly excited and absolutely fell in love with Barcelona, but we didn’t really think of Spain as a food destination. Now, after several more visits back to Barcelona, and all around the country, we sure do realize how wrong we were.

Spanish cuisine is every bit as delectable as its European counterparts in France or Italy, even if perhaps a little less famous. Well, we are here to say we don’t think that is right, so we are going to try to bring a little bit more notoriety to fabulous Spanish food.

The first thing we tried, and went completely crazy for, was Tapas. The whole idea of small bites in the afternoon could not be more up our alley. Even better, one of the primary components of any good tapas spread just happens to be one of our favorite foods, olives.

Olives and Spain go back a long time, over two thousand years in fact, to when the Phoenicians brought them to Iberia from Asia Minor. Later, Spanish explorers were instrumental in bringing olives to the New World way back in the sixteen-hundreds. Before long they were growing all through the Americas as well.

Since that time Spanish growers have become the world’s leading producer of olives and by far the number one supplier of olive oil. Believe it or not, they grow nearly five times as many olives as second place Italy.

With that nugget of info in mind, it makes perfect sense that olives are a staple of Spanish food. But we can’t very well just say olives, because there are over two hundred varieties grown in Spain alone. So we made a point of trying as many different kinds as we could.

Obviously, this goes way beyond just choosing between green and black. There are Hojiblanca, Gordal and Manzanilla, just to name a few, so we thought it would be a good idea to check out Spanish olive brands and learn from the experts.

But we didn’t need an expert opinion to know that we loved every olive we put in our mouths while galivanting across the Iberian Peninsula. Tapas almost always begin with a dish of delectable olives, followed by precisely prepared bites of seafood, cured meats, veggies, and sometimes baked cheese, so we had plenty of opportunities to try new varieties.

On one of our afternoon respites, we were served delectable little bites of an olive and pepper medley on toast that was reminiscent of an Italian bruschetta. For us, that was about as good as it gets.

At just about every tapas bar we visited in Spain, when we ordered a drink it came with a complimentary dish of olives. The type generally depended on where we were. Sometimes just simple brined olives, either green, black, or often something in between.

Other times cracked olives, usually spiced with herbs and garlic would appear, and just as quickly disappear. Or stuffed olives, with anchovies, or slivers of almond, or the classic pimiento would make an appearance.

We also learned that no matter how they are served, there is an added bonus in that these tasty olive treats are not just good, they are good for you. They are packed with vitamins A and E, as well as a great source of fiber and are chock-full of minerals.

Olives are also a great source of good fats, like oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that is one of the main reasons why olives are so healthy. Yup, eating olives can help reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even some types of cancer, along with helping control blood pressure and levels of bad cholesterol.

Wow! We knew we loved them, but we sure didn’t know about so many of the benefits of eating olives.

Of course, tapas are not the only time that olives show up in Spanish cuisine. Olives cook and blend wonderfully with tomato, seafood, and rice so they have been known to show up from time to time in the most classic of Spanish dishes, paella. Or chicken with olives is another favorite rustic meal.

With all of our traveling, and trying olives in every imaginable way, we did learn quite a few things, but no lesson was more important than this one final bit of advice.

We can say without the slightest hesitation, and with first-hand experience, never, ever eat an olive right off the tree. Wow! It is the most bitter thing I have ever put in my mouth. It actually brought tears to my eyes.

Lesson learned. So from now on we will be more than happy to wait until the proper brining process produces the delectable morsels that every tapas table should have plenty of… Spanish olives!

David & Veronica,

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