Many of Italy's most potent superfoods hail from the sunny south of the country - and here are the ones we love.
When you think of iconic Italian foods, most of what you’re probably imagining is from the south of the country: pasta, tomatoes, olive oil, and seafood. Those are the foods that naturally thrive in those climates, and it just so happens that they’re incredibly good for you, too.
In the north of the country, which is more temperate, grassier, and watered by cool Alpine streams and lakes, cattle for dairy and meat are easier to raise and grains like rice and corn thrive. This is where rich, decadent dishes like ragú Bolognese and creamy polenta are found—and don’t get us wrong, we definitely love those! But in the sweltering south, farmers and peasants had to become creative with the more difficult conditions around them. High temperatures, rocky terrain, and fewer prosperous city centers all combine to make life in parts of the Italian south historically more challenging. Over the centuries, that creativity has paid off with incredibly flavorful, good-for-you foods.
The Mediterranean diet, which is known to be extremely heart-healthy and contribute to better overall health and a longer life expectancy, has two key factors: lots of olive oil and a focus on plant-based foods like veggies, beans, and whole grains over dairy and meat. It is traditionally found in a number of countries around the Mediterranean, including Greece, Spain, and—you guessed it!—Italy. When you’re looking to get back to a healthier, more whole-foods-focused way of eating, southern Italy is a fantastic source of inspiration.
Take a tour of some of our favorite southern Italian superfoods below - and tap each region to shop the collection!
Calabria is home to Italy’s (and Giada’s!) favorite chile peppers, sold dried or in a punchy, easy-to-use crushed pepper paste. Capsaicin, the chemical that makes chile peppers spicy, is a potent anti-inflammatory and is even used for pain relief! Try them in a fiery, meatless Calabrian chile pasta.
Some of our favorite herbs are grown in the middle of a mountainous nature preserve in Sicily, and their potent aroma is unmatched. The compounds that give herbs their gorgeous fragrance and flavor also have incredible health benefits; sage is loaded with antioxidants and vitamin K, while rosemary is a natural antibacterial. Almonds, which were brought to the island from North Africa over a millennium ago, are packed with healthy fats, fiber, and protein. For a decadent-yet-healthy treat, try traditional ricci cookies made with Sicilian almond paste, honey, and whole almonds.
The most famous tomatoes in the world come from Campania: San Marzano tomatoes grow in the volcanic soil near Mount Vesuvius. Nearby are our favorites, the super-sweet, tiny pomodorini from Corbara. The hot southern sun concentrates their natural sugars, making them intensely flavorful without the need for additives in your cooking. Tomatoes also contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that could protect brain health as we age. Off the Campanian coast, in the warm waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, swim shoals of tiny, omega-3-packed anchovies. It takes just a few of their deliciously oily filets to flavor an entire dish with salty, umami goodness, a tribute to the thrifty, more-with-less spirit of southern Italy. Give them a veggie-forward showcase in Giada’s pan-fried zucchini with anchovy vinaigrette.
Great olive oil can be found across Italy, but the ultra-potent varieties from Puglia are packed with even more polyphenols, antioxidants that can prevent diabetes, heart disease, and more. (Basically, the stronger the flavor, the better it is for you!) Let it shine in a traditional focaccia barese studded with tomatoes and olives, as is commonly found in the capital city of Bari.