Guide to Olives

For the Love of Olives

Olives are an ancient fruit worthy of the acclaim that surrounds them. The fact that they’re marvelously versatile—easy to enjoy as a condiment, appetizer, ground into spreads, tossed into salads, simmered with stews and sauces and, of course, popped into Martinis—makes us fall that much deeper in love with these salty, rich little treats.

Olives yield heart-healthy olive oil and satisfy all the tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent. It’s no mistake that they’re a primary ingredient in the diets of Mediterranean cultures since olive trees thrive in warm, subtropical zones, especially in sea air and rocky soil.

The high-quality olives we sell in our stores come from Morocco, the Mediterranean countries, the southwestern U.S. and parts of South America. And if you haven’t sampled them all, what are you waiting for?

The Quality of Our Olives

Our olives are visually appealing with fantastic flavor. All of our olives are traditionally cured, helping them retain the unique bouquet, full flavor and distinctive texture that you'd get from eating the olive at its source. We want you to feel just one small step away from the olive grove.

Oh, Olives!

In general, olive types get their distinctive qualities based on their genetics, the conditions of their origin and how they’re cured, resulting in hundreds of varieties. Factor in the common practices of marinating, seasoning and stuffing the little gems and the menu of olives grows infinitely. Here are some of our favorites:

Arbequinas: A popular Spanish olive; small, crisp and slightly bitter.

Beldi: A small, fruity olive from Morocco. They’re brine-cured and are very popular in olive mixes.

Bitetto: Named for the Southern Italian town where they’ve been grown since biblical times. They’re sweeter than most with almond tones—a killer combination.

Cerignola: These giant green olives are harvested in Cerignola, Italy, in the Puglia region. Their size makes them an impressive accompaniment to antipasti and good for stuffing with garlic, cheese, peppers, capers or anchovies, too.

Kalamata: These popular purple-black Greek olives are cured in a red wine vinegar brine to create rich and smoky flavors.

Manzanilla: This familiar olive from Spain is brine-cured, making for a refreshing crispness and slight smoky flavor. Traditionally, they’re stuffed with pimientos.

Niçoise: These famed tiny, meaty olives from Nice, France, are tree-ripened. Their most beloved use? Salade Niçoise.

Nyon: A small, jet black, shiny olive variety from southern France, this one will romance you. Nyon olives have a mild, salty bitterness and are usually dry-cured and packed in olive oil.

Picholine: These French green olives are wonderfully crisp and crunchy, with a refreshingly tart flavor, similar to granny smith apples, believe it or not. Simple and elegant, they make perfect hors d'oeuvres.

The Olive Harvest

Olives are harvested from October to January. Those destined for whole-fruit consumption (not for making olive oil) are hand harvested to prevent bruising and then classified according to their maturity:

Green olives: Harvested in October at the earliest stages of maturity.

"Pink" olives: Slightly riper, these have a rose or brown color and are harvested in November prior to reaching full maturity.

Black olives: Harvested in December at full maturity, they’re smooth with a black skin and deep reddish-black hue.

"Wrinkled black" olives: Not to be confused with dry-cured olives, these are fully ripened fruits harvested in January.

Just the Cure You Need

Looking for the cure to ease all your pains? We have just the thing. Olives are cured using all manner of methods, rendering them less bitter and giving them their tell-tale saltiness, texture and flavor.

To cure olives, unripe, green ones first ripen and turn black. (Olives destined for the oil press are actually picked at the red-brown stage, but that’s another story. Find out more details on olive oil.)

Since a highly bitter, naturally occurring chemical called oleuropin renders unprocessed olives inedible, those destined for our bellies go through a curing process to remove the chemical first.

Traditional curing methods require months and include:

  • Oil-curing: soaking in oil for several months.
  • Brine-curing: soaking in brine for one to six months.
  • Dry-curing: packing in salt for one or more months.
  • Water-curing: soaking, rinsing and resoaking in plain water, this method is the slowest of all and consequently is rarely used.

6 Reasons to Love Olives

  • Olives appear in one of the earliest cookbooks ever discovered, a 2000-year-old text by a Roman named Apicius.
  • Olives were so revered in biblical times that it’s said that Moses granted olive growers an exemption from military service.
  • Carvings of olives appear on pharaoh's tombs in the pyramids of Egypt.
  • Traditional Chinese medicine uses olive soup as a sore throat recipe—strangely enough, the only occurrence of the olive in Chinese cuisine.
  • Conventional canned "Black Mission" olives are actually green olives cured with lye. Not true of the canned Black Mission olives at Whole Foods Market, though.
  • For thousands of years the olive branch has been a symbol of peace and goodwill. This may be partly due to the fact that in early cultivation of the olive, it took decades to bear fruit for harvest, and, therefore, it was believed that anyone who planted olive groves was expecting a long and peaceful life.

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