Olive Varieties and Types

The only difference between green olives and black olives is ripeness

Bowl of olives
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The only difference between green olives and black olives is ripeness. Unripe olives are green, whereas fully ripe olives are black.

Olives are cured or pickled before consumption, using various methods including oil-cured, water-cured, brine-cured, dry-cured, and lye-cured.

Brine-Cured Olives

Green olives must be soaked in a lye solution before brining, whereas ripe black olives can proceed straight to brining.

The longer the olive is permitted to ferment in its own brine, the less bitter and more intricate its flavor will become.

Green or Unripe Olives

Green olives are usually pitted, and often stuffed with various fillings, including pimientos, almonds, anchovies, jalapenos, onions or capers.

Black or Ripe Olives

Black olives are graded into sizes labeled as small (3.2 to 3.3 grams each), medium, large, extra-large, jumbo, colossal, and super colossal (14.2 to 16.2 grams). Black olives contain more oil than green olives.

Storing Olives

Unopened olives can be stored at room temperature up to 2 years. Opened olives should be refrigerated in their own liquid in a non-metal container and will last up to several weeks after opening.

Olive Varieties

Here are some of the more popular olive varieties:

  • Manzanilla: Spanish green olive, available unpitted and/or stuffed, lightly lye-cured then packed in salt and lactic acid brine
  • Picholine: French green olive, salt-brine cured with subtle, lightly salty flavor, sometimes packed with citric acid as a preservative in the U.S.
  • KalamataGreek black olive, harvested fully ripe, deep purple, almond-shaped, brine-cured, with a rich and fruity flavor
  • Nniçoise: French black olive, harvested fully ripe, small in size, rich, nutty, mellow flavor, high pit-to-meat ratio, often packed with herbs and stems intact
  • Liguria: Italian black olive, salt-brine cured, with a vibrant flavor, sometimes packed with stems
  • Ponentine: Italian black olive, salt-brine cured then packed in vinegar, mild in flavor
  • Gaeta: Italian black olive, dry-salt cured, then rubbed with oil, wrinkled in appearance, mild flavor, often packed with rosemary and other herbs
  • Lugano: Italian black olive, usually very salty, sometimes packed with olive leaves, popular at tastings
  • Sevillano: Californian, salt-brine cured and preserved with lactic acid, very crisp

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