Whether you use them to adorn your pizza or add a pop of salty flavor to a classic martini, olives are a great addition to a whole host of foods and beverages. With flavor palates ranging from sweet and buttery to tart and salty, there's an olive variety that's perfect for nearly every occasion! Learn more about where olives come from and what distinguishes the different varieties to pick the perfect olives for your establishment.
Though you might not guess it from their savory flavor, olives are technically fruits. Olives belong to a family of fruits called drupes, which are often referred to as "stone fruits" thanks to the hard, stone-like pits found at their centers. This means that olives are actually related to sweet fruits like peaches, apricots, and mangos!
The pits found inside of olives are seeds of the Olea europaea tree, which is native to the Mediterranean region. Olives are an important ingredient in traditional Mediterranean cuisines, though today they're grown and eaten all over the world. An estimated 90% of the olives grown worldwide are used to produce olive oil, while just 10% are destined to become table olives.
Olives are known for their richly savory, complex, often salty flavor. In addition to great taste, olives are also packed with health benefits! They're high in healthy monounsaturated fats, which help to fight inflammation and support heart health. Olives are also full of Vitamin E and other healthy antioxidants, making them a great way to get your daily nutrients.
It might seem like green and black olives are different varieties of fruit, but actually, an olive's color is an indication of its ripeness. Young, unripe olives have a green to straw-yellow color but as they mature, they will turn from green to red, purple, or brown, before eventually becoming black when they are fully ripe. In short, the darker the olive, the more ripe it was when it was picked.
Young, green olives typically have dense, firm flesh, and their flavor can be somewhat bitter. Fully mature black olives have a softer texture and a smoother flavor with less bitterness. Black olives also have a higher oil content than their green counterparts.
If you were to pick an olive off a tree and pop it into your mouth, you would be met with a very unpleasant surprise. Olives contain high amounts of the chemical oleuropein, a compound that gives raw olives an intensely bitter flavor. In order to make olives palatable, this compound needs to be fully or partially removed in a process called curing.
Curing breaks down the bonds between oleuropein and the sugars in olives. Most curing methods involve fermentation, a process that converts the olives' natural sugars into lactic acid. In addition to removing their bitterness, fermenting alters olives' flavor and texture, making them softer and adding complexity and saltiness to their flavor profiles. There are a number of ways to cure olives; the most common methods involve the use of brine, water, salt, or lye.
Olive trees are one of the world's oldest cultivated trees. Historians estimate that humans have been growing olive trees for over 5,000 years! With such a long history, it's no wonder that so many varieties of olives exist today. By some estimates, there are more than 500 varieties of olives grown across the world. Learn more about some of the world's most popular types of olives below.
While some olive lovers prefer to chew the flesh directly off the pit, there are many applications for olives where it's beneficial to remove the hard stone. If you plan to slice olives to use as a topping for salad or pizza, chop them to make a tapenade, stuff them with specialty ingredients, or use them as an ingredient in pasta dishes, it's important to remove their pits. Pits can present a choking hazard, so removing them is also an important food safety consideration.
The fastest and most efficient method for removing olive pits is to use a pitter (also referred to as a pit remover). These simple machines use a spring-loaded plunger to pierce the flesh of the olive and push the pit out while leaving the fruit mostly intact. Pitters are best for applications where the appearance of your olives matters; if you will be serving your olives alongside an elegant charcuterie board or stuffing them with nuts or cheeses, a pitter is the best option for removing pits.
If you don't own a pitter, you can still remove olive pits quickly and easily with tools you already have in your kitchen. Using the flat edge of a knife, a meat pounder, or any other hard, flat surface, gently but firmly smash the olive by applying downwards pressure to break the skin and expose the flesh. Once the olive is smashed, the pit will easily pop right out of the fruit. Olives that are pitted by hand rather than with a pitter will be less intact and have a less "perfect" appearance, though with practice, this technique can be refined to result in minimal damage to the flesh of the olive.
Olives are delicious when paired with foods like peppers, nuts, cheeses, herbs, or spices - why not combine them to create one tasty, bite-sized snack? Stuffed olives are pitted olive fruits that have their interiors filled with specialty ingredients. Olives stuffed with pimento peppers are one of the most popular and widely-available options, but there are many stuffings for you to choose from!
Crunchy red pimento peppers provide visual and textural contrast to the olives they're stuffed in. This is the most popular stuffing for olives.
The funky, tangy flavor of blue cheese is a great complement to briny, savory olives. Blue cheese stuffed olives are a popular martini garnish.
Crunchy, buttery almonds add texture and volume to olives, making them a great choice for hors d'oeuvres or snacks.
Adventurous eaters love the combination of pungent garlic and salty olives. Garlic stuffed olives make a great addition to charcuterie boards.
Beyond these common favorites, there's a stuffed olive variety to suit practically any taste! From hot peppers and crunchy pickles to flavorful vegetables and varieties of cheese, there are dozens of fillings for you to select from.
While there are many types of pre-stuffed olives available for you to purchase, you can also stuff your own olives in order to fully customize the flavor and texture of the final product.
Stuffing your own olives gives you full control over their flavor profile and allows you to precisely control the amount of stuffing used, though it is a time-consuming process. Pre-stuffed olives offer convenience and consistency, making them perfect for busy establishments. Whether you choose to buy them or make your own, stuffed olives are a great ingredient to keep on hand in the kitchen or behind the bar.