Types of Olives Everyone Should Know
Once upon a time, the olives available in U.S. supermarkets were either chalkboard black or olive green. My, how times have changed! These days, you can find all types of olives with a range of colors, flavors, and textures. Below, we’ll tell you about some of our favorite olive varieties and great ways to use them.
First, a few pointers:
- When cooking, you’ll generally need to pit both green and black olives before adding them to a recipe. To do so, crush the long side of the olive with the heel of your hand, then simply pull out the pit.
- You can buy prepitted olives. However, pitting causes more of the olive’s flesh to be exposed to the brine. This can alter the flavor or make them softer than you might like.
Most Popular Types of Olives
These are some of the more common types of olives you’re likely to find in the condiment aisle of the supermarket. Specialty stores and well-stocked supermarkets might also sell many different kinds of olives in self-serve olive bars in the deli and cheese department. Each kind of olive is perfect for adding to charcuterie boards.
Pictured clockwise from top left:
- Kalamata: These brine-cured, greenish-black olives have a pungent, lingering flavor. Hailing from Greece, they’re a workhorse in cooking. Try them in recipes like salads, pasta tosses, stews, and olive tapenade.
- Thasos: Also from Greece, these wrinkly-skinned, salt-cured black olives offer a somewhat mellow, woodsy flavor. Try serving them drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with some fresh or crushed dried oregano.
- Arbequina: These brine-cured, slightly bitter olives originally hail from Spain. Their colors go beyond the usual olive green; in fact, you might find them in hues from pinkish-brown to burnt orange, making them a striking addition to a mix of appetizer olives.
- Nyon: Olive connoisseurs prize these tender, slightly bitter, lightly wrinkled black olives, which are grown in and around the city of Nyons, France. Though they can be hard to find—and a little pricey—their juicy, soft flesh and lightly sweet and fruity flavor make them worth the hunt.
- Niçoise: Though these French black olives are mini in size, they’re mighty in flavor. Juicy but not oily, the South-of-France favorites are a favorite in Provençal cooking. Try them in Salad Niçoise or in Pissaladiere, the famed onion-and-olive tart of the region.
- Picholine: This French gem is the quintessential olive-green olive! It’s brine-cured and meaty, with a slightly citrusy flavor and crisp, crunchy texture. Try these in an olive tapenade recipe that calls for a mix of both green and black olives.
- Cerignola: Once you taste these big green brine-cured Italian olives, you’ll suddenly remember that yes—olives are a fruit! Their mild lemon and apple flavor makes them a great contrast to more pungent green and black olives on your tray. When it comes to olive tapenade, give them a pass—they’re incredibly difficult to pit.
Even More Olive Varieties
Here are more varieties and styles of green and black olives that we love. Any and all will make fascinating additions to an appetizer tray.
Alphonso: Chile sends these flavorful purplish-black olives our way. They’re brine-cured, then cured in red wine. With their meaty flesh and pleasantly bitter and sour flavors, they’ll stand out on an olive tray.
La Catalan: The French name doesn't refer to a variety of olive but rather a way of flavoring green olives “à la Catalane”—in the style of the Catalan cook. Hailing from France’s Roussillon region, the olives get flavor-charged with a marinade of curry, celery, and pepper. Serve them alongside French or Spanish sheep’s milk cheeses for an irresistible hors d’oeuvre.
Moroccan Dry- or Salt-Cured Black Olives: These glistening jet-black olives are cured in salt (rather than brine)—a process known as dry curing or salt-curing. Their flesh is moist and meaty, and they have a salty, smoky flavor. Enjoy them on their own or marinated in a mixture of olive oil, garlic, and lemon.
Italian Dry- or Salt-Cured Olives: Like Moroccan producers, Italian olive producers sometimes dry-cure olives, too. They’re often packed dry rather than in brine. Enjoy them on their own or try them marinated with olive oil, garlic, and Italian seasonings.
Gaeta Olives: These are small, greenish-brown, wrinkled olives from Italy that can be salt- or brine-cured. They have tender flesh that is very salty and slightly sour.
Stuffed Olives: Large, mild green olives, such as the Queen and Sevillano olive varieties, are often used to make stuffed olives. Pimiento-stuffed olives are classic, but these days you can also find these types of olives filled with other delights, such as almonds, garlic, anchovies, or blue cheese. They’re the quintessential martini olive; we also like using the pimento-stuffed versions in recipes for green olive tapenade, as the striking red pimento offers extra flecks of color to the spread.
One of our favorite uses for olives is olive tapenade. While some recipes call for black olives and others for green, this recipe calls for both for a greater variety of flavors.
- 1-1/2 cups pitted green olives
- 1-1/2 cups pitted Kalamata olives
- 1/2 cup pitted oil-cured black olives
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. capers, drained
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 2 anchovy fillets (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. snipped fresh basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, and/or rosemary
In a blender or food processor combine green olives, Kalamata olives, black olives, oil, capers, vinegar, mustard, anchovies (if desired), and garlic. Cover and blend or process until finely chopped, stopping to scrape down sides as necessary. Stir in fresh herb(s).
Spoon olive tapenade into 4-oz, canning jars, airtight storage containers, or freezer containers, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Seal and label. Store in the refrigerator up to 1 week or freeze up to 3 months. Makes 3 cups.