Native to the Mediterranean, olives are the small, oily fruits of the Olea Europaea tree.  These fruits are actually too bitter to be eaten off the tree, so they must go through processing after picking.

First the olives are separated by color and size and dunked in lye. Then they're cured dry with salt, brine, oil or dry-roasting. Finally, they're packed in oil or vinegar. This process varies by region and the main olive-producing countries of Spain, Italy, Greece and France all have their own specialties to offer.


There are hundreds of different olive varieties and the flavor of each depends on when the olives were picked and how they were processed and packed. Green olives are picked when not yet ripe, purple olives when just ripe, and black olives when they're overripe. Here are some popular varieties you might like to try:

These strong-flavored, wrinkled olives are packed in salt to remove most of their moisture content. They are sometimes packed in oil or rubbed with herbs.

Italian and Greek
Soft and juicy, these dark purple olives are picked when fully ripened. They're rock-salted for several months before being packed in olive oil.

These almond-shaped Greek olives are soaked in a wine vinegar marinade before being packed in olive oil or vinegar. They have a deep eggplant color and a rich and fruity flavor.

This black olive from California is the type commonly found at the supermarket. They are brined or salt-cured and usually packed in olive oil or a vinegar solution.

Soft and dry-cured, these strongly flavored olives are usually marinated with rosemary, garlic and red pepper flakes.

Named for the French Provencal town of Nice, these purple-brown olives are cured in brine and packed in olive oil. With a rich, earthy flavor, their tiny size makes them difficult to pit.

These olives are picked when young, soaked in lye and fermented in brine. They're often sold stuffed with foods like pimientos, almonds or onions.

Buying Tips

Domestic and imported olives are available canned, jarred or for purchase in bulk. Pitted, sliced, stuffed or chopped varieties can be convenient time-savers for many recipes.

Storage Tips

Unopened olives in a can or jar may be stored at room temperature for up to one year. Once opened, refrigerate in their own liquid in a non-metal container. Use them within one month.

Bulk olives can be put in an airtight jar, covered with oil and refrigerated for up to two months.

Usage Tips

  • To easily pit olives, line them up on a worksurface and hit them with the flat side of a French knife or roll over with a rolling pin.
  • Make an antipasto plate with olives, salami, feta cheese