Green or black? Nearly everyone has a preference when it comes to olives! But did you know that there's more than just color to differentiate the many varieties? There's the mild and nutty French picholine, for example, and the strong, sweet, Spanish Picual. There are olives from Africa and Israel, Egypt and Greece. Of course, there's also the California Mission olive and a host of Italian olives used for distinctive olive oils. Even if you're not interested in becoming an olive (or olive oil) connoisseur, you may enjoy exploring the varied tastes of olives—whether you're slicing a handful onto your pizza or dropping one into your martini.

Flavor Profile

  • Fresh olives are hard and very bitter, not eaten until after they're processed to reduce bitterness. This usually involves a curing process in which they're cracked (if they're large) and soaked in a brine
  • Flavor differs with varieties, including mild, strong, sour, pungent, smoky, bitter, acidic
  • Salty

How to Choose a Good One

  • Available whole or pitted
  • Canned black olives sometimes contain ferrous sulfate, a chemical that artificially turns them black (Read the label)
  • Grading of olive oil has to do with the degree of processing. The color of the oil ranges from golden yellow to emerald green

Peak Season

  • Some olives are harvested green and unripe, others ripen to black on the tree before harvesting
  • Olives are harvested in the autumn and winter

Nutritional Highlights

  • Olives are a good source of vitamin E and monounsaturated fats, polyphenols, and flavonoids.
  • They also provide some fiber, iron, and copper

General Use

  • Pizza
  • Salads
  • Pasta
  • Martinis
  • Appetizers
  • Condiments
  • Marinated in olive oil with herbs and spices
  • Tapenade (olive spread) is made by blending olives with herbs, olive oil, anchovies, and onion.
  • Salad Nicoise (French vegetable salad with tuna and anchovy)


  • Chicken
  • Red wine
  • Goat cheese
  • Pesto
  • Hearty breads
  • Grilled peppers