Olives 101

As children, olive oil was perhaps something we associated primarily with the cartoon character Popeye. But today, olive oil has become a staple ingredient in most of our kitchens. Much more healthful than most other oils, olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, which has led to its increasing popularity in American diets. 

But as a consumer, you may be overwhelmed when faced with the growing spectrum of types, brands, grades, and prices. Is there really much difference? Are the highest priced oils always the best? How do you choose the “right” kind?

Though all olive oil comes from the pressing and crushing of olives, the processes used determine the type of olive oil extracted.

All About Olives

Popular Olive Varieties

Pitted Kalamata - One of the more popular black olive varieties, commonly found on Greek salads. They have a pronounced, powerful olive flavor and high salt content. And since there are no pits, they are easy to eat.

Gaeta - Plump, dark purple Italian olives with very tender, almost melt-away texture. On the naturally sour side, but cured and stored in brine.

Provençal - A medium-green French olive, marinated in fragrant herbs de Provence (a mix of basil, lavender, thyme, fennel, savory, rosemary). The herbs hit you in the nose first, followed by the olive and salt flavors. An interesting balance of herbal aroma and olive taste.

Picholine - A slender, full-flavored green olive from the south of France. Sweet (as olives go) with a nice, crunchy texture.

Green Greek, cracked - Crunchy flesh, flavored with lemon and stored in vinegar. Good bowl or antipasto olive.

Moroccan, oil-cured - These black olives have a wrinkled, leathery surface from the dry salt curing process. Since they retain more of their natural bitterness, oil-cured olives are better for cooking than eating straight.

Spicy - Cracked green olives in a powerful chili pepper/vinegar marinade with the consistency of tomato sauce. The after-burn sits on your tongue for a spell and hurts real good. Toss with pasta for a quick pepper fix.

Jalapeño stuffed - Huge, crisp green California olives cured Sicilian-style and stuffed with pickled jalapeño. Both flavors remain distinct and complement each other nicely without either dominating. A great alternative martini olive or accompaniment for tequila.

Garlic stuffed - Always save the best for last. Another good martini olive, it's the same California Colossal olive stuffed with a pickled garlic clove. If you like garlic, you'll want to inhale a pound in a single sitting. Especially good during the cold and flu season, but if you're in close quarters, make sure everyone gets a taste.